Falkirk’s first trip to Shielfield Park in over a decade yielded a positive result as they came back over the border with a victory in their final game of the Betfred Cup.
Manager Ray McKinnon, still operating with a tight squad, opted to rest a couple of players to alleviate fatigue given The Bairns have played four games in ten days. Charlie Telfer, Michael
Tidser and Cammy Bell all dropped to the bench, replaced by Robbie Leitch, Denny Johnstone and Robbie Mutch respectively. Lewis Toshney stood in for the suspended Mark Durnan in central defence as Falkirk lined up in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation.
And it worked for the Bairns as those selected swept into an early lead through Declan McMcManus on the 12th minute mark.
Paul Dixon swung in a teasing cross from the left flank and the on-loan Ross County man rose astutely to send the angled header past the despairing dive of the outstretched Sean Brennan in the Berwick goal. It was the hitman’s third goal in three games since joining the club last week.
One notable observation was the camaraderie in the pack when, after 18 minutes, Lewis Barr clattered Connolly, with McManus giving the midfielder a verbal rebuke, before getting a roar
from the Falkirk faithful when he wiped out Barr in a 50/50 challenge sixty seconds later. It was evidence of a renewed team spirit, which was sadly lacking at this stage last year.
Robbie Mutch had been a virtual spectator with just about all the action at the other end of Shielfield Park. Denny johnstone missed two good chances, one on the stroke of half-time but the Bairns were comfortably ahead by merit of play.
On reflection, Falkirk had shown effective link play between the forwards and the 4-4-2 meant the action had mainly been borne from the wide areas compared to previous games when the narrow midfield meant the action was more central.
The Falkirk manager asked for an increased tempo from his charges for the second half and they certainly responded. A minute after the restart Johnstone knocked down in the box and Connolly pushed in at the back post, only to be denied by a fine save from Brennan, Connolly almost then turned provider as his whipped free kick saw Gregor Buchanan flash a header over Brennan’s goal.
Berwick tried to rally but as they got to the other end of the pitch they were caught by a textbook counter-attack. Mutch claimed the ball commandingly before launching the ball quickly
towards Johnstone who took it on the chest and laid off to McManus. McManus had Gomis on the overlap as he got to the edge of the box and the midfielder flighted in a cross which rattled the face of Drennan’s bar before falling at the feet of Leitch on the opposite side of goal and as the keeper closed the Falkirk man down he produced a sublime finish to chip the ball over the advancing keeper and into the net.
Falkirk were beginning to turn the screw and exert control. Johnstone headed a Dixon cross into the arms of a grateful Brennan, before Dixon let loose from 30yards, drawing a fine save.
Tidser and Telfer, Falkirk’s only outfield substitutes due to budget constraints, were introduced for Leitch and McShane to add fresh legs, the two combining shortly after when Telfer played an intelligent reverse pass into the box which Tidser could only fire wide. Telfer followed that up with two efforts of his own, both deflecting behind for corners. Another goal seemed inevitable and it came with 15 minutes remaining.
Chris Gray chested a Dixon cross towards his own goal but poor execution meant it ran away from his control, but equally wasn’t firm enough to reach his keeper, this allowed Johnstone to steal in on the blindside and send a left-footed effort low into the net. He almost grabbed a second 90 seconds later when he caught Jack Cook in possession on the edge of the box and fired wide.
The Bairns held firm though to record a clean sheet. The result may not have mattered in terms of progression but the visitors went back up the road having seen three separate scorers, a clean sheet and crucially, no further injuries.