RANGERS left Falkirk without any points for the second time this season after losing a two goal lead in a game that was truly of two halves.
Mark Warburton’s side blew the Bairns away in an opening period which saw them net twice inside a minute. The goals were near carbon copies of one another – first James Tavernier squared to Kenny Miller who finished at the back post on seven minutes. Then Lee Wallace did the same on the left for Barrie McKay, who tapped it home.
But the second period heralded an inspired comeback from Falkirk and they struck back in ten second-half minutes. First through a stunning Will Vaulks half volley and then Myles Hippoloyte rounded Wes Foderingham. But the killer blow came two minutes into stoppage time when Gers switched off to let Bob McHugh turn the ball in at the near post.
The result moves the Bairns three points closer to Gers at the top of the table, leaving an 11 point gap at the top of the Championship with seven games left to play.
Rangers had the ball in the back of the net with less than three minutes played but James Tavernier had strayed offside before side footing home from a Miller pass.
It would take Gers just another four minutes to score for real though. It came through some lovely play out on the right flank as Andy Halliday and Billy King combined with magic effect. Halliday slipped in Tavernier and the full-back sent a square ball right onto the toes of Miller, who was flying in at the back post. All the 36-year-old had to do was turn it into the net.
Eight minutes had gone and Rangers had turned the screw even further by doubling their lead within 60 seconds. In a near carbon copy on their opener Wallace profited from David McCracken slipping in the full-back position. The captain tore through on goal and put a ball across the face of goal as he neared the by-line. Like Miller before McKay was there in waiting and tapped home from close range at the far post.
Falkirk were more than struggling to contain Rangers and McKay should have taken his tally to two on 12 minutes. King threaded a cute ball through the centre to him and with just Danny Rodgers to beat the midfield jinked round the keeper expertly. His next touch was a little on the heavy side though and he was forced to try and convert from the tightest of angles – he could only watch as the ball was cleared off the line.
McKay was ripping Falkirk to pieces and he couldn’t help but be involved again. The 20-year-old took the resulting corner and laid it off short to Wallace who found space on the edge of the area and sent a thunderous shot at Rogers – the keeper did well to hold. Halliday tried a similar effort minutes later and the Bairns stopper was well tested by the stinging shot.
In the meantime Falkirk has stung the palms of Foderingham after a poor clearance from Tavernier afforded Craig Sibbald a route in.
As the game calmed down Foderingham was called into action again. John Baird got the better of both Wallace and Tavernier, as they attempted to shadow him out of play on the left, and he touched the ball to Vaulks. Halliday failed to disposes him and the midfield had a crack with a curling effort from just outside the area.
Wallace had scored in three in three and was seemingly keen to keep the sequence up. On 32 minutes he received a ball from Halliday, at least 30 yards out, and drilled one goalwards. Rodgers was sent scrambling to tip it over his crossbar as it dipped with distance.
Just before the break Gers two goalscorers combined and Miller should have had his second. McKay picked up a quick free-kick from Wallace to turn and curl a ball along the ground around Falkirk’s defenders. The striker slid in with Rodgers, hoping to get a toe to it, but the chance fell away from his grasp. He probably would have converted had the ball reached him just milliseconds earlier.
Warburton’s men started the second-half with the same impetus they had ended the first. King cut back to Miller at the top of the ‘D’ and the striker swiped a quick rising shot at Rogers but it went wide.
Then Halliday hustled the Bairns backline to dispossess McCracken and rush through on goal. He drove his shot from a tricky angle and it shot inches wide of the right upright. Rangers were in cruise control.
But the game turned quickly With 58 minutes gone Gers suffered their first real scare of the game as Hippolyte spread the play to Luke Leahy and the defender fired one at Foderingham. The keeper could only parry it into Falkirk’s path and Gers scrambled to clear their lines before anyone got the shot away.
After a superb performance Warburton decided to give McKay’s well worked legs a rest and introduced Harry Forrester on the hour mark. Almost immediately the home side cracked another effort at Foderingham and his palms were well and truly stung by Vaulks shot from distance.
It was to be a busy period for the Rangers keeper as Hippolyte used his pace to get away from Gers defence and Foderingham was forced to palm it wide. Then Vaulks looped a ball over the top to cause chaos in the Rangers box – Rob Kiernan eventually got the last touch to hook it away after Baird tried to poke the ball home.
Michael O’Halloran could have scored with his first touch on 67 minutes. He swiped his left footed shot at Rodgers and the keeper had to get low to save at his boots. He had the ball in the net seconds later but Nicky Clark was offside in the build-up, and was adjudged to be interfering with play, as the former St Johnstone man ball placed the ball beyond Rogers.
But with 22 minutes left to play Falkirk were back in it with a superb goal. Dom Ball failed to clear his lines properly and Blair Alston picked the ball up on the half volley, 20 yards out, and rifled it into the top corner. There was nothing Foderingham could do to stop the thunderbolt.
And then they drew level with Rangers 10 minutes later after Kiernan didn’t clear properly and the ball fell into Falkirk hands. Tavernier had another stab at it but Hippoloyte was intent on reaching the ball first and jinked round Foderingham to stroke the ball into the bottom corner from the left. With just over 10 minutes left to play the power had shifted in this game.
Rangers went is desperate search of an equaliser; Kiernan headed straight at Rogers. Then Wallace fizzed a square ball onto the penalty spot but Clark’s attempts to chest the ball down were cleared by McCracken who flung himself in front of the ball.
After being so utterly in charge of the game Falkirk struck last, two minutes into stoppage time their two substitutes combined. Kevin O’Hara cut a ball along the by-line and McHugh was there to turn it in at the near post.
RANGERS: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wilson, Wallace, Ball, Halliday, Holt, Miller (Clark 66’) McKay (Forrester 60’), King (O’Halloran 66’)
Subs not used: Bell, Law, Shiels
Goals: Miller 7’, McKay 8’
FALKIRK: Rogers, Leahy, Muirhead, McCracken, Vaulks, Taiwo, Alston, Baird (McHugh 80’), Sibbald (O’Hara 73’), Miller (Hippolyte 49’), Watson
Subs not used: Mehmet, Smith, McCann, Gallacher
Goals: Vaulks 68’, Hippolyte 78, McHugh 90+2’
Yellows: Hippolyte 63’, Baird 76’