Inverness C.T. 1 Falkirk 0: Bairns out of Irn-Bru Cup

Paul Hartley and Mick McArdle. Picture Michael Gillen.
Paul Hartley and Mick McArdle. Picture Michael Gillen.

Paul Hartley’s wait for a win goes on.

On a freezing night in the Highlands, the Bairns exited the Irn-Bru Cup after Connor Bell’s 57th minute goal for Inverness.

Alex Harris was the Bairns dangerman in the first half. Picture Michael Gillen

Alex Harris was the Bairns dangerman in the first half. Picture Michael Gillen

Robbie Thomson was required several times to keep the Bairns in it, but after a trip to Sligo and a controversial home win over Dunfermline the Bairns’ run is over.

Viewers on television, and there would have been many who elected for the box rather than the 1078 who braved the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium tonight, were not treated to a particularly high quality game on BBC Alba.

In a first half that Inverness perhaps edged, Falkirk had more than their fair share of chances.

Attacks down the right wing - especially from Alex Harris discomfited the home defence and several clever balls into the box gave Mark Ridgers plenty to think about, but not a lot to be certain about.

Falkirk and Inverness played through a first half downpour. Picture Michael Gillen.

Falkirk and Inverness played through a first half downpour. Picture Michael Gillen.

The home goalkeeper kept a clean sheet for the first half and was just six minutes from breaking a club clean sheet record in the second half, but in the first it had been close several times.

Robbie Thomson too had plenty to do - mostly punch out corners, but he made two outstanding saves one to deny ex-Bairn John Baird and another to paw away a curling shot from Iain Vigurs.

Falkirk’s threat all game through Harris, or on the break. Harris’ first cross caused panic, hanging just outside the six yard area and forcing Brad McKay into heading out for an eighth minute corner.

Three minutes later Thomson cleared a corner at the other end and a clever flick from Longridge released Harris on the break. The ex-Hibs man returned the pass inside the box but Ridgers had come from his line to bundle out the box, and Myles Hippolyte blasted over.

John Baird was closely guarded by Paul Watson, his former team-mate. Picture Michael Gillen.

John Baird was closely guarded by Paul Watson, his former team-mate. Picture Michael Gillen.

Baird then was denied close in by Thomson’s feet after a lay-off by former Bairns team-mate Alex Cooper. It was a well positioned stop from the keeper, and he made another excellent stop on 40 minutes after David Raven had picked out Iain Vigurs and the Caley captain curled a great effort that was palmed out by Thomson.

Sandwiched between them was a goalmouth scramble when Conrad Balatoni scuffed a shot, helped on by Hippolyte, and the ball trundled towards the line, by Ridgers rooted to the spot. His record held on though thanks to Liam Polworth’s clearance a yard from goal.

But the scores were blank at the break until Thomson was finally beaten on 57 minutes.

Prior he pushed a Cooper header over in another good stop, but he was beaten by Connor Bell’s low drive after Balatoni’s header to clear a David Raven cross struck John Baird and fell kindly for the Inverness man at the back post.

It was harsh on Falkirk, little had separated the sides in what had been a poor match, between the sides who met in the Scottish Cup final two and a half years ago.

But Paul Hartley went for an equaliser almost immediately. As he had done against Dunfermline, he had little hesitation in pitching Rory Loy in for Joe McKee and going top heavy in his search for at least extra-time. Cieran Dunne replaced Nathan Austin too as Falkirk went for broke in the Highlands. Even Jordan McGhee went up front in the latter stages.

A slack backpass from Balatoni almost allowed the hosts double their lead but Robbie Thomson just beat Aaron Doran to the ball and Connor Bell stumbled over possession. His goal remained the difference between the sides until the end.