Falkirk 1 Raith Rovers 1: Three red cards again as rivals share points
An under-strength Raith Rovers side would have taken a point before kick-off, but after a rollercoaster 90 minutes at the Falkirk Stadium, this was a missed opportunity to claim all three.
For the second week running the Kirkcaldy side were involved in a game that had three red cards, but this time they were the ones who had the man advantage for the majority with Falkirk finishing with nine after playing most of the match with 10.
Home midfielder Charlie Telfer was shown a straight red card after just 13 minutes for a crude challenge on Regan Hendry that sparked a furious reaction from the Rovers player who had just returned from eight weeks out with a knee injury.
The Fifers made the most of their numerical advantage, taking a one-goal lead into the break courtesy of a superb header from Jamie Gullan, and despite missing five regular starters through either suspension or injury, the match was now theirs to lose.
However, the 10 men of Falkirk raised their game after the break, equalising through former Raith striker Declan McManus on 58 minutes, and when the numbers were evened up seven minutes later after Kyle Benedictus stupidly picked up a second booking, leaving the visitors with just one recognised centre-half, a point suddenly looked like a good result again.
Falkirk were in the ascendancy as they attacked a makeshift back four, hitting the bar, until another red card shown to substitute Morgaro Gomis with seven minutes remaining put the home side down to nine men, changing the complexion again and restoring the real possibility of an away victory, but Rovers were unable to take advantage in the time that remained.
After an eventful 90 minutes of twists and turns, both management teams were reasonably satisfied with the outcome, albeit with better game management in the second half, and keeping 11 men on the park, Rovers could have been seven points clear of one of their main title rivals.
In the end, maintaining the four-point gap to Falkirk, and holding onto first place on goal difference from Airdrie, made this a satisfactory Saturday.
With five players out, including suspended duo Iain Davidson and Ross Matthews, Rovers handed a first league start of the season to Jamie Watson at right-back, with Dave McKay moving to centre-half.
Hendry's inclusion in the starting line-up despite only returning to full training on Thursday was an unexpected boost, and his nimble footwork in the centre-circle drew the foul that resulted in an early bath for Telfer.
The red card put the breaks on the home side's positive start, having forced Ross Munro into an early point-blank save at the feet at the feet of David McMillan.
The Bairns were incredibly fortunate not to lose another man on 18 minutes as Gary Miller barged into the back of referee Gavin Ross as he protested McKay's challenge on McManus, resulting in the whistler tumbling to the deck in a somewhat theatrical manner.
After speaking to his assistant, Ross surprisingly decided a word of caution was all that was required.
Raith were patient in their approach against the 10 men, sometimes too much so as they opted for the backwards or sideways pass, but eventually they penetrated on 37 minutes thanks to a tremendous delivery from Kieran MacDonald, matched by the placement of Gullan's glancing header which nestled inside the far post.
MacDonald went close to putting Raith two up after a 50-yard run and shot that flashed narrowly wide as the first half played out to the chorus of Raith fans singing their hearts out.
Falkirk introduced the experienced Gomis at the break, which helped the 10 men gain more of a foothold, but Rovers were comfortable until Hendry was dispossessed by Louis Longridge, who burst into the box, forcing Munro to parry a shot into the air that Gregor Buchanan knocked back across goal for McManus to steer home.
That was a setback, but Rovers still had the man extra and they almost regained the lead on 64 minutes when MacDonald again got forward, jinking his way into the box before clipping a shot just a fraction wide of the post.
Hendry then had a shot saved before Benedictus, in allowing the ball to bounce, let McManus nip in before pulling the striker back as he raced towards the box. A clear booking, and having already saw yellow, he had to go.
The stare from John McGlynn said it all as his skipper traipsed down the tunnel, and the Rovers boss reacted by moving MacDonald into centre-half, and pulling winger Dan Armstrong, a freshly introduced sub, into left back.
Against a stopgap back four, Falkirk now picked up the scent of victory and Rovers had to scramble the ball off their line from one corner, before relying on the crossbar to save them from another as Mark Durnan's volley rattled the goal frame.
It was looking hairy for the league leaders until the pendulum swung again on 83 minutes. Up front on his own, Kieron Bowie had got under the skin of both Falkirk centre-halves and the 17-year-old pounced on a loose touch from Buchanan to break clear in the Falkirk half.
In racing back and tripping the striker, Gomis effectively accepted his fate, and the inevitable red card that spared his team from the possibility of conceding a second goal.
It did, however, present 10-man Raith with seven minutes plus injury-time to push for a winner against the nine men, but Falkirk retreated into defensive mode, making it difficult for Rovers to break through, with a couple of long range attempts from MacDonald and Hendry all the away side could muster.
This was a mixed performance with some disappointing contributions from some, and outstanding efforts form others, none more so than MacDonald who produced one of the best individual displays of the season so far, both at left back and as an auxiliary centre-back.
With the farcical situation of having three suspended for the Dumbarton home match next week, Rovers will hope to have one or two back from injury, particularly centre-half Steven Anderson, otherwise it will be an emergency back four from the word go.
They have worked hard to be top of the league after 17 games, but the red cards are not making things any easier for themselves.