Falkirk 2 Rangers 1: Bairns back in it

Picture Michael Gillen. John Baird celebrates his third minute penalty.
Picture Michael Gillen. John Baird celebrates his third minute penalty.

And then there were three – Falkirk’s exhausting victory over Rangers puts the Bairns in the title hunt.

Even Peter Houston admits his side are still massive outsiders, but they were outsiders for this game too, and played their part in an excellent afternoon and performance.

A John Baird penalty and Will Vaulks drive gave the Bairns three points and threw the league title chase wide open.

But that barely tells the story of a match filled with controversy and end-to-end entertainment from the start.

Martyn Waghorn had an injury time penalty saved by Danny Rogers while John Baird tucked his away but even that call in the third minute came with a fair degree of controversy.

Things couldn’t have worked out better for Falkirk and within three minutes they were ahead.

Vaulks made a great sliding challenge to win possession on the edge of his own box and he recovered and powered forward. He laid wide to Baird and the return pass was perfect into the Englisman’s run. One touch took the ball beyond Danny Wilson right on the edge of the box but Vaulks was upended and Willie Collum took his time in awarding the spot-kick.

Television pictures later showed the challenge to have taken place outside the box but Falkirk took their cue after a similarly contentious decison robbed them of a point in the corresponding ficture at Ibrox earlier this season.

Baird, having supplied the pass for the penalty took it and fired mid-range to Wes Foderingham’s left. The keeper managed two hands to the ball but couldn’t keep it out of the top corner.

The lead lasted just 12 minutes, but it was Rangers’ first threat that brought the eqiualiser.

Oduwa on the right received a blocked shot from Halliday and his ball into the box wasn’t cleared and broke to Barrie McKay at the backpost and he rifled past Rogers for the leveller.

Falkirk should though have been ahead again, but for a moment of over-enthusiasm by John Baird.

Peter Grant had thumped a long ball over the top that Rob Kiernan failed to head clear. Kevin O’Hara was on it like a shot and in the clear edged across to the six-yard box. He ushered a precise curling shot beyond Foderingham and it was tucking neatly inside the post, only for Baird and his marker to bundle into the ball and knock it over the line and see it ruled out for offside. Had the striker left it, it would have been O’Hara’s first goal on his first full start at The Falkirk Stadium.

He deserved his goal after an exhaustive first half where the 17-year-old chased and harried the league leaders and looked a genuine foil for Baird up front in a different mould from Lee Miller.

It was a genuinely entertaining first half, with both sides capable of taking something from the match and Waghorn tried to catch Falkirk cold with a blast at Danny Rogers seconds after the restart.

Rangers had a penalty shout when Aaron Muirhead powerfully took the ball and the man on the junction between by-line and penalty box, but despite Dean Shiels claims Willie Collum waved play on.

Craig Sibbald had a shot parried by Foderingham but Will Vaulks went one better when he thumped the Bairns ahead.

A low Alston corner was fired across goal by Baird and it broke to Muirhead. The defender laid off to the on-coming midfielder who made it two goals in two starts against Rangers this term with a powerful effort that broke through a cluster of players and over the line.

Rangers looked shell-shocked and the Bairsn twice picked them off on the break int he aftermath, and both times O’Hara was agonisingly denied a merited goal.

First he scampered clear onto a Baird pass and angled a shot that clipped the post , and shortly afterwards he curled a nice shot at the top corner that Foderingham pushed away after a clever exchange of passes between the teenager and Mark Kerr.

Rangers made two changes, bringing on Kenny Miller and Nicky Law and the latter went close with 15 minutes to go rattling the cross-bar from the edge of the box after Andy Halliday forced his way into Falkirk’s box.

MKiller went just as close when a conglomerate of Danny Rogers, David McCracken and Aaron Muirhead forced a close range effort from Miller onto the outside of the post a couple of minutes later.

Rogers again came to the rescue to push out a Halliday strike as Rangers camped in Falkirk’s half and forced the Bairns to boot aimless clearances away before the onslaught began all over again.

However with ten minutes to go the score remained 2-1 and the Bairns strikeforce was changed to Lee Miller and Scott Shepherd from Baird and O’Hara. Rangrers also rang the changed, pushing for the equaliser with striker Nicky Clark on for defender Danny Wilson.

But it was so close to being 2-2 in a moment of late drama.

As Rangers laid siege to the box Blair Alston was penalised for an innocuous handball in the second of four minutes of injury time.

Falkirk were furious, Martyn Waghorn took the kick well, but Danny Rogers matched it and palmed it onto the post. The ball trickled across the goal-line before Aaron Muirhead booted clear and Falkirk thrust themselves into a three-way challenge for the SPFL Championship.

Falkirk: Rogers, Vaulks, Muirhead, Leahy, McCracken, Grant, Kerr, Baird (Shepherd), Sibbald, Alston, O’Hara (Miller)

Subs: Tokarczyk, Smith, Blair, Miller, Watson, Shepherd, Gallacher.

Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wallace, Oduwa (Miller), Shiels (Law), McKay, Halliday, Wilson (Clark), Holt, Waghorn. Subs: Kelly, Ball, Law, Clark, Aird, Thompson.

Att: 7488 (3214 RFC)