The League One outfit are back at Hampden for the first time in eight years as Tony Christie’s Amarillo belted out across the Falkirk Stadium. John McGlynn’s men had to show admirable courage to recover from the concession of an early goal to usurp their Championship rivals in a match that was ultimately decided by the composure of one man from the penalty spot and the lack of it by another.
Dipo Akinyemi opened the scoring for Ayr 12 minutes in and could have scored another in a dominant opening period. But Falkirk hung in there and improved, before netting an equaliser via Callumn Morrison's penalty. The Honest Men were awarded one of their own nine minutes from time but the experienced Chris Maguire, recently back in Scottish football, tried to be too cool and hit the junction between post and bar. Just two minutes thereafter, Rangers loanee Kai Kennedy’s deflected effort sailed in and the Bairns held on for victory. They will meet Inverness in the last four, a repeat of the 2015 final.
"You better believe I’m proud of my players. That’s an understatement,” beamed McGlynn afterwards. “I’m delighted for everyone connected with Falkirk. We matched Ayr in every department and I think we just about deserved it. This club was at rock bottom last summer so it’s a dream come true for us to be in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup.”
Ayr manager Lee Bullen urged his players to use the pain of defeat in their quest for promotion. “There’s a lot of boys really down in that dressing room,” he said. “I’ve told them they are going to get a lot of highs and a lot of lows in their career. Tonight is a memory they’re going to have etched in their minds. We can’t allow this disappointment to define our season. We have nine games left in the league where that group of players could create massive history for this football club."
Falkirk become the first team from Scotland’s third tier to reach the last four of the Scottish Cup since Gretna in 2006. Six days from a proper punch in the guts by Dunfermline in the race for the League One title, they showed their resilience. Conversely, this is a hammer blow for Ayr, who ceded control of the match far too easily and were wasteful with some decent chances.
More than 6000 people turned out on a freezing evening and were rewarded with an explosive match. Ayr took the lead when a long diagonal was headed down by Sam Ashford into the path of the impressive Akinyemi just outside the box. Under pressure from Falkirk defender Coll Donaldson, he managed to fashion a shooting opportunity and his effort was deviated slightly by the centre-back’s lunge, taking it past Falkirk goalkeeper Brian Kinnear. The visiting fans housed at the other end went ballistic and threw three flares on to the pitch in celebration.
After more Ayr pressure, Falkirk managed to force a string of corners towards the end of the first half that ought to have brought goals. Donaldson was the fall guy on both occasions, heading over from close range and then sclaffing an effort when found in space by a clever Brad McKay cutback.
Falkirk continued where they had left off after the break. More corners, an aerial siege of the Ayr defence. Marshalled by Sean McGinty and Frankie Musonda, they looked reasonably solid until, on 66 minutes, Musonda handled in the box. Referee Nick Walsh pointed to the spot and Callumn Morrison, Falkirk’s top scorer, made no mistake.
The visitors manufactured a great opportunity to go back ahead on 81 minutes when Musonda was felled by Donaldson in the box. It was another straightforward penalty award but instead of usual taker Ben Dempsey stepping it up, it fell to Maguire, a recent new arrival. The ex-Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Sunderland forward hit the woodwork in what turned out to be a pivotal moment in the match.
Two minutes later, Falkirk raced up the other end and scored what proved to be the winner. Kennedy, on as a sub, honed in on goal and unleashed a strike that took a telling deflection off Musonda and beat Ayr keeper Aidan McAdams all ends up. The Falkirk Stadium erupted. Hampden awaits.