Falkirk must come from behind to beat Queen of the South in the SPFL Premiership play-off quarter final after losing 2-1 in Dumfries.
A late strike from Bob McHugh on the stroke of the 90th minute to add to his earlier header settled an exciting game that Falkirk controlled for long spells, particularly in the first half.
The news to begin with wasn’t good for the Bairns who missed top scorer Rory Loy from the squad altogether after an ankle knock sustained against Alloa that curtailed his exploits and saw him substituted for Scott Shepherd who replaced him again at Palmerston. Joe Chalmers also missed out with a poisoned toe.
It began at a frantic pace with Will Vaulks sprinting down the right to cross for Mark Beck to head into Zander Clark’s arms and at the other end, Ian Russell shot deflected off David McCracken into Michael McGovern’s arms.
But Loy’s absence was not felt early on as Falkirk were thumped into the lead by Blair Alston. Will Vaulks kept the ball in play and fed McGrandles inside. The young player of the year made space for himself and side-stepped his way into the box and laid off for Alston to stroke the ball across Clark and into the corner of the net after just seven minutes.
It should have been 2-0 for the Bairns on 11 minutes when a poor backwards header almost let Shepherd in but Clark was off his line to head clear and Mark Durnan beat Alston to the loose ball.
The Bairns were pressing high up the park forcing mistakes, and such was the pressure Stephen Kingsley had a series of strikes, wide, around the 22 minute mark.
It had been so frantic that even on 35 minutes Jonny Flynn was asking how long was left in the first half but for the crowd the first period had flown past and it was every bit the exciting cup-tie mentality you’d hope from a play-off match.
And Queens were far from out of it, pressing forward and forcing Michael McGovern into a couple of stops and Mark Millar to scramble a ball out of the park until the half-time whistle broke up the home side’s increasing ascendency.
That continued in the second half and after ten minutes of the second half the scores were level.
A contentious free kick against Jonny Flynn allowed Chris Mitchell to cross to the back post for Andy Dowie to head the ball across goal and Bob McHugh to steer the ball home from close range.
Finally the game settled down and chances became far more sporadic and the midfield began to dominate the game. Mark Millar showed some immaculate close control to hang onto possession on 67 minutes and keep it in play but no-one was in the box to meet his cross. Craig Sibbald exhibited similar footwork but he came in for some rougher treatment throughout the second half and drew multiple fouls.
Both sides scored goals in injury time at the weekend so even as the clock rolled down there was attacking from both sides.
David McCracken was replaced by Liam Dick and Botti Bia-bi came on for the Bairns but they couldn’t find the net -though Bob McHugh did and sent Queen of the South into Saturday’s second leg with a slender advantage.
Queens raced up the park and with Falkirk retreating the on-loan Motherwell striker sent a stunning strike into the top corner and gave McGovern no chance.