Ayr 1 Falkirk 4 : Bairns safely in second

Scorer Nathan Austin. Pic by Michael Gillen
Scorer Nathan Austin. Pic by Michael Gillen

Nathan Austin's double put Falkirk clear in second in the Ladbroke SPFL Championship in an breathless win over Ayr United.

The striker scored at the second attempt and from close range both times, but he made sure the Bairns are leading the way in the play-off places.

Peter Houston. Pic by Michael Gillen.

Peter Houston. Pic by Michael Gillen.

Craig Sibbald stroked in a later clincher after breaking down the left wing in the dying embers of the game and Fraser Aird really rubbed it in with an even later fourth.

Peter Houston named the team which finished the first half last week in the dominant display at Palmerston, with only Fraser Aird's inclusion for the injured James Craigen, deviating from the starting line-up. Returning duo Aaron Muirhead and Myles Hippolyte were named on the bench after serving their suspensions last week.

And the side carried on in a similarly dominant vein with a comfortable first half at Sormerset Park where they led early on.

It was great work from left-back Luke Leahy as he nipped in to intercept in midfield after seven minutes and sparked an attack. He advanced and passed to John Baird who in turn sent Austin clear.

Nathan Austin slammed Falkirk ahead in the seventh minute. Pic by Michael Gillen.

Nathan Austin slammed Falkirk ahead in the seventh minute. Pic by Michael Gillen.

The raw striker stumbled over the ball but managed to shoot from an acute angle which Greg Fleming blocked and Darryl Meggat couldn't clear. Austin carried on his run and took advantage of the second attempt and rammed the ball home from close range.

He almost had a carbon copy later in the half but both he and Fraser Aird couldn't take advantage from a similar position.

Falkirk were moving the ball well throughout the first half but it was a battle too and Lewis Kidd, Austin and Danny Rogers all took knocks throughout a tough opening 45 minutes, while birthday boy Peter Grant and Luca Gasparotto repelled everything at the back.

The Bairns were well backed and pre-match predictions of housing the away fans in the enclosure at the front of the main stand were shelved moments before kick-off and the Falkirk fans spilled into the terrace behind the goal and cheered the team on from start to finish.

And there was plenty to shout about. Austin stroked in a shot that was deflected just wide in front of the visitors' support and the Bairns had a corner. It wasn't cleared and John Baird almost turned the ball in, but it went the way of Austin's earlier attempt.

The Bairns were not to be denied. Ex-Stenhousemuir goalkeeper Greg Fleming slapped a Leahy cross onto the roof of the net and from the set-piece the Bairns went 2-0 up. Fleming kept out the first but when Aird took the second corner Austin met it well and headed at goal. Fleming made an excellent reaction stop, but pushed the ball straight to Austin again and, for the second time in the game, smashed in from close range at the second attempt.

However, for the second time in three weeks, Falkirk conceded quickly after scoring. Within two minutes of Austin's effort hitting the net, Gary Harkins had tapped Ayr back in touch, despite an off-balance Luke Leahy's best attempts on the goal-line.

The Bairns should have had a third and from Austin - who else?

A hoofed clearance from Lewis Kidd was perfectly into the path of the forward and he ran in on goal after catching Conrad Balatoni trying to play him offside. Austin advanced on Fleming but as he scuffed a shoot into the keeper's feet he was bundled over by the defender, but no penalty was given, to the disbelief of the away dugout.

As the game drew to a close the Bairns bench became more and more animated. This was a big three points to extend the lead over Dundee United in points on the league table, and they showed it. And it was far from over.

Lee Miller and Bob McHugh replaced John Baird and the exhausted Nathan Austin but saw little of the ball as Ayr pushed to score a valuable point of their own. The duo though did come close in the third minute of injury time as McHugh tee'd up his strike partner and Miller smashed a shot off the outside of the post.

However they weren't to be outdone and the Bairns got a third in the dying embers of the game when Sibbald, who had had a quiet game, broke down the left, cut in and stroked under Fleming.

Aird smashed in the fourth to an empty net to rub salt into the home side's wounds..

Att: 1614