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Football: Main man Mackie's Don deal; BANK OF SCOTLAND SCOTTISH PREMIER LEAGUE Aberdeen 2 Falkirk 1.

Byline: Dennis SHERRIFFS

DEADLY hitman Darren Mackie kept Aberdeen on course for Europe with a first-half strike that settled his side's nerves and kept them in joint second place with Rangers.

It was Mackie's fifth goal in four games - he is Dons' top scorer with eight - and his reward looks certain to be a new contract from manager Jimmy Calderwood this week.

That would be fitting for the 24-year-old, who showed his loyalty by turning down a lucrative offer from Dundee United and staying to fight for a first-team place.

He has taken that opportunity with both hands and is now a big favourite with the fans, who greeted him with boos when he first came on as a sub against Motherwell a month ago.

Mackie's battling qualities saw him beat goalkeeper Jeroen Lambers to the ball and score on 17 minutes. Then he laid on the pass for Chris Clark to hit the target with a spectacular 25-yarder just before the break.

That should have made life easy for the Dons, but they sat back after the break and Falkirk's Alan Gow goal after 69 minutes sent the alarm bells were ringing.

Falkirk almost shocked the Dons after four minutes. Gow burst through, but with only keeper Jamie Langfield to beat, he hit a post. Aberdeen settled down after that early fright and Mackie went close from 12 yards. Then Richard Foster shot narrowly wide.

But the Dons were ahead five minutes later through mighty Mackie. Gary Dempsey's free-kick beat the Falkirk wall and Mackie raced in and clipped the ball over Lambers' head.

The Falkirk keeper was injured when he collided with Mackie and he was replaced by Scott Higgins nine minutes later.

Calderwood was left fuming on the touchline when his defence went to sleep after 34 minutes. Gow pounced to put Anthony Stokes clear, but the on-loan striker shot wide from eight yards.

The home side went 2-0 up a minute before half-time with one of the best goals seen at Pittodrie this season. Mackie found Clark and the midfielder curled the ball brilliantly past Higgins from 25 yards.

Falkirk kept battling and Gow was rewarded with a consolation goal when he beat two defenders before firing home a low shot.

A relieved Jimmy Calderwood said: "We looked nervous and never really settled. But all credit to Falkirk - they made it very difficult for us and probably deserved at least a point.

"We were definitely not at our best, but we still won and I feel that this result could prove to be very important."

Falkirk boss John Hughes said: "With some luck we might have got something, but the question I'll be asking is why we didn't perform in the first half."

ABERDEEN: Langfield 5 - Hart 6, Anderson 7, Severin 6, Smith 4, Nicholson 5, *MACKIE 9, Clark 7, Dempsey 4 (Lovell, 80mins, 4), Miller 5 (Touzani, 87mins), Foster 5 (Considine, 74mins, 4).

FALKIRK: Lambers 4 (Higgins 26mins, 4) - Cregg 4, Ross 4, *GOW 8, Latapy 6 - Stokes 6, Milne 5, Lima 4, Barr 4 - Craig 4, Scobbie 4 (Dodds, 10mins, 4). Ref: J Underhill 5.

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SECOND'S UP: Clark for Aberdeen
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Dec 10, 2006
Words:528
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