Football: Wright has Killie instinct

Falkirk 0 Kilmarnock 1 Wright 21 Attendance: 48,953
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The Independent Online
Watching his team win the Scottish Cup final was not quite the satisfying experience Alex Totten had hoped for at Ibrox yesterday. Unfortunately for the kilted figure in the home dug-out, the victors were the team he was obliged to leave behind when the sack which came his way at Rugby Park in December had a P45 rather than a festive gift in it.

As manager of Falkirk, Totten endured an afternoon of excruciatingly mixed emotions as the Kilmarnock team he built lifted the cup under the stewardship of his former assistant, Bobby Williamson.

It was Killie's first cup final joy since 1929, their first trophy win of import since their zenith as Scottish champions in 1965 - excepting the Pie of the Year Award bestowed by Total Football in March. And it was won, for Williamson, by eight men who were signed and nurtured by his boss-turned-rival. The only goal was scored, midway through the first- half, by Paul Wright, a Pittodrie product in Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen days but a match-winner that Totten brought to Kilmarnock for a club record pounds 330,000 two years ago.

The irony was not lost on the losing manager when Williamson shook him gratefully by the hand at the final whistle. "I said when I left Kilmarnock that whoever took over would be a lucky man," Totten recounted, "because there would be a lot of good players in his side. Now they've proved that by winning something and I'm delighted for Bobby Williamson. He's a tremendous guy."

Killie and Williamson can look to Europe for their next giant-killing stage. But it was a victory in itself for Totten and for Falkirk that the First Division side played their part in what, with half the population of both Falkirk and Kilmarnock happily shoehorned into Rangers' citadel, was a grand day out for the Scottish underdog.

Falkirk were 200-1 shots for the cup in January, Kilmarnock 50-1. In upsetting the odds and the big fish - Falkirk beat Rangers in the third round (Berwick, that is) and saw off Celtic at Ibrox in a semi-final replay - the minnows set up the first final between provincial town teams for four decades. That the last one happened to feature the same two clubs lent a nostalgic touch to the occasion and, to hopeful Falkirk fans, the silvery glint of a cup-winning omen.

Totten was an 11-year-old follower of the Bairns when his home-town team won the 1957 replay at Hampden. Yesterday, sporting a kilt of Falkirk club tartan, he directed operations from the apron of the Ibrox pitch, urging his players to perform an urgent clipping operation as Killie took to the wings in search of an early killer goal.

David Bagen, on the right, and Alex Burke, on the left, were troublesome thorns to Totten's side throughout an uncomfortable first half. Falkirk's manager endured a prickly moment when Neil Oliver's slip allowed Bagen a sight of goal after 10 minutes only to be thwarted by Jamie McGowan's covering tackle.

It was Burke who swung over the right-wing corner from which Wright scored in the 20th minute. The veteran scuffed his right-foot shot on the turn but his attempt was still direct enough to beat Craig Nelson.

Kilmarnock attacked with pace and purpose, more often than not in the fleet-footed form of the elusive Bagen. But the threat they posed was not matched by the damage they inflicted. The best chance of the opening half, in fact, fell to Falkirk nine minutes before the break, Paul McGrillen failing to match the goal that turned Celts green in the Ibrox semi-final, directing his header across the face of the gaping Kilmarnock goal.

As McGrillen and his colleagues strove valiantly to make collective amends in the second-half, the Ian Hutchinson-class throw-ins of Andy Gray - a Taylor-made England international and an FA Cup final loser with Crystal Palace seven years ago - emerged as a potent weapon.

From one such windmill launch, only a blinding save by Dragoje Lekovic thwarted Kevin James. From another, Oliver was denied a late equaliser by a flagging referee's assistant.

It was not to be Gray's day. But it was a day coloured by shades of mixed emotion for Totten, the manager who moulded the winners but ended up on the losing side.

Kilmarnock: Lekovic, MacPherson, Kerr, Montgomerie, McGowne, Reilly, Bagen (Mitchell, 89), Holt, Wright, McIntyre (Brown, 83), Burke. Substitute not used: Henry.

Falkirk: Nelson, McGowan, Featon, Liver, James, Gray, McAllister, McKenzie, Crabbe (Craig, 79), Hagen, McGrillen (Fellner, 64). Substitute not used: Mathers.

Referee: H Dallas (Motherwell).

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