Celtic frustrated as Falkirk grab draw
A dramatic late equaliser from substitute Mark Stewart gave Falkirk a share of the spoils against Celtic in a remarkable match at the Falkirk Stadium. Hoops midfielder Aiden McGeady had a first-half penalty saved by Robert Olejnik, who also made an astonishing save from the rebound.
If the first half was good, the second period was almost unbelievable. Celtic defender Gary Caldwell headed the Hoops ahead just after the break, but then conceded a penalty when he brought down Ryan Flynn, allowing Scott Arfield to level from the spot.
Pedro Moutinho then volleyed Falkirk ahead to give them hope of their first league win of the season. However, Parkhead substitute Scott McDonald, on moments earlier for Paddy McCourt, headed the equaliser in the 72nd minute before grabbing another five minutes later. It looked as if it was all over for the gritty home side, but they took one last breath and were rewarded when Stewart, on for Alex MacDonald, ran on to a Flynn pass to fire past Lukasz Zaluska.
Celtic go two points clear of Old Firm rivals Rangers at the top of the table, but there will be questions asked after tripping up against the league's bottom side.
When the game kicked off, after a minute's silence for Remembrance Sunday that was well observed by all the fans inside the ground, it emerged the home side was different from the official team sheet. Moutinho, re-signed by Falkirk following a spell at Maritimo, was playing instead of Carl Finnigan and he helped the home side to a fine first-half performance.
In the seventh minute, defender Darren Barr should have scored when he got on to a MacDonald corner, but the Scotland international headed wide from six yards out. MacDonald fired a free-kick from 25 yards over the bar then came closer moments later when he cut inside from the right and fired over from the edge of the box.
Falkirk continued to press with purpose and missed their best chance in the 24th minute when Danijel Marceta set up Vitor Lima inside the Celtic box. The Bairns midfielder looked favourite from ten yards out, but Hoops goalkeeper Zaluska made a fine saving block. Then, with Celtic still floundering, Falkirk defender Brian McLean rose high inside the Hoops box to head a MacDonald corner from the right a yard over.
The visitors were rarely threatening, but McGeady's deflected shot had Bairns goalkeeper Olejnik gratefully tipping the ball over for a corner. But, in the 43rd minute, MacDonald blotted his copy book when he tripped Parkhead left-back Danny Fox inside the box to concede a penalty. However, a remarkable double save by Olejnik from McGeady kept the game goalless.
The Republic of Ireland talent's poor spot-kick was parried by the Bairns keeper back out and McGeady failed to connect properly with his second attempt, allowing the prostrate Austrian to flick his leg up and help the ball over the bar. The second half was something else.
Stephen McManus replaced the presumably-injured Glenn Loovens at the interval and slowly Celtic began to step up the pace. The traffic was starting to build up towards Olejnik and the goal arrived in the 55th minute through Caldwell.
After Barry Robson's long free-kick from the left arrived at the back post, the Hoops defender climbed to head back across Olejnik and into the net for his first goal of the season. The whole complexion of the game appeared to have changed but, in the 61st minute, it was Caldwell's clumsy challenge on Flynn that gave the home side a penalty. Arfield stepped up to take responsibility and, although Zaluska got a hand to the penalty, he could only help it into the net.
Two minutes later, with Falkirk clearly buoyed, McGeady hesitated as Flynn again charged into the box and his cut-back was volleyed past Zaluska by Moutinho from eight yards out. Celtic responded by introducing McDonald and Zheng Zhi for Paddy McCourt and Robson, and, in the 72nd minute, the Australia international headed a Fox cross past Olejnik to again level the scores.
An enthralling finale ensued, with the Parkhead men going all out for the winner, which looked to have arrived in the 79th minute when McDonald tapped into an empty net from Georgios Samaras's cross. Falkirk looked demoralised but, in the 83rd minute, Flynn sent Stewart through on goal and he slammed the ball past Zaluska.