Pedantic. Slow. Pedestrian. Sloppy. Slack. Words you might expect to hear from a disappointed losing manager.
You’d be wrong.
These were the views of Falkirk manager Peter Houston after a strange game against an improving Ayr side, which will surely take points off more fancied sides in this highly competitive division.
Ayr, unbeaten in three games, started in lively fashion and it was fully five minutes before the home side mounted their first real attack. There was a brief scare when Ayr broke free down their right, but Gary Harkins stood on the ball when he looked about to strike from the edge of the six yard box. Ayr showed why they had caused Hibs problems last week in a series of quick breaks and the home defence certainly knew they were in a game. Falkirk were struggling to impose themselves on their opponents, but there was no doubting the pace of their front men.
Bob McHugh had Falkirk’s first real shot on target after 15 minutes, but it was still Ian McCall’s men who looked more likely to open the scoring. David McCracken stuck out a leg to cut out a through ball for Nicky Devlin, who was otherwise left with a clear run in goal. Harkins fired in a dipping shot from wide out on the left which was too close for the comfort of the fans in the South Stand behind Danny Rogers’ goal.
Ayr were dominating in midfield and too many of the Falkirk passes were cut out before they reached their intended targets. Falkirk hearts missed a beat when Luca Gasparotto headed an intended clearance inches wide of Rogers’ right hand post. Ayr were visibly growing in confidence as the half wore on, and there was an uneasy feeling in the home ranks that this was proving a tougher assignment than many had imagined. Craig Sibbald floated in a free kick from 25 yards which saw three Falkirk players in the clear, but Myles Hippolyte was just beaten to the ball by Daryll Meggatt who headed clear. Falkirk’s preferred tactic seemed to be the ball over the top for McHugh or John Baird to chase, but they were not getting much joy from a resolute Ayr back line.
McHugh did well to beat his man on the bye-line and crossed from the left. The ball was flicked on by Baird, but there were no takers to put the chance away. The half ended with Luke Leahy heading a flick- on from McCracken narrowly wide. Ayr maybe just shaded matters in terms of possession, but Falkirk posed more of a goal threat.
Falkirk were relying on the pace of their front men and McHugh had two good chances,swiping at a Lewis Kidd cross from the right, and stabbing at a deflected ball from Kerr after Fleming had struggled to clear a corner. Falkirk were pegged back as Ayr forced a series of corners, and Harkins was left unmarked from one cross which he really should have converted. Following great play from Kidd, Hippolyte crossed into the box but Baird’s header was wide. The introduction of Lee Miller on the hour mark was hardly surprising, but Ayr almost snatched the opener when Rogers tipped a thunderous volley from Kevin Nisbet just over the bar. It was a real battle now, with Danny Rogers the busier keeper and Ayr looking dangerous.
Gilmour tried a long-range volley which Rogers touched over and the Ayr fans, sensing an upset, roared their team on. After Kidd lost possession in the visitors’ half, Ayr broke in numbers and Gilmour wasleft with only Danny Rogers to beat but shot wide. Falkirk finally broke through in 78 minutes when Daryll Meggat was the unfortunate player who turned the ball past his own keeper. It stung Ayr into action and Gasparotto did well to block a net-bound effort from Gilmour. Boyle was booked with four minutes remaining for scything down Scott Shepherd as the youngster broke free. Ayr were giving as good as they got and still looked capable of drawing level. The Bairns were defending deeply and the last few minutes were not for those of a nervous disposition.
After good play from Shepherd and Hippolyte, Lee Miller held the ball up well, turned Meggatt in the six yard box and fired home in stoppage time to ease all the tension and give Falkirk three vital points. It is hard not to feel some sympathy for the visitors and a two-goal margin flattered Falkirk.
See the Ladbrokes SPFL Championship table here.