Morton 0 Falkirk 1: Victory tempered by injury

Falkirk players and staff look on as Conor McGrandles is treated on the park. Picture Michael Gillen.
Falkirk players and staff look on as Conor McGrandles is treated on the park. Picture Michael Gillen.
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Three points for Falkirk is a pleasant return from an afternoon that was anything but pleasant.

Rain, long-balls, wind and an opposition determined to close the Bairns down at every opportunity gave Peter Houston’s men significant difficulty, but Falkirk showed enough to see off former Bairns boss Jim Duffy’s Greenock side.

John Baird made a welcome return to the goal trail. Picture Michael Gillen.

John Baird made a welcome return to the goal trail. Picture Michael Gillen.

The afternoon was marred by a late injury to Conor McGrandles, on-loan from Norwich City within the closing stages. The midfielder has a suspected broken right leg and was taken, by ambulance, to hospital in Inverclyde after coming off worse in a 50-50 challenge with Morton’s Joe McKee

Earlier, John Baird’s relentlessness was rewarded with a first half strike which gave Falkirk the lead, and the points, on the rain-lashed Clydeside.

The Bairns were seeking their first win in six games, five in the league, today and at Cappielow, a destination which has routinely frustrated. It did again, but Falkirk had enough in them to right their record, thanks to Baird’s first half strike.

Both sides hit the woodwork, and the home side even had the ball in the net but the goal ruled out for the ball leaving play in the build-up.

Within seven minutes Danny Rogers had to make two saves – first clawing a wickedly curling Stefan McCluskey corner kick off the line, then grabbing the resulting set-piece from the head of Lee Kilday.

The Bairns were under pressure early and couldn’t get the ball on the ground and under control for any concerted period of time in the opening 20 minutes.

Blair Alston hit a corner of his own which was met by a Will Vaulks volley but it sneaked by the post. A dinged effort by John Baird was held by Derek Gaston.

Aaron Muirhead headed a Denny Johnstone header off the line after a long raking ball by Connor Pepper in behind Luke Leahy invited Bobby Barr and Declan McManus to cross.

The Bairns were not just playing Morton, but faced opposition from the conditions as well. The ball was seeing a lot of air-time but a ball over the top just before the half hour mark brought the opener for John Baird – his first strike since January 2. The striker had no right to get the lifted pass from Aaron Muirhead either, but he wrestled his way past Connor Pepper in the six yard area to force the ball past Gaston close in.

The Bairns went close again when Blair Alston zipped forward and crossed for the late run of Craig Sibbald ten minutes before the break. Sibbald rose and met the ball but it struck Lee Miller en route to goal and the initial chance was gone, but Morton couldn’t clear and Will Vaulks curled a lovely 35yard effort off the top of the bar. McManus did likewise with a lovely free kick from a similar distance at the other end a minute from halftime.

Further goalmouth drama followed Vaulks’ effort as Rogers was clattered coming for a Bobby Barr cross and was on the ground when Denny Johnstone rose to head unchallenged at goal. Muirhead was on the line, but not needed as the ball sailed wide.

A 1-0 lead at the break was well earned by the Bairns in unforgiving conditions, but that lead was under attack from the resumption.

Bobby Barr swept a shot inches wide of the post and the Ton also had the ball in the net but it had crossed the line for a goal kick before Pepper’s cutback.

Much like the first half though the Bairns found their feet and Baird had a chance, but was defied by Derek Gaston who kept out a powerful strike by the forward. The rebound fell to Sibbald but the goalkeeper scrambled a recovery save before the ball was cleared from under Baird’s feet.

At times the Bairns had a bank of six across the back-line, with Blair Alston and Sibbald dropping back to help. Peter Houston moved to alleviate the threat by moving Vaulks back to centre defence for McCracken who was replaced, along with Alston, for midfielders Tom Taiwo and Conor McGrandles.

One midfielder was just back from long-term injury and the other now could face a spell on the sidelines after McGrandles came off worse in a 50-50 challenge in midfield. The 20-year-old was stretchered off in severe pain with five minutes to go to sour the Bairns’ afternoon with fears he may have broken his leg.