Falkirk fans would have walked away from the ground on Saturday feeling optimistic about the season ahead after seeing their side earn a point from their Betfred Cup group G opener with Livingston at the Falkirk Stadium.
The biggest compliment you could have paid to the Bairns was that for long spells in this game they were a match for the Scottish Premiership opposition, and there certainly did not appear to be two divisions between the pair on the evidence of Saturday.
It would be unfair to make assumptions purely based on one 90 minute match in the Betfred Cup as we’ve seen the likes of Stirling and Queen’s Park take something from Hibs and Hamilton Accies respectively, but the early signs would suggest that this Falkirk side are better than the two teams that took to the field in the guise of the Bairns last season.
Only Paul Dixon, Ross MacLean and Ian McShane have survived the mass cull and made the starting line up on Saturday, but it was another trio who impressed with Michael Tidser, Charlie Telfer and Aidan Connolly providing quality in the middle of the park.
Their range of passing, movement and speed of thought will enable Falkirk to create opportunities and be a threat in the final third against teams who will try to sit in and frustrate them this season.
And it was this incisive play which was sorely missing from the last campaign.
The Bairns created the first real chance of the game against Livi, when Telfer made a great turn on the edge of the box, deceiving Bartley before curling an effort towards the top corner. Telfer’s shot was clawed away by Livingston goalkeeper Matija Sarkic. New skipper Gregor Buchanan headed over the resultant corner.
In a fairly balanced game Livingston took the lead though there may have been a foul in the build up as Lyndon Dykes jumped with Buchanan, the front man picked himself up, made the run into the box after a pass from Robinson, and fired beyond Bell, who saw the ball loop over him on his way into the net.
Falkirk were undeterred by the setback and continued to probe and search for an opening.
Conor Sammon is lacking match sharpness, but is an uncompromising striker with international experience and will be a handful for most defences. His team-mate Denny Johnstone is of a similar mould and needs to overcome a niggling knee injury before he can win a long-term deal and fans can see the best of him.
He should have opened his account for the club minutes after coming on as a substitute on 72 minutes. Sammon was making a nuisance of himself battling with the Livi defence, and when the ball broke free at the back post Johnstone arrived and somehow prodded wide from a few yards out.
He somewhat made amends as it was his tenacity and determination, which forced the leveller as Sarkic fumbled his shot and Sammon, lurking dangerously, bundled home the equaliser on 90 minutes to force penalties.
The shoot-out went Livi’s way and they got the bonus point with a 4-3 win after saves from Tidser and Toshney, but there were plenty of positives for Ray McKinnon to take from the game.