The Pars' resurgence continued last night with a third consecutive win, with second half goals from Bruce Anderson (2) and Danny Devine putting the team within 2 points of a promotion play-off place. Visitors Thistle suffered another second half collapse - after shipping 4 goals to Ross County at the weekend after being 2-0 up, they conceded another 3 last night and rarely looked capable of threatening Ryan Scully's goal. The Pars keeper has now recorded three clean sheets in a row, to make a total of 4 shutouts in 5 games since his return to the club.
James Vincent and Myles Hippolyte were missing from the squad, presumably injured. Jackson Longridge, who until the weekend game game at Ayr had been an ever-present this season, and Faissal El Bakhtaoui were both still injured.
The midfield diamond was replaced by a 4-4-1-1 formation. Louis Longridge made his first start since October, playing behind Bruce Anderson, replacing Aidan Connolly. Kallum Higginbotham came back into the team in right midfield.
Starting 11 and formation:
The first half could generously be described as scrappy: Thistle offered little except for a Scott McDonald header, and after hesitancy in the Pars penalty box, Ryan Scully was forced to make his only real save of the evening from a shot by James Penrice. James Craigen had a shot from distance after 20th minutes that narrowly missed, while Bruce Anderson had Dunfermline's best chance of the half, shooting wide in the 35th minute after good play by Louis Longridge.
Just as in the last home game, against Inverness 10 days before, Dunfermline took a 47th minute lead. Ryan Blair's corner was flicked on by Danny Devine to Bruce Anderson, who touched the ball into the net from 4 yards. Thistle's response was tepid: a few ventures upfield without worrying the Pars defence which. Thh veteran strike partnership Scott McDonald and Kris Doolan were ineffective and both players were substituted in the 66th minute.
Dunfermline went 2-0 up in the 75th minute. From another Ryan Blair corner kick, Danny Devine rose and headed the ball powerfully past Conor Hazard in the Thistle goal for his first League goal of the season. The Irish defender has been the team's most improved player this month and his goal capped another very good performance from him.
The result was put beyond any doubt with 4 minutes remaining. James Craigen overlapped down the left, his cross finding Blair who played the ball onto Anderson for his second and the Pars' third goal.
An excellent second half performance and another vital 3 points.
Ryan Scully 7 Relatively untroubled but made one good blocking save in the first half.
Ryan Williamson 6 Still lacking confidence - not showing what he is capable of when on form.
Danny Devine 9 Another solid defensive display, capped off by a thumping header for the team's second goal.
Lee Ashcroft 8 Did well alongside Devine and kept the Thistle attack quiet.
James Craigen 9 Great run and cross that lead to the third goal. Can fit into almost any role and perform well.
Kallum Higginbotham 7 Back in the starting lineup. Tried to create and worked away on the right before being substituted.
Tom Beadling 7 Broke up play in midfield - does the job required of him.
Joe Thomson 7.5 Never lets the team down.
Ryan Blair 8 Expert deliveries from corners and lined up well with Craigen on the left.
Louis Longridge 7 One good turn and pass to Anderson in the first half but still building up match fitness.
Bruce Anderson 9 A born goal poacher - can go far in the game with this type of scoring instinct.
Subs used: Aidan Connolly (75 minutes), Matty Todd (84), Robbie Muirhead (89).
The type of away victory that was characteristic of Dunfermline sides through the years and reproduced to pleasing effect by the current squad, who have now developed a harder edge to match their ability on the ball. The Pars side, coached actively on the sidelines by the new management team, were able to grind out a win against a higher placed team, in conditions that were not conducive to free-flowing football.
The team was announced with no changes from last week's win against Inverness but shortly before kick-off, Jackson Longridge was withdrawn through injury. Ryan Williamson came into the team at rightback, with James Craigen moving to take over Longridge's slot at leftback. Robbie Muirhead was added to the subs bench.
The formation was the same diamond as last week but with Tom Beadling in the defensive midfield role, and James Vincent at the attacking tip of the midfield diamond. Last week it was Vincent in the defensive role - which he is more suited to - and Joe Thomson as the attacking midfielder. The lineup below shows how Stevie Crawford moved certain players around in the middle of the pitch this week. For part of the game, Ryan Blair and Joe Thomson swapped positions on the right and left.
Starting 11 and formation:
The first half was not one for the football purist, with the weather influencing the standard of play. Anyone who ventured from the relative comfort of the coo shed to the hot dog stand on the terracing would have felt the force of the wind, which was against the Pars in the opening 45 minutes. Ayr United had more of the ball and there were half chances for Lawrence Shankland and the Moff. The best chance, and best save, of the first half was a close range effort from Ayr's Andy Murdoch which Ryan Scully did well to block.
