Falkirk’s narrow win over Stranraer in the Betfred Cup courtesy of debutant Declan McManus’ strike was perhaps a flavour of things to come for the Bairns this season.
Ray McKinnon’s side are heavy favourites to return to the Scottish Championship at the first attempt and will have to get used to teams sitting in, trying to frustrate them when visiting the Falkirk Stadium.
That was how fellow League One rivals Stranraer set their stall out on Tuesday night and for large spells it worked as the Bairns struggled to put the game beyond doubt.
It was almost too comfortable for the hosts and a couple of lapses in concentration and nervy moments towards the end almost saw Falkirk throw away three important points, before what looks like a second-placed decider against Ayr United on Saturday in Group G and possible qualification for the second round.
Fortunately for the Bairns, substitute David Dangana’s effort came back off the bar in stoppage time and it was Ross County loanee McManus’ goal that proved to be the difference.
Falkirk boss McKinnon told the Falkirk Herald after the game: “We never put the game to bed so we had a nervy couple of minutes towards the end there. That’s football, if you don’t finish teams off you’re liable to put yourself under pressure.
“We’re just the second game in, we controlled the game great and played some lovely football. When Denny, Conor and Declan – who drove three and a half hours to get down here today – are bang at it, the goals will start going in.
“We’re probably going to find a lot of games like that, where there’s five at the back and three in front. We’ve got to be patient, it would have been nice if we had got that second goal. We have won the game and that has set us up nicely for Saturday.”
The reason behind McManus’ exertions was he’d just travelled down from Dingwall to finalise a move to join the Bairns on a season-long loan from Premiership side Ross County.
There were no signs of fatigue though as the striker made an immediate impact, netting on nine minutes, linking up well with strike partner Denny Johnstone – who is hoping to win a long-term deal with the club – before firing under Max Currie.
Falkirk continued to dominate, probing for a second goal but other than a couple of efforts from Telfer and Connolly, they rarely troubled Currie in the first half, while, at the other end, Thompson should have done better than fire straight at Mutch when he was presented the opportunity on 43 minutes.
The pattern of play continued in the second 45, with Falkirk dictating the play. McManus drilled a shot from a tight angle before substitute Sammon was denied with a header by Currie.
The longer the game wore on with Falkirk’s precarious lead intact, you sensed the Blues were going to have their moment and they almost did at the end but Danagana’s effort came back off the bar.