LIKE the flame at the nearby Grangemouth refinery, Falkirk’s promotion hopes burn on. However, these hopes should be burning more brightly. A lively performance last night produced only a single point against a very disappointing Rangers side, who failed to secure the win to take them back above Hibernian into second place.
There was certainly very little evidence to back up the contention that the Ibrox side would soon make someone pay, as interim manager Kenny
McDowall suggested on the eve of the match. Rather, the visitors traipsed off at the end looking relieved at having themselves managed to escape a comfortable defeat. By far the more dominant side, Falkirk suffered for not being able to turn possession into clear-cut chances, save the one snapped up by Rory Loy after 22 minutes. It was particularly precious because it earned a point that keeps last night’s opponents within striking distance. Darren McGregor’s strike for Rangers two minutes earlier was already reckoned to have come against the run of play.
Peter Houston’s side have still not tasted defeat since the day after Boxing Day. Even the otherwise unbeatable Hearts fell to Falkirk last month. They are nobody’s fools. So perhaps no-one should been surprised to see the hosts take the game to Rangers from the outset. What was remarkable is that somehow Rangers edged ahead despite the almost constant pressure from the hosts. Not that this lead lasted long. Jut two minutes later Falkirk levelled the scores through a fine header by Loy, who, it was revealed earlier this week, has signed a pre-contract deal with Dundee.
Parity was the very least Houston’s side deserved even at this early stage. McGregor scored the opener for Rangers after a goalmouth scramble. But there was little else for the visiting fans to enjoy as the hosts poured towards the goal behind which the majority of them were housed. These fans were under as much scrutiny as their labouring team, who were seeking to provide further proof of their manager’s contention that their form is turning for the better.
More stewards and police officers than normal were posted to this area of the ground following some minor outbreaks of singing that could be filed under the term “offensive”. Falkirk promised a “zero tolerance” approach and the message, for the most part, appeared to have sunk in. Tom Purdie, the SPFL match delegate who reported Rangers fans for “sustained sectarian singing” last week, was back in attendance, clipboard under arm, as was Scotland manager Gordon Strachan. Rangers could ill-afford further embarrassment on this front.
In any case, the 3,269 away fans in the crowd quickly became more interested in – and, indeed concerned by – what was happening on the pitch in front of them. And rightly so.
They were gaining little reassurance from a central defensive partnership that saw McGregor pitched in with Bilel Mohsni, who was playing his first match for the side since before Christmas following his efforts at the African Cup of Nations. Indeed, the knowledge that his last appearance coincided with a calamitous 2-0 defeat to Queen of the South was something else that offered little comfort for the visiting fans, already put on edge by the visibly increased police presence around them.
Oddly enough, Mohsni had been confronted by John Baird on that evening at Palmerston Park in December. The defender had endured a torrid night then as well. And yet Rangers it was who scored first following a Nicky Law free-kick that Falkirk made a hash of clearing. While one might have expected a master poacher such as Boyd to be the one to pounce and drill the ball home, it was McGregor, the centre-half, who at the right place at the right time to score his second goal of the season.
Rather than be deflated by this setback, Falkirk re-doubled their efforts. Two minutes later they were level and the goal bore all the hallmarks of Houston’s attacking side. Baird broke down the left and crossed for the unmarked Loy to flick a fine header into the far corner of Lee Robinson’s goal from the edge of the six-yard box.
It was the very least they deserved after the first-half dominance they enjoyed even after this strike, and by which time Rangers might have been expected to have settled. There was, though, a chance for Boyd to put Rangers back in front.
However, his header towards the top corner of the goal was clawed away for a corner by Jamie MacDonald.
Boyd was made skipper in Lee McCulloch’s absence and bar his header, endured the kind of night that suggested troubles in front of goal have not been solved by last week’s opportunist strike against Raith. By contrast Baird continued to impress in the second half for Falkirk, who were enjoying a similar level of dominance to the first half. Strangely, despite enjoying the majority of the possession, his shot midway through the second half that forced Robinson into a save was only Falkirk’s second shot on target.
But Loy’s 73rd-minute shot on the turn looked to be headed right into the goal, were it not for Smith’s intervention. In making the vital block the defender was making up for some earlier slack play in attack that saw him earn the wrath of the away fans. The introduction of Kenny Miller and David Templeton offered some spark but it was too little, too late. The only comfort was they managed to hang on.
Falkirk: MacDonald, Duffie, McCracken, Grant, Leahy, Taiwo (Alston 74), Vaulks, Kerr, Sibbald (Smith 86), Loy, Baird (Morgan 81). Subs Not Used: Bowman, Dick, Maybury, Cooper
Rangers: Robinson, Faure, Mohsni, McGregor, Smith, Law, Hutton, Murdoch (Templeton 77), Vuckic (Miller 76), Clark, Boyd. Subs Not Used: Daly, Shiels, Simonsen, Halkett, Walsh.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS