The last eight of the Scottish Cup saved its most stirring drama until last as Falkirk came from behind to earn their place at Hampden.

Ayr United took the lead through Dipo Akinyemi, but were then outplayed for much of the evening as a Calumn Morrison penalty and a strike from sub Kai Kennedy turned a pulsating quarter-final on its head. The reward for John McGlynn’s side now is a date with Inverness Caley Thistle.

They will more than fancy their chances, based on Monday night’s turn of events, of going all the way to the final to face Celtic or Rangers.

A night to remember

The atmosphere in the Falkirk Stadium was nothing short of tremendous all night. The tone was set pre-kick-off with a stirring display from the home side’s ‘Navy Blue Army’ and brought up a further notch by the red and white smoke floating out of the away end.

A noisy Ayr contingent more than played their part that – the away end was bouncing for much of the evening. ‘One team in Ayrshire’ certainly got a few outings, no doubt in reference to rivals Kilmarnock being upset by Inverness Caley Thistle on Friday night. Even as Falkirk hauled themselves back into contention, they refused to let up.

The loudest roar of the evening, though, was reserved for Kennedy’s dramatic winner. There’s been much to cheer about in this part of the football, so it was a moment which clearly meant a lot. Mind you, it was just as loud when Maguire’s penalty crashed against the upright, a moment that seemed to spur Falkirk on for what came next.

A fascinating contest

They may be two of the three lowest ranks sides left in the competition, but this was a meeting of teams who like to get the ball down and play. Despite their status as favourites, Ayr seemed to content to allow Falkirk to try and play out, confident they could pinch the ball at a crucial moment.

It looked the right approach early, not least when Akinyemi opened the scoring, but Falkirk gradually grew into proceedings, working the ball into the final third with greater regularity. There’s plenty to like about how they move the ball – Stephen McGinn, Liam Henderson and Max Kucheriavyi were always available for a pass and generally used the ball well. Kucheriavyi also takes an excellent corner, from which the home side were a threat all night.

Despite not working Aidan McAdams too hard for much of the night, they were duly rewarded for what was a generally impressive display when Frankie Musonda threw up an arm to concede an obvious penalty. Morrison made absolutely no mistake in driving his penalty into the bottom corner, but it all looked to be for nothing when Falkirk conceded a spot-kick of their own. Maguire’s effort whacked the post, which was probably still shaking when Kennedy let fly at the other end, taking a big deflection to leave McAdams and spark bedlam.

Falkirk march on

This was the second of two potentially season-defining matches in the space of a week for Falkirk, and it would have been mightily harsh had they come away from both with nothing to show for it. A 2-0 defeat up at rivals Dunfermline last Tuesday probably puts the League One title beyond them, albeit they will still finish second comfortably, barring a dramatic collapse.

This, though, was a chance to wipe that pain away by booking themselves a place in a Hampden semi-final. For long stretches of the evening, it appeared disappointment would find them again.

But in an excellent second-half, they found a spirit and fortitude that eluded them at East End Park seven days ago. It was richly deserved, too.

After opening the scoring, Ayr did not offer much else for the remainder of the evening and, although allowing Falkirk to play in front of them seemed part of the gameplan, it did invite pressure that steadily built as time passed. It eventually opened the door for McGlynn’s side to stage a hugely memorable comeback.

Akinyemi’s star on the rise

As he has done pretty much all season for the Honest Men, the 25-year-old forward found a way to get himself on the scoresheet. He was crucial to Ayr just about seeing off Elgin City in the last round, and it was his turn, drive and clinical finish which put the visitors ahead.

A 21st strike of a prolific season, Akinyemi had too much for the Falkirk backline to handle as he cruised away to open up the necessary space to pick out keeper Brian Kinner’s bottom-left corner. He almost had another just a few minutes, but a back post lunge at Mark McKenzie’s teasing low cross was just a fraction too late and Falkirk were spared.

There’s already been interest in Akinyemi – Ayr knocked back an offer for him in January – but it could be a case of ‘enjoy him while you can’ for their fans, especially if they do not achieve promotion come season’s end. He does, however, look certain to fetch the club a tidy fee at some point.

Huge chance now for Bairns

The draw for the last four was made while the celebrations were still raging on around the Falkirk Stadium, and there were further cheers when news began to filter round the terraces that they’d been paired with Inverness at the national stadium.

For both clubs, it is a huge opportunity to reach a Scottish Cup final. It also guarantees that a team out with the Premiership will contest the showpiece occasion. That’s a fitting outcome for a tournament which has, much of the way through, been about the underdog.

Darvel produced one of the biggest shocks in Scottish football history by beating Aberdeen, but should either Falkirk or ICT go all the way and pip Celtic or Rangers to the trophy? That would be right up there with any of the great upsets in the Scottish Cup’s long and storied history.