WHAT a difference a week makes! Falkirk reached the final of the Bell's Cup courtesy of a masterclass in Perth, with Russell Latapy the head teacher.
Latapy summed up the performance even before the aftermatch interviews. Eight minutes from time he received the ball near Saints left hand corner flag with Paul Sheerin facing him. You could almost see the midfielder shaking as he tried to work out what to do. No less than six times he dived in to tackle only to find that Latapy had gone. He could have crossed the ball every time but was clearly having too much fun. It was like watching a matador toy with a bull. Granted, Sheerin finally hacked him to the ground but his embarrassment was total.
Ignore the scoreline, this was as comprehensive a win as Falkirk will have this season if you ignore the first eight minutes.
Home manager John Connolly must have sent his players out with a rocket up their jacksies as they went on the attack. Ryan McCann's corner skimmed off the head of Kevin James and on to Peter McDonald at the back post. His header was helped over the line by defender Kevin Rutkiewicz right in front of the travelling fans. The home team looked a yard sharper than Falkirk and when Stephen McConalogue wriggled his way past John Hughes, playing instead of the injured Mark Campbell, in the box Allan Ferguson had to pull off a great save.
Thankfully it didn't take long for Saints to run out of steam about nine minutes actually. Darryl Duffy did the damage with his 15th goal of the season but the goal was all Latapy. He took a pass from Craig McPherson on half way, skipped past Steven Anderson and slid a perfect pass for Duffy to run onto. The striker seemed to have gone too wide but still managed to roll the ball past former Rangers pal Allan McGregor from 10 yards. The rocket must have fizzled out as the visitors took full control of the next 80 odd minutes. Latapy put Duffy through again but this time he went too wide.
Peter McDonald is Saints main danger man these days so it was no bad thing when he limped off the pitch injured. McConalogue did force another save from Ferguson with a header as Falkirk's vulnerability from cross balls continued to be a big concern. Pedro Moutinho, making his first competitive start, almost set John O'Neil through on goal with a lovely turn and pass but the midfielder's first touch let him down. Then Duffy was booked for an over enthusiastic challenge on McGregor. O'Neil and Davie Nicholls both fired shots over the bar as all the football came from Falkirk. Moutinho received the ball on the edge of the box but, after beating his man three times, couldn't get a shot away.
As half time approached Latapy sent Moutinho racing at the last defender again. This time the Portuguese man rolled the ball back into Latapy's path but his side footer rolled straight into McGregor's hands. Four minutes after the break Latapy almost scored the goal of the season. Starting in his own half he left three defenders in his wake but just overran the ball as he beat the last man allowing McGregor to smother it. Moutinho then played a one-two with Latapy but didn't connect properly with his shot then Nicholls warmed the keeper's hands with a typical strike.
With all the fantastic passing on show it was ironic that the winner was so simple. Latapy's cross was met by Andy Lawrie's head and 'easy, easy' sang the fans, this time without irony. By this time the home team were barely getting a kick at the ball. The large Bairns support cheered every pass but McConalogue almost proved the old adage that a one goal advantage is never enough, forcing Ferguson to tip his volley wide. Craig McPherson went looking for his first goal of the season but McGregor matched his rising shot then Latapy put the icing on another immaculate display as he toyed with Sheerin. Bring on the County!