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OBAN Saints and Falkirk Community will reconvene at Glencruitten this Saturday afternoon after a pulsating 90-plus minutes of end-to-end action at Alva Academy failed to separate the two evenly-matched sides.
The keenly-contested Scottish Amateur Cup third round tie ebbed and flowed throughout the afternoon with the home side snatching a dramatic stoppage time equaliser to force a replay.
Saints Manager Alex Craik’s selection problems deepened with four players dropping out from the squad which defeated Inverclyde on league duty the previous Saturday, so much so that Marc Maccallum interrupted his sabbatical to partner the Gaffer at the heart of the defence.
With Falkirk FC playing at home, the Falkirk Stadium was unavailable to the Community team therefore the tie was switched some 20 miles away to Alva Academy, a venue slightly more in keeping with the Scottish Amateur Cup.
The home side kicked off playing into the bright low sun with lightning quick right winger Grant Plenderleith posting early notice of the threat his pace would pose accelerating away from Scott Maitland in the first minute and sending in a deep cross which Steven MacLeod hooked clear.
Scottish sprint champion Plenderleith was through again in the fifth minute sending a shot with the outside of his right boot wide of the right-hand post of Saints keeper Graham Douglas.
Saints weathered the early pressure from the hosts and threatened for the first time in the ninth minute. Shaun MacIver won a free kick on the edge of the centre circle from where Willie Gemmell found Donald Campbell on the edge of the box. Campbell held the ball up well and slipped it through to Craig MacEwan who shaved the outside of the right hand post of Falkirk keeper Campbell Geddes.
Shaun MacIver fired wide of the same post two minutes later after linking up well with Donald Campbell in a move started by a Marc Maccallum interception of the half-way line.
Saints were left appealing in vain in the 13th minute when referee Joseph Todd gave the benefit of an extremely tight offside decision against Craig MacEwan in favour of the home side. Falkirk Skipper Jack Stickler didn’t wait around to debate the matter and sent a long ball up to James Stevenson to which Alex Craik reacted quickly to snuff out the danger and head the ball back to Graham Douglas.
The home side took the lead in the 20th minute from a passage of play typical of the end-to-end nature of the match.
Craig MacEwan was harshly penalised for a challenge on Robert Duncan just inside the Saints half. Marc Maccallum climbed above Callan Kerr to head the free-kick clear, launching a counter attack which saw Shaun MacIver and Donald Campbell combine well for Campbell to draw a smart save from Campbell Geddes low down to his right.
Falkirk immediately turned defence into attack with Robert Duncan sending speedster Grant Plenderleith in behind a high Saints back line. Alex Craik read the danger well to get across, unfortunately, these days his brain moves a lot faster than his legs and Plenderleith switched on the afterburners to race away and fire a shot across Graham Douglas and into the bottom corner.
Back at the other end Keith Millar and Scott Maitland worked an opening on the left with Maitland’s cross being headed out by Scott Wright to Steven MacLeod, who thumped a right foot shot from 25 yards just over the junction of post and bar.
In the 26th minute Shaun MacIver dropped deep to take the ball from Steven MacLeod and tossed in a tempting cross to the far post which Campbell Geddes did well to punch away under pressure from Craig MacEwan.
In between times Grant Prenderleith raced away again on the right and sent a cut-back to Callan Kerr who, from 10 yards, beat the left hand of Graham Douglas but, fortunately for Saints, also the outside of the post.
Saints drew level in the 29th minute after Scott Wright halted a promising Craig MacEwan run 28 yards from goal. Campbell Geddes in the Falkirk goal got down well to turn Willie Gemmell’s free-kick round his left hand post for a corner kick.
Shaun MacIver’s delivery from the right was met perfectly by Craig MacEwan who got across Robert Duncan on the six-yard line to power a header past Geddes and into the net.
Steven MacLeod was the unlucky recipient of the game’s first yellow card for his protestations at a hotly disputed corner kick awarded to the home side.
Calm was restored when Ryan Donnelly sent the corner from the left straight behind for a goal kick.
Donnelly fared better in the 41st minute getting to the bye-line and picking out Paul McCarthy on the corner of the box who shot wide of the far post.
Having come close earlier Steven MacLeod joined the attack again in the 42nd minute and had another shooting opportunity cutting in from the right which again narrowly failed to hit the target.
