RANGERS recorded just their second defeat in the Championship this season as Falkirk struck early in each half.
In an agonising afternoon for the Gers it was ultimately a game of two penalties. Martyn Waghorn had a 90th minute penalty saved in a game that had seen the Bairns go ahead through a wrongly given spotkick with the game barely underway.
Mark Warburton’s side had a mountain to climb from that moment on but Barrie McKay levelled on 19 minutes and gave them hope.
An immense spell of pressure from the home side just after the break ultimately told though and Will Vaulks put his side ahead again 10 minutes into the second-half.
Rangers had several moments to clinch an equaliser before Waghorn’s penalty. They poured forward and switched to three at the back but Nicky Law, Kenny Miller and Andy Halliday couldn’t convert the golden chances.
It meant the Light Blues dropped vital points in the title race and gave Hibernian the chance to draw level with them in their three o’clock kick-off.
A misjudged decision from Willie Collum meant Rangers were one down within three minutes. Danny Wilson rushed across to the left to clear from Will Vaulks path a couple of yards outside the box and took out the man.
A free-kick it was but penalty it was not. The referee though pointed to the spot and despite getting fingers tips to it Wes Foderingham turned John Baird’s effort into the roof of the net.
Rangers had struggled for an opening but with 19 minutes played they were back in the game through McKay.
The Light Blues poured forward and as Andy Halliday lashed a shot goalwards the deflection fell to Nathan Oduwa. The Spurs loanee whipped a ball in but James Tavernier could only nod it wide to McKay, he sent it into the ground from the angle and his strike nestled in the bottom corner. It was a messy move but it worked.
Rangers had enjoyed 70% of the possession and now with a goal pegged back they looked to build on it. Tavernier spotted the run of Waghorn and sent a long looping ball onto his head but with the keeper bearing down on him he nodded over.
On 25 minutes Falkirk had the ball in the back of the net again and had started their celebrations when they spotted the linesman’s flag. Craig Sibbald sprung the Gers defence on the left and shaped himself to roll the ball across Foderingham and in at the far post. But Baird took a touch on the line, after surging through the middle, to tap it home. If he’d left it the Bairns would have doubled their lead.
After pressing forward time after time Rangers had actually struggled to create any real chances after their goal. But they came close twice with some quality a couple of minutes before the break. First Lee Wallace squared a cute ball to Waghorn and the striker was only denied by a great saving challenge at his feet from David McCracken. The loose ball fell to Tavernier outside the box and he pressed forward to try and curl one in to the top corner but sent his effort just wide.
Within minutes of the restart Rangers had their own penalty shout as Dean Shiels was brought down on the by-line but their appeals were waved away.
Moments later Sibbald went down the other end and cleverly made space for himself to drill a low shot at Foderingham. The keeper had to be alert to dive to his left and tip the ball round the post – it was a taste of things to come.
With the second-half still young the home side were back in front after Will Vaulks rifled a shot home. Jason Holt was the man on the post but he just tangled with the ball as it bounced into the net. The move had started from a corner that wasn’t cleared properly by Rangers and Tavernier headed into the goal scorer’s path.
Had it not been for Foderingham’s subtle save to tip O’Hara’s strike onto the post the Bairns would have had three. The midfielder had broken into the box with expert pace and, though Rob Kiernan may have put him off with a last ditch challenge, he still found the composure to fire goalwards. It was a let off for Rangers who had half an hour to save the game.
But with Warburton’s side being forced to play a high line to get on the scoresheet it enabled Falkirk to keep catching Gers as they too poured forward. Foderingham was called upon again as O’Hara let another rip and the stopper had to leap to tip over.
The manager rung the changes and Oduwa and Shiels made way for the returning Nicky Law and Kenny Miller. They nearly had the desired impact when Holt chose not to shoot, jinking and twisting in the box to cut back for Law. He took one touch and then rattled the woodwork with a deflection on its way.
Moments later it was the other substitute going agonisingly close. McKay squeezed a ball between two defenders to play in Miller but he couldn’t wriggle the ball into the tight space between keeper and upright.
The tables were maybe turning and 14 minutes from time it was Halliday testing the keeper with sweet striker from 20 yards. Danny Rogers did well to palm it round the post.
With 10 minutes to go Rangers had to go for it, Nicky Clark came on for Wilson as Warburton shifted to three at the back.
With just additional time to play the Light Blues had their lifeline. Blair Alston was adjudged to have handled in the area. Waghorn stepped up to face Rogers and the keeper pulled off a brilliant save to rattle the powerful penalty against the base of the post. It skewed back along the line but not over and Falkirk cleared.
RANGERS: Foderingham, Tavernier, Wilson (Clark 80’), Kiernan, Wallace, Halliday Holt, Shiels (Law 65’), Oduwa (Miller 65’), Waghorn, McKay
Subs not used: Kelly, Ball, Aird, Thompson
Goals: McKay 19’
Yellows: Wilson 2’
FALKIRK: Rogers, Leahy, Muirhead, McCracken, Vaulks, Alston, Baird (Shepherd 80’), Sibbald, Kerr, Grant, O’Hara (Miller 75’)
Subs not used: Tokarczyk, Smith, Blair, Gallacher, Watson
Goals: Baird 3’, Vaulks 55’