Falkirk’s League One title hopes were handed a boost tonight after the Bairns closed the lead at the top of the table to just a single point with a win over East Fife.
The Bairns were looking to bounce back from the narrow defeat by Hearts in the Scottish Cup nine days ago, with co-head coach Lee Miller admitting before the game that the loss to the Jambos allows his side to fully focus on the title race.
Both sides made a handful of changes from their previous outing with the Bairns making two alterations from the Hearts game while East Fife boss Darren Young made three changes after his side beat Peterhead 1-0 on Saturday.
It was all Falkirk in the opening stages as the Bairns moved the ball around freely, looking to find gaps in the Fifers’ defence and grab an early breakthrough.
With Falkirk trying at times to be a a little too cute, it was the visitors who had the best of the early chances when Ryan Wallace’s cross found Kevin Smith 10-yards out but he couldn’t stop his effort going over the bar.
The East Fife chance came among a flurry of opportunities for the Bairns and they really should have done better after some nice interplay between Connor Sammon and Mo Gomis sent the midfielder bursting through on goal but his strike was nowhere near good enough and trickled wide of Brett Long’s near post.
For all of Falkirk’s possession, the Bairns were the masters of their own downfall far too many times going forward with poor touches, misjudged passes and badly-times runs causing move after move to break down.
Everything was just a bit too scrappy from the hosts and it let East Fife off the hook repeatedly – even giving the Fifers a few chances of their own to attack.
The energetic Aidan Conolly was next to go close for the Bairns with 30 minutes on the clock when his header went within inches of Long’s post after a nice counter-attack by the hosts ended with the wideman picked out by Mikey Doyle’s cross.
With the opening 45 ticking away, the home fans were becoming noticeably frustrated with their side’s performance – with Connor Sammon coming in for the brunt of it after a number of poor errors from the veteran.
There was a perfect chance to finally get the opening goal just a few minutes before the break when Connolly’s cross from the left fell to Sammon, who couldn’t get a shot away before eventually landing at the feet of Doyle who fired wide.
After being met with a chorus of boos at the break, Falkirk really needed an injection of energy after the restart and it was McManus who looked like he would provide with a couple of early runs at the East Fife defence.
It didn’t last long though as the game quickly settled back into a similar pattern as the first half, with Falkirk dominating possession but failing to make their control show on the scoreboard.
East Fife had Long to thank again when the keeper pulled off a brilliant reaction save to deny Louis Longridge at point-blank range.
There seemed to be almost an inevitability to Falkirk opening the scoring but the Fifers kept hanging on for what would be a vital point in their own push for a playoff place come May.
59 | Falkirk 0-0 East Fife pic.twitter.com/JmBkvhcOGa
— East Fife FC (@EastFifeFC) February 18, 2020
The Bairns made a double switch after 66 minutes as they introduced Josh Todd and Charlie Telfer in place of Mo Gomis and Louis Longridge, with the hosts throwing everything forward in search of a goal, with East Fife making their first change a little bit earlier as Anton Dowds replaced Smith then bringing Dunsmore on for Morrisson soon afterwards.
The goal everyone had been waiting for finally arrived with 18 minutes left to send the Falkirk Stadium into raptures as Mikey Doyle thundered the ball home, leaving Long with absolutely no chance of stopping his strike.
Doyle had found himself in space after a cross failed to find anyone in the penalty area and the defender took a touch before slamming it into the net.
Just minutes later it was 2-0 after the Bairns got the slice of luck that had been evading all night when McManus’ strike cannoned off the post and back off Long before spinning over the line.
It was maybe a little unfair on the East Fife keeper but it was little more than the Bairns deserved after dominating for so long.
AND ANOTHER!!! pic.twitter.com/RaZITjRvb3
— Falkirk FC (@FalkirkFC) February 18, 2020
The goal also marked the final change of the night for the Bairns as Sammon was taken off and replaced by co-boss Lee Miller, to a fantastic reception from the home support.
There was almost a third goal to put the seal on the night for the hosts when McManus’ strike hit the post before coming off a defender and bouncing on the line then out.
It wouldn’t have made much difference to the game though as Falkirk eventually cruised to the three points and kept their title bid on track.
Falkirk: Mutch, Doyle, Dixon, Buchanan, Gomis (Telfer 66′), Connolly, McManus, Longridge (Todd 66′), Hall, Miller, Sammon (L. Miller
Subs not used: Ferrie, McShane, De Vita, McMillan,
East Fife: Long, Morrisson (Dunsmore 70′), Murdoch, Dunlop, Higgins, Slattery, Agnew, Davidson, Watt, Smith (Dowds 59′), Wallace
Subs not used: Scoon, Watson, Hunter, Denholm, Baker