SCOTLAND hasn’t just been changed politically. The events at Hampden yesterday, which proved to be more messily gripping than most anticipated, have changed the football landscape in this country.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s Scottish Cup final success may have been streaky, it may have been rough on their valiant lower league opponents, but, by crikey, it may not be considered anything other than monumental.
A first trophy win for the club that came into being only 21 years ago doesn’t tell the half of it. It has taken 143 years of footballing competition, but now the Highlands, which covers one third of the landmass of this nation, is resident to a club that has claimed a major honour in the game. Moreover, following on from St Johnstone being first-time winners a year ago, new names will be engraved side-by-side on the country’s oldest piece of silverware for the first time since 1947.
Neither is it insignificant that both Inverness and St Johnstone hail from north of the central belt. Only once before has the Scottish Cup remained outside of that traditional powerhouse of the Scottish game.
Without being churlish, the one pity is that more of those resident in Scotland’s fastest growing city did not make their way down to Glasgow to see the historic occasion.
The fact that the Inverness support was around the 12,000 mark meant that yesterday’s final attendance of 37,149 made for the most under-capacity of any showpiece in the annals of the competition.
There was always the danger the significance of the occasion would eclipse the seductiveness of the actual day. That was avoided because of the sheer bloody-mindedness of Falkirk when it seemed their more physically powerful Premiership opponents had them exactly where they wanted them.
Marley Watkins’ 38th minute opener for the Highland club – the product of a cool finish after he sprung Falkirk’s offside line courtesy of a perfectly timed and weighted pass from Aaron Doran – provided the first colour in an otherwise grey opening period.
The second half display of Peter Houston’s men turned the encounter technicolour, though – and firmly on its head by camping in their increasingly creaky opponents’ final third.
Unfortunately, the final ebbed and flowed because of head-scratching, horrible errors. The first of these came in the 75th minute when Carl Tremarco – a late replacement at full-back for David Raven – got himself into an almighty fankle after seeming to bring a high ball under control. He chested it down alright, but then allowed it to pop behind him as if it were a balloon when he sought to trap it. The mistake allowed Blair Alston to dart away from him and in on goal. In seeking to rectify the situation, the Englishman jumped into a challenge that led him to take all of the man and none of the ball. He knew what was coming next and trooped off when the red was thrust in his face with head buried first in hands then jersey.
Five minutes later and it seemed the final was firmly in Falkirk’s grasp when Peter Grant rose at the back post to thunder in a corner. The Falkirk support rocked, Inverness seemed fatally rocky and a 58-year wait for the trophy seemed as if it would be over inside an hour.
The final, final twist was a turn that David McCracken and Jamie MacDonald will have nightmares over. With 86 minutes on the clock Falkirk defender McCracken absolutely sold himself in challenging for a high ball with Watkins. His misjudgment allowed the forward to race forward 30 yards and send a weak-as-water low shot towards the Falkirk goal. The keeper, bidding for a third cup final success after his two winners’ medals with Hearts, contrived to finger-tickle the ball a foot in front of him, though, which left the on-rushing substitute James Vincent with a simple task of stroking the ball an unguarded net.
It wasn’t classic scenes that ensued as the Inverness squad celebrated in front of some empty sections afterwards. But this club, who were already guaranteed Europe through a third-place, best top flight placing, have certainly come of age in glorious style in their 21st year.
Inverness: Esson; Shinnie, Devine, Meekings, Tremarco; Tansey, Draper; Christie (Vincent 72), Ofere, Doran (Williams 78); Watkins (Ross 90+2). Subs not used: MacKay, Ross, Polworth, Horner, Kink.
Falkirk: MacDonald; Duffie, McCracken, Grant, Leahy; Alston, Vaulks, Taiwo, Sibbald, Smith (Biabi 62); Loy (Morgan 90+5). Subs not used: Bowman, Muirhead, Cooper, Dick, Blair.
Referee: Willie Collum. Attendance: 37,149