So near, so far, so Falkirk. Inverness Caledonian Thistle edged a pulsating Scottish Cup final 2-1 to lift the trophy for the first time.
The Bairns gave it their all, but Caley played them at their own game, and won. Falkirk were behind to a Marley Watkins goal at half-time but they were let of the leash and hammered the Highlanders in the second-half, only to be picked off-on the counter attack of all things – with four minutes to go.
Peter Grant had levelled the game in the 78th minute with a powerful header but then, as the Bairns pressed ten-man Caley, minus Carl Tremarco for a foul on Blair Alston, they were caught by a Highland clearance and counter-attack when Watkins’ tame shot was pushed wide by7 Jamie MacDonald but slammed in by James Vincent.
The Bairns collected their runners-up medals in a solemn procession the pre-match boost of Rory Loy returning to Falkirk’s ranks a forgotten filip to the Bairns who filled half of the stadium.
Loy’s name was greeted with huge roars as the teams were read out pre-match and they were led out by evergreen member of the Bairns backroom team Bobby Wilson to be greeted by The Falkirk Herald sponsored steeple mosaic behind the goal.
Falkirk were pushed hard by the Premiership club and the first scare came after nine minutes when a ball flashed across the box was missed by Marley Watkins and was then too far for Danny Devine to catch. It was a start reminiscent of Falkirk’s win over Hibs when the opponents kept Jamie MacDonald on his toes.
There was more of the same when a ball in from Aaron Doran had to be booted clear close in by Peter grant on the 16th minute. The Bairns finally tested Ryan Esson a couple of minutes earlier when the Caley keeper had to be low to gather a fizzing strike from Will Vaulks.
Vaulks had Falkirk fans dancing in the aisles with another shot which curved wickedly but hit the side netting though to some it appeared it was in, then Inverness upped the ante.
The Premiership side pressed their attacks down their left side but bodies, boots and Bairns did enough until a slide rule pass from Ryan Christie fed into the path of Marley Watkins and the Caley striker rounded MacDonald to open the scoring.
He celebrated with a T-shirt dedication to Roy Lewis but the Bairns fans had been leading their own applause tribute to Craig Gowans on the 37th minutes. It could have been worse for Falkirk on the stroke of half-time but a typically heroic challenge from Peter Grant foiled Doran from a mirror-image of Watkins’ opener.
Falkirk’s best chances were all from Vaulks from distance and he let fly with another in the 51st minute which slipped just wide.
Peter Houston had pushed his side into a 4-4-2 and it was paying off with a much more attacking aspect to their game. They battered Caley in a brilliant second half from the Bairns.
Neat interplay from Loy, Alston and Sibbald on the edge of the box should have brought at the very least a free-kick for a barge by Ross Draper on Loy but Willie Collum looked away.
Then the Bairns began to really test Caley’s nerve. A neat moment of poise from Wiull Vaulks brought down a cleared Tom Taiwo cross and rather than lash it, he set himself nicely for the strike, but it was deflected for a corner. Alston’s delivery was perfectly flighted for Luke Leahy to repeat his strike against Alloa, and fell right into the left-back’s path but so too was the referee and the chance was gone.
Alston blew a great chance when he snatched at a Duffie corss after a rampaging 60-yard sprint up the right wing by the defender. Then, on 65 minutes more pressure on Caley. Botti Biabi, on for David Smith, hit the by-line and his cut-back was sliced out of the six-yard box by Josh Meekings. The corner fell at the backpost to Vaulks who chipped it, inches over and onto the roof of the net.
Then a lifeline for Falkirk with 15 minutes to go. Blair Alston found himself one on one with Carl Tremarco and the Caley man pulled him down. He recovered to chase the ball, but in the din of derision from the Bairns fans he hadn’t heard ref Willie Collum award the free-kick and turned to see Collum brandishing a red card to the Inverness man.
That was the game changer.
In four minutes, Falkirk utilised their extra man and Biabi’s fresh running gave Caley problems. The sub earned a free-kick on the left wing and Blair Alston flighted it to the back post. Peter Grant rose powerfully to smash the ball home and level matters.
Grant, son of Celtic’s Scottish Cup winner of the same name, wheeled around the Falkirk end beating his chest and encouraging the fans the responded.
The bit between their teeth Falkirk drove at Caley for the remaining ten minutes, but were caught by a sucker-punch. Marley Watkins caught the Bairns at their own game and countered but was shutdown by the Bairns defence. A tame shot was padded away by Jamie MacDonald right into the path of James Vincent and he slotted under the keeper for 2-1.
The Bairns were given five minutes injury time to scramble an equaliser, but passed up a good opportunity with an Alston free-kick on the edge of the box blocked and Leahy blazed the rebound over.
Willie Collum drew proceedings to a close, ending an incredible Falkirk effort , and handing Caley the trophy for the first time.