Rodney Marshall's flag ensures a fair point

Saturday 20th August - Irn-Bru First Division
Ayr United 2, Falkirk 2

[Note: I starting writing this post before the Ill Firm embarrassed nobody but themselves last night]

Can Scottish football really get any worse? asked STV. "Another night of Euro despair marks a new low for our game. There are no excuses, and few words left to describe it" wrote Ronnie Esplin.  What a load of hyperbolic nonsense. After Saturday's thrilling game in the Somerset sun, not too many of the 1938 supporters in attendance would agree, or probably care.  It was a fantastic game, and although a slew of missed chances and controversially disallowed goal suggests Falkirk were unlucky not to win, provided yet more evidence that United can hold their own in this division.

Ayr started badly and Falkirk were ahead after just 8 minutes.  Michael Moffat, demonstrating why wide midfield isn't his best position, was caught in possession on the right and the ball was threaded through Ayr's back four for Kallum Higginbotham.  Smith came across to challenge the former Rochdale man but was easily beaten as Higginbotham turned inside coolly curled the ball past Cuthbert into the bottom right hand corner.

United's defence was all over the place, with even the classy John Robertson looking uncomfortable in the face of Falkirk's youthful exuberance.  After 11 minutes Falkirk should have been two ahead. Another botched quick free kick routine - I wish Brian Reid would give up on this tactic - and 16 year old Craig Sibbald found Moroccan Farid El Allagui but the striker shot wide (more on him later).  Mark Roberts summed it up with a audible moan at Robertson: ''Robbo, that's a shambles".

Things were looking ominous for Ayr but they showed great character to draw level on the half-hour mark.  McGowan and Moffat switched flanks and this was to prove the catalysis.  Comfortable with both feet, the former Clyde winger seems to operate best on the right and after giving Dundee left-back Matt Lockwood a torrid time last week it was former Scotland U21 internationalist Thomas Scobbie who was on the receiving end here.  The equaliser came as McGowan played a one-two with Robertson who put in a perfect cross for Gareth Wardlaw to head home.  Many folk would like to see Robertson line up in the middle of defence alongside Campbell but the veteran's quality going forward from right-back should not be underestimated and Wardlaw grabbed a 'traditional' strikers goal, the type of which have been rare at Somerset Park in recent seasons.

Inspired by the goal and McGowan's wing play, Ayr were now competing well and for a time it was one way traffic towards McGovern's goal.  Geggan hit the post with a burst from midfield which is quickly typifying the hard working midfielder and Moffat had a header well saved. So Falkirk's second goal on the stroke of half-time was more than unfortunate. The goal was set in the context of a tussle royale between Martyn Campbell and El Allagui.  One challenge too many saw Campbell go into Stephen Finnie's notebook after 36 minutes and from that point on El Allagui seemed to be intent on getting the big centre-back sent off.  Any contact saw the Moroccan go down so as he raced through on goal - having escaped with just a talking to from Finnie when a yellow card looked certain - Campbell knew he couldn't touch him as he set off in pursuit. Cuthbert could have maybe done better in the one-on-one, but 2-1 it was.

Spurred perhaps by a sense if injustice, the second-half continued in much the same vain and Ayr grabbed an equaliser on the hour mark.  Wardlaw did well to earn a foul 20 yards out as Darren Dods made the challenge and Eddie Malone sent a superb free-kick curling up and over the wall into the bottom right hand corner. The game at this point was an incredible spectacle.  Fast paced with chances at both ends, both keepers - and the woodwork - being kept busy. The game was also gaining a bit of an edge with five Falkirk players going into the book in short succession, including El Allagui (eventually) but shortly after the Moroccan got his way as Martyn Campbell was ordered off following a tussle on half-way in which Campbell seemed to kick out at.  It was disappointing from Campbell and unfortunately entirely foreseeable.

Faced with seeing out the final seventeen minutes down to ten men it was inevitable that United would be under the cosh and Falkirk lay siege to Kevin Cuthbert's goal.  Ayr remained resolute, however, and the final act of the game summed up their deserved fortune.  With the ball in the back of the net and Kallum Higginbotham celebrating with the Falkirk fans, the Ayr supports' attention was drawn to Assistant Referee Rodney Marshall's raised flag.  Joy amongst the home end and by the time it had sunk into the visitors, irony had been added to agony with Higginbotham booked for celebrating a 'goal' that was ruled out (rightly, according to Brain Reid in the Ayrshire Post this week).  The full time whistle went almost straight away marking the end of a thoroughly entertaining game, well worth the admission price.  Its not often you can say that about Scottish football today and maybe, just maybe, Scottish football isn't as bad as people make out...

The Opposition
Like Hamilton on the opening day of the season, Falkirk travelled to Somerset Park with a raft of promising youngsters. Indeed, 11 of their match day 16 were still teenagers - and it showed in their inability to capitalise on their man advantage in the closing period of the game. There was no doubting their endeavour or technical ability but ultimately it was a lack of composure in front of goal (and perhaps luck...) that prevented Steven Pressley's kids earning all three points. At the back, the influence of Darren Dods is obvious - no more so as he was called upon to calm down the No. 2 Elliot Duffy, after Marko had wound the right-back up into a rage over a seemingly innocuous incident.  Falkirk were missing a similar character in midfield and although Geggan and McKernan didn't have many years on their opponents in the middle of the park, they probably edged it. And upfront, Higgenbotham and El Allagui will cause may defences trouble, particular the troublesome Moroccan. El Allagui was a constant menace to Martyn Campbell and came out on top - and there aren't many strikers at this level who can say that.  He seems to posses the attributes of a 'traditional' British centre forward but also a continental nous rare in this league. I'm certain he'll be infuriating Ayr fans again this season and that Falkirk are a side on the up.  Its probably too soon in their development for the Bairns to be challenging for the title this season, but they will certainly have a say.

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