As Mr Todd blew the half-time whistle the previously sunny afternoon gave way to a hail downpour when an ominous looking black cloud opened up sending both camps scampering for the shelter of the changing rooms.
The timing of the half-time interval was perfect as the heavy shower passed over for the bright low sun to return for the start of the second half.
Saints made an encouraging start to the second 45 forcing a corner on the left in the first minute through Donald Campbell and Scott Maitland.
Craig MacEwan and Donald Campbell both had half chances snuffed out before Falkirk responded winning their first corner kick of the second half in the 52nd minute.
Central defender Scott Wright climbed above Alex Craik to send a header wide of Graham Douglas and his right hand upright.
The home side once again used their pace in the wide areas to good advantage in the 54th minute with Ryan Donnelly sending in a deep cross from the left which Grant Plenderleith on the full volley sliced out for a throw-in. On the hour mark Donald Campbell had his heels clipped by Callan Kerr 10 yards inside the Falkirk half. Willie Gemmell played the free-kick up to Campbell on the edge of the box who found space for a shot which fizzed across the face of goal and wide of the right hand post of Campbell Geddes.
Two minutes later the Saints front three linked up well playing their way up to the edge of the Falkirk box where Scott Wright unfairly halted Craig MacEwan’s progress earning himself a yellow card in the process. From the free-kick Willie Gemmell looked to test the keeper again unfortunately his effort over the wall from 19 yards wouldn’t come down quickly enough and cleared the crossbar by some distance.
Saints kept up the pressure with Campbell Geddes having to slide out to deny Donald Campbell with his legs and Craig MacEwan reacting first to the loose ball but sending it over the crossbar under pressure from Jack Stickler.
Whether the return of Marc Maccallum after a 10-week absence proves to be any more than a temporary arrangement remains to be seen, however, the value of his presence alongside the Gaffer in central defence was never more evident than in the 66th minute when a sliding last ditch tackle foiled Grant Plenderleith when in behind Scott Maitland.
Unfortunately there was to be no saving tackle two minutes later when Plenderleith pounced on a misplaced pass and sent James Stevenson racing into the area to slam a low shot past Graham Douglas and restore the lead for the home side.
Saints set about redressing the balance for a second time with Craig MacEwan back-heading a Willie Gemmell cross over the cross bar and Shaun MacIver finding himself crowded out on the edge of the box when attempting to force his way through the middle of the Falkirk defence. The second Saints equaliser came in the 74th minute with Willie Gemmell claiming the assist with a precision through ball to open up the Falkirk defence. Donald Campbell timed his run onto Gemmell’s pass to perfection and from 10 yards slotted the ball under the left arm of Campbell Geddes and into the net.
With 15 minutes remaining Falkirk made the only change of the match introducing Blair Lockhart to replace Callan Kerr in attack.
Saints took the lead for the first time in the 78th minute with a move started deep in his own half by Alex Craik. The Gaffer picked out Keith Millar in the centre circle who, supported by Myles McAuley, raced forward holding off several challenges before feeding Craig MacEwan 25 yards out. With a pass and finish almost identical to the second goal, MacEwan split the Falkirk defence for Donald Campbell to slot the ball underneath the keeper and put Saints into pole position.
Shaun MacIver and Scott Maitland both found their way into Mr Todd’s notebook for mistimed challenges on Falkirk full back Brayden Docherty as the home side pressed hard for an equaliser.
Saints were happy to see Scott Wright and Blair Lockhart headers fly over the crossbar as Grant Plenderleith tossed dangerous crosses onto the six -yard line.
The sense of relief, however, turned to despair as Plenderleith snatched a draw in the second of four minutes added on by referee Todd. The speedy right winger sent in another cross from the corner of the 18-yard box this time into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ between defenders and goalkeeper. The cross eluded Alex Craik and Blair Lockhart and bounced past a stranded Graham Douglas into the unguarded net ensuring that both teams go into the hat for Wednesday’s fourth round draw.
Manager Alex Craik said: ‘It was a terrific game, Falkirk are a good side. We would have taken a draw before the game but to lose the equaliser in added on time was a sickner.
‘However, we have home advantage now and hopefully we’ll get a good crowd of supporters and have a few more players available.
‘We haven’t had a settled squad all season, being forced to make changes every week which is no good at this level of football – you must have continuity.’