Falkirk 2 Dunfermline 0: Bairns send Smith off in style

Nicky Clark's goalkeeping couldn't stop Conrad Balatoni's volley. Picture Michael Gillen.
Nicky Clark's goalkeeping couldn't stop Conrad Balatoni's volley. Picture Michael Gillen.

Falkirk’s revival under Alex Smith and Michael McArdle continued with a fine cup win over their rivals.

Conrad Balatoni volleyed in the opener and the away fans’ pantomime villain Myles Hippolyte struck a classy second as the Bairns swept depleted Allan Johnstone’s aside.

Myles Hippolyte scored Falkirk's second. Picture Michael Gillen.

Myles Hippolyte scored Falkirk's second. Picture Michael Gillen.

Dunfermline were missing five players through the internationals, plus Joe Cardle and David Hopkirk – not that it should detract from a very accomplished performance from Falkirk

Alex Smith and Michael McArdle have tightened up the Bairns play. They’re now more solid, seem less fragile mentally, and altogether more difficult to beat.

Indeed the Pars’ frustration boiled over in the final minutes with Jason Talbot booked for a kick at sub goalkeeper Robbie Thomson and Dean Shiels red-carded for a late, late challenge on Joe McKee during seven minutes of injury time.

The need for such additional time was the only low-light of the afternoon. Falkirk’s goalkeeper David Mitchell was stretchered off with a knee injury picked up from a routine kick out.

Seven minutes of injury time were needed after David Mitchell's horror injury - there are fears the keeper has dislocated his knee. Picture Michael Gillen.

Seven minutes of injury time were needed after David Mitchell's horror injury - there are fears the keeper has dislocated his knee. Picture Michael Gillen.

Mitchell had been excellent for the hour or so of this game, just as he’d been keeping a clean sheet at both Morton and Brechin, and he retained his place between the sticks for Alex Smith and Michael McArdle’s final game in charge, assisted by Lee Miller and Mark Kerr.

Maintaining the same defence and midfield as that which forced the first win of the league season last week, the out-going management team’s only change was Myles Hippolyte replacing Nathan Austin for the cup tie.

The striker has long coveted a role in the attack and he didn’t disappoint, striking the Bairns second and bringing a packed south stand to its feet.

First though, it was the least likely source for a goal who volleyed the Bairns ahead on 18 minutes.

Falkirk are heading for the quarter finals of the Irn Bru Cup. Picture Michael Gillen.

Falkirk are heading for the quarter finals of the Irn Bru Cup. Picture Michael Gillen.

Joe McKee’s corner fell to Conrad Balatoni at the back-post and he volleyed in, despite the best efforts of Nicky Clark to try and slap the ball off the line.

With Paul Hartley watching from the stands the Bairns turned on the style and their passing moves are the best seen so far this season.

Each was playing for his role in the new boss’s team, but none more so than Balatoni whose short-term deal runs out in little over two months.

Hippolyte looked keen up front alongside Kevin O’Hara, and fizzed a shot over after good footwork to evade Lee Ashcroft, on the edge of the area, but blazed the shot high and wide.

Paul hartley takes over on Monday. Picture Michael Gillen.

Paul hartley takes over on Monday. Picture Michael Gillen.

He made up for it just before the hour mark with a composed finish for the Bairns’ second, one that put them comfortably ahead and in the quarter finals of the Irn-Bru Cup.

The feel-good factor though, took a blow shortly afterwards,

David Mitchell went down holding his knee after a routine kick-out in his penalty area and was stretchered off after several minutes of treatment on the park.

The goalkeeper was immediately replaced by Robbie Thomson, and left the field having yet to concede throughout his short Falkirk career, thus far.

After the lull Kevin O’Hara went close immediately from the restart, but it all bubbled up as Falkirk and Dunfermline so typically does with 12 minutes to go over an inoccuous seeming challenge between O’Hara

and Dean Shiels.

The Bairns gave Alex Smith and Michael McArdle a fine send off from their temporary dugout roles. Picture Michael Gillen.

The Bairns gave Alex Smith and Michael McArdle a fine send off from their temporary dugout roles. Picture Michael Gillen.

The duo squared up, and the irate Pars man continued to point and gesticulate wildly at O’Hara, then Mark Kerr, then Joe McKee. The sniping continued and included an off the ball barge from the ex-Rangers and Kilmarnock man.

Jason Talbot also picked up a booking for a late swipe on Robbie Thomson after the keeper had gathered the ball.

Thomson made a good save from Declan McManus to maintain Alex Smith’s clean sheet as Falkirk manager, and to keep the Bairns comfortable with a significant slice of injury time to be added. He made another with a minute left to deny Nicky Clark close in, too.

But the Bairns went through to join Dumbarton, Raith Rovers, Inverness and Crusaders in the quarter finals of the cup they are record winners of, and continued their revival under Smith and McArdle.

And the south stand appreciated it, singing ‘There’s only one Alex Smith’ during the seven minutes of injury time, in tribute to the 77-year-old technical director who has re-ignited the season.

All that was left was for Dean Shiels to be sent off for an horrific challenge on Joe McKee

infront of the dugouts, after their verbal feud simmered for the final 15 minutes.

Myles Hippolyte hit Falkirk's second. Picture Michael Gillen.

Myles Hippolyte hit Falkirk's second. Picture Michael Gillen.

Fans paid tribute to Alex Smith at the end of the game. Picture Michael Gillen

Fans paid tribute to Alex Smith at the end of the game. Picture Michael Gillen