Emdad Rahman reports from Ibrox
Rangers 2-2 Falkirk
Glasgow Rangers stepped out at home against Falkirk today (Saturday, 25th April) looking to solidify their second placed position. A bright and breezy start saw Darren McGregor’s right footed shot cause a few stirs, but his attempt went just wide of Jamie Macdonald’s left post. Seconds later Marius Zaliukas had another attempt with a right footer.
Falkirk picked up the momentum, and for a ten minute period in the first half they looked more like the home team. Just before the 20 minute mark John Baird’s right footed attempt from inside the box was pushed away by the alert Cammy Bell.
Stuart McCall reverted to three at the back for the start of the second half as Robbie Crawford replaced Zaliukas and an attacking foray down the Falkirk left saw Tom Walsh come close with a right footed shot.
In the 55th minute Lee McCulloch conceded a corner and this lead to Falkirk’s John Baird striking home the opening goal from a Craig Sibbald cross. Worse followed four minutes later, when ex-Leeds United and Chelsea academy player Tom Taiwo doubled the lead courtesy of an error from Lee McCulloch – leading to boos for the home captain.
Within the next five minutes Stuart McCall made swift changes as he bought on Dean Shiels for Kenny Miller and Nicky Clark. Rangers pressed on and, with eight minutes of the match remaining, Haris Vuckic halved the Falkirk advantage. With the Gers piling on the pressure, a frenetic last half minute saw Rangers lay siege to their opponents’ goalmouth. The pressure paid off, and up popped Nicky Law to level the scores 2-2 and send fans off home happy.
Two points dropped means Hibernian leapfrog Rangers into second place ahead of next week’s final round of Scottish Championship fixtures. The third placed team in the SPFL will face Queen of the South over two legs to decide who meets the division’s runners-up in the Premiership play-off semi-final double-header. The winner will then meet the team finishing second-bottom in the Premiership, again over two legs – with a place in the Premier Division the prize.
In his post-match interview Falkirk manager Peter Houston said: “It’s obviously very disappointing to have lost a goal so late but I’m happy with the way the team played. Playing in front of big crowds like here adds to the players’ experiences and will help them become better players.”
Rangers manager Stuart McCall said: “They (Rangers) kept going, and the desire, togetherness and the drive to keep going and not accept defeat will be needed. We’ll need that in the play off games. We started the game really well in the first ten, 15 minutes and had a couple of opportunities. We started on the front foot and played some good football. Falkirk then came into the game and enjoyed some possession.
“Coming in at half time Zaliukas came in with an ankle injury and we had to re-jig it a little bit. We had a couple of opportunities in the first five minutes of the second half. They scored from a set play and scored on the break. It was looking doom and gloom but we kept at it.
“Going forward, I’m very pleased as we made a lot of opportunities today. But obviously we made a lot of errors too. So, disappointment and emotion, because we haven’t won the game, but proud with the players at the way they stuck at it. We still have to go up to Tynecastle and win and as Falkirk showed today, Hibs will have it hard, just as we will have it difficult at Hearts. No one can say what will happen.
“Hibs are back in pole position. My focus doesn’t change. We have to go out and try to win at Tynecastle. We’ll need the spirit and togetherness that we showed today.”
On Lee McCulloch being booed by a section of the home crowd McCall added: “I was sickened to hear it at the time. What did please me was that after a couple of minutes of it, the supporters then turned it on its head and drowned out the booing with cheers and claps. That’s what we need as a club – togetherness.
“It doesn’t matter what has gone on last week, years ago, months ago, today. It’s all about next week and the future. We put Lee up front near the end and he was denied a goal by another fantastic save from Jamie MacDonald who was world class today. If he’d scored, I thought that would have been justice. He is an experienced guy who has witnessed the highs and lows, but it’s never nice to hear that kind of thing.
“The players need the supporters as much as the supporters need the players and as disappointing as it was to hear, we’ve grown and I was pleased the rest of the supporters turned it on it’s head.”