Another Tuesday night, another cup tie as Queens busy run of fixtures continued in Falkirk. This was my first ever visit to Brockville and, after much debate in the press about the merits of the stadium and its' right to support a Premier League club, a first chance to see for myself what the discussion was over. In truth, it's easy to see why this ground was denied admission to the SPL. It's small, the uneven terracing is extremely hazardous and seating is minimal. It's also in the middle of a residential area and quite difficult to find. Regardless though, one shouldn't forget that, barring ground rules, this side would probably be a Premier team now and it showed tonight. Whereas at Airdrie we could come back home with a sense of injustice at the result, there were no injustices tonight. The better side won and, in fact, might have won by a clearer margin.
Queens made two enforced changes to the side which lost at Hampden on Saturday. Phil Nixon (ribs) and Paddy Atkinson (groin) were replaced by Kevin Robison (a first chance under Connolly) and Ross Atkinson (a first start). This necessitated a tactical change to a flat back four with Hodge dropping back to left back and Robison in at right back. With Dean Muir still unfit to return, it could be said that we started three players short of our best side.
Never-the-less, it was Queens who made the better start despite also losing Peter Weatherson to a head knock after only three minutes of the contest. In the sixth minute David Mathieson thumped a mighty clearance from his own box which the Falkirk defence completely misjudged. Warren Hawke raced in behind them and found himself one on one with the "Bairns" keeper, Myles Hogarth. Hawke elected to take the ball early and lobbed the stranded Hogarth only to see the ball hit the underside of the crossbar and rebound into play. Mark Weir just failed to reach the loose ball first.
However, this proved to be a false dawn as, in truth, Falkirk completely dominated the first half. Their first decent opportunity was created after nine minutes when full-back Andy Lawrie broke up the right and crossed to the back post where a header just missed the angle of post and bar. A minute later Peter Weatherson finally returned after lengthy treatment to even the sides up but it made little difference to the Falkirk pressure. On twelve minutes the tricky Kevin McAllister was just over the top with a chip shot from the edge of the penalty box but the goal was not long delayed. It arrived in the 14th minute when former Kilmarnock striker, Mark Roberts, received a ball from the left with his back to goal around twelve yards out. He controlled the pass first time and turned quickly to lose Andy Martin before placing a beautifully controlled shot beyond David Mathieson's dive and into the right side of the goalnet.
Falkirk did not ease off after gaining the lead though and they were soon threatening again. In the 18th minute, Mathieson had to be alert to save from David Nicholls' header and, three minutes later, Ross Atkinson was also sharp to clear at the back post from another dangerous right wing cross. On 25 minutes, Jamie McQuilken broke up the left and crossed for Nicholls again to get in the header but this time he was just over the top and, a minute later, a break on the other side left Sandy Hodge chasing shadows as the cross came in. McAllister dummied and then, after a mis-hit by Roberts collected the ball and shot for goal. Mathieson managed to save with his feet and then scrambled up to cover the headed rebound. This spell of pressure was finally converted into a two goal lead in the 27th minute. Once more Falkirk broke up their right wing, where they had success all night, and crossed into the danger area. Andy Martin managed to head clear but not very far and Mark Weir failed to complete the clearance on the edge of the box. David Nicholls seized on the loose ball and shot through a crowd of players. The ball deflected off Andy Martin and squirmed under Mathieson's body for a soft goal.
In the 33rd minute, Peter Weatherson was obliged to leave the field again for treatment after the referee spotted more blood on his face and, after a minute or two's further treatment, the Queens management accepted his night was over and he was replaced by new signing Steve Preen. Within a minute of the change, Sandy Hodge seized upon an error on halfway and charged forward on the left. He reached the corner of the penalty area before unleashing a powerful drive for goal but Hogarth dealt with it comfortably.
Just as it looked like 2 - 0 would be the half-time scoreline, Falkirk broke upfield and added to their lead. This time it was McQuilken down the left who made good ground and rounded Steven Pickering before squaring the ball across the six yard box. He found the unmarked Kevin McAllister who was able to pick out the top corner of the net without any problems for a three goal lead.
At half-time Queens replaced the ineffective Mark Weir with Tony Nelson and within two minutes of the restart they found their way back into the tie through Warren Hawke. The former Morton striker found himself in space on the right and turned inside before unleashing a shot from the right corner of the penalty box into the left side of the net past the stranded goalkeeper. Queens now had their tails up and dominated the match for the next ten minutes or so. The best chance in this spell came when Andy Aitken somehow found himself galloping up the left wing and threw in a decent cross which found Warren Hawke again unmarked on the penalty spot. Unfortunately, Warren mistimed his jump and the header went well over the crossbar.
This spell of pressure for the visitors didn't last too long however, and the "Bairns" were soon back on top. On 55 minutes, that man McAllister, a clear choice as the sponsor's Man of the Match, went on a mazy run down the right and shot right across the face of the goal and, a minute later, a right wing cross found Gareth Hutchison running in at the back post. The winger's header cannoned off the bar and back into play. Although we scrambled it away, back it came and this time, Kevin Robison was at full stretch to deny Hutchison again.
On 68 minutes Queens completed their substitutions by replacing Steven Pickering with Brian Caldwell but the change had little effect and comparatively little happened in the final twenty minutes. On 71 minutes, with Kevin Robison down with cramp, Falkirk broke forward again and Mathieson had to be lively to leave his goal and beat Mark Roberts to the ball. Four minutes from time, Tony Nelson had a good run down the right but lost possession. The ball broke to Ross Atkinson though and he cut inside before shooting narrowly over the top. There was still time for Falkirk to create a few more chances though and they really should have added to their lead with a couple of minutes remaining when McAllister again did all the hard work only for an effort to be blazed over the bar when a lower shot would surely have scored.
That was the last of the significant action though and it was to be the favourites who progressed into the next round. There can be no real complaint that the better side won this game but Queens were shorn of three first teamers before the kick-off and lost Weatherson shortly afterward. Falkirk are one of the First Division's better sides and certainly looked a lot better than the Airdrie side we faced last week. The most positive thing about the performance was that we were not hammered, as it looked like we might be at one stage, and that we came back to at least trouble them in the second half. Who knows how the game would have gone had Warren Hawke's early chip shot gone in off the bar and not rebounded from it? Regardless, with the cup business out of the way now until December, we can now concentrate on the League campaign, starting with the visit to Greenock to face Clydebank on Saturday which will be our seventh match in a busy 22 days for the team.