Cove Rangers boss John Sheran thought his side showed once again they could mix it with Scottish league teams – despite their historic run in the Scottish Cup being ended by Falkirk.
The Aberdeen side exited the national trophy at the last-16 stage with a 3-1 loss to the Bairns at Inverurie’s Harlaw Park.
Rangers conceded cheap goals at the start of both halves – one in the first period and two in the second – to make it very difficult for themselves, but played the Championship side off the pitch for large portions of the encounter.
Sheran said: “We created more chances over the first period of the game.
“Even if you look at the second half, apart from that five-minute period, there wasn’t much to choose between the teams and we probably created the better opportunities in that period as well.
“We’re disappointed, but really proud of the players. they’ve done really well.
“On another day one of those (other chances) goes in. There’s just a wee bit of frustration that we didn’t do better in that first bit after half-time.”
It is Cove’s stated ambition to move up to the senior ranks at the end of this season through the play-offs and their performance showed this is perhaps becoming the likely scenario.
Sheran said: “We’ve been in against a few of the league teams this year, division one, division two and Championship, so we certainly believe we can compete with them.
“One-off games are always easier than playing them every week, but we’re certainly building towards a squad that can compete every week.”
You could have forgiven Cove a nervy start to what boss Sheran called the “biggest game in their history” and, when they shot from kick-off, it looked like they were looking for a bit of luck to send them on their way.
It didn’t quite come off and, on two minutes, left-back Alan Redford showed too much of the ball to Falkirk’s Lewis Kidd in an area where he shouldn’t have been playing.
Kidd robbed him and his curling cross from the right landed perfectly for Alex Jakubiak to roll the ball past Stuart McKenzie.
It was the worst possible start, in theory. But the men in blue, undefeated in the Highland League, were unperturbed.
Two minutes later, Cove’s Ryan Stott went marauding down the left flank. His high cross looked like it had gone too far for Mitch Megginson but Megginson shifted it on to his right and, from a really tight angle, fired a shot into the far bottom corner.
On 22 minutes, another Stott cross was nodded back to Bairns keeper Conor Hazard by Paul Watson, but the goalie misjudged it and had to stop his spillage rolling into his own net.
The first half ended with Cove’s Jamie Masson almost scoring with a free-kick from 45 yards.
Unfortunately, the second half started the same as the first for Cove.
Virtually straight from kick-off, Craig Sibbald volleyed the Bairns in front after Reghan Tumilty’s cross from the right.
Jakubiak grabbed his second two minutes later. He found himself in acres of space to slot past McKenzie after being slid in by Rory Loy.
The Falkirk forward was booked for lifting his shirt in celebration.
The Aberdeen team regained their composure and strikes from Ryan Strachan and Masson came close to re-igniting the game as a contest.
Centre-back and skipper Eric Watson was even pushed up front for a spell, but it wasn’t enough to bring a second Cove goal – although Megginson headed just wide with a few minutes left.
In the last minute of regular time, Loy was booked after he was adjudged to have dived in the Cove box after a Falkirk break.
Sheran was reflective after the game and said: “I thought we played when we got the chance to play and once we got into the game after losing the early goal I thought we were the better team in the first half. We could maybe have gone in ahead.
“Over the piece, Falkirk are through, we wish them all the best in the next round. They took their chances and that’s what it’s all about.”
Bairns gaffer Paul Hartley said: “I’ve got to give Cove all the credit. I thought they were better than us at times.
“We had a perfect start to the game – I said if we can get an early goal … but we gave them a goal back quickly.
“For the first half they were much better than us, we couldn’t cope with them.”