The second half saw the weather improve slightly and Dunfermline enjoy more of the ball. The team pressed the Ayr side at every opportunity and almost took the lead when Bruce Thomson netted, denied by the referee's whistle as James Craigen's cross to Anderson was adjudged, correctly, to have been from behind the goal line.
Aidan Connolly, who had begun the game alongside Anderson and was then moved to a number 10 role in the second half, was unlucky not to give Dunfermline the lead when in a move similar to that which denied Ayr's Murdoch in the first half, saw his shot instinctively saved by Ayr keeper Ross Doohan.
Connolly was replaced by Louis Longridge after 66 minutes and 5 minutes later, the Pars substitute scored the game's only goal. Ryan Williamson overlapped to great effect and his cross was handled by Michael Rose. A definite penalty and Longridge stepped up to send Doohan the wrong way, the ball nestling in the right corner.
The team managed the remainder of the game with encouraging composure. The only worrying moment came when Ayr's Aaron Muirhead sent a header wide with 5 minutes remaining.
A well-earned win and the Pars support left the ground, itself a reminder of a different era, singing the name of the head coach, just like the old days.
Ryan Scully 8 A very important first half save and was assured throughout, recording his third shut out in 4 games since moving from Morton.
Ryan Williamson 7 A confidence player. Tentative at times but showed what he is capable of with a superb run and cross that lead to the penalty award.
Danny Devine 9 The centre half's transformation continued with a no-nonsense performance yesterday. Appears to be more vocal and is developing into a good leader.
Lee Ashcroft 8 Apart from one sliced clearance that thankfully missed his own net, the captain's resurgence in form continued alongside his defensive partner.
James Craigen 7.5 From makeshift rightback to makeshift leftback after Jackson Longridge's late withdrawal: the ultimate team player and a manager's dream.
Tom Beadling 7 Broke up play well in the DM role, quietly effective.
Joe Thomson 7 Harried the opposition and tried to drive the team forward, especially in the second half.
Ryan Blair 7 Continued his good start with the club. Tidy and hard working.
James Vincent 6.5 Played in the forward end of the diamond but not a natural attacker, turning back too often. Better employed in as a defensive midfielder.
Aidan Connolly 7 Denied a goal by Doohan's reflexes. Made a nuisance of himself and did the job asked of him.
Bruce Anderson 7 One half chance in the first half, one disallowed goal in the second (scored after the whistle was blown). Not an easy shift for the young striker but showed plenty of effort before being booked for diving and then substituted.
Louis Longridge 7 Scored the penalty with ease. Had a chance to send Blair through on goal but delayed the pass and the opportunity was lost.
Myles Hippolyte 6 On for the final 8 minutes. Had one nice turn which was not matched by the shot that followed. A good outlet up front as the team saw the game out.
Yesterday brought a much-needed first Pars victory of 2019 and of the Stevie Crawford era. Such is the congested nature of this division that we are still involved on the edges of both promotion and relegation play-off places. Neither a win or a loss yesterday would have moved us out of seventh position but in terms of points, earning all 3 could prove very important in the weeks ahead. A 1-0 win at home to Inverness almost 12 months ago was the catalyst for a promotion push in the final third of the season and with only 5 points separating us from the Highlanders, currently occupying fourth place, there is still hope that the final 12 games this term could see a repeat of last season, while remaining wary of being drawn a battle with the teams below us.
There were 3 changes to the starting 11 that faced Ross County in our last game, 2 weeks ago. Two were by choice - James Craigen moving to right back and Ryan Blair starting his first game for the club, with Ryan Williamson and Kallum Higginbotham dropping to the bench. The third change was enforced - Faissal El Bakhtaoui, who had linked us so well with Bruce Anderson in their only game together, was injured and replaced by Aidan Connolly. This might have seemed a surprise choice but it was to prove to be a very good decision by Stevie Crawford. On the bench among the substitutes after injury absences were Louis Longridge and Murk Durnan.
Starting 11 and formation:
The team lined up in a 4-1-3-2 formation and it was soon apparent that the tall Inverness side were intent on imposing themselves physically, committing a series of rash fouls. Midfielder Darren McCauley, booked after 26 minutes, then committed another bookable foul that led to a lecture from referee Steven Kirkland, clearly not wishing to send the player off. Inverness boss John Robertson then substituted the player with only half an hour gone, an acknowledgement that a red card would surely have followed soon after, if the referee was to do his job properly.
There was little else of note in a fairly drab first half.
The second half was only 2 minutes old when the Pars took the lead. Joe Thomson, a driving force in midfield and always willing to shoot from distance, tested Inverness keeper Mark Ridgers and saw his effort fumbled by the keeper on its way into the net. A classic case of if you don't shoot, you don't score.
Aidan Connolly hit the bar with a well struck shot from 16 yards and there were other half chances for a Pars side that was showing more confidence than in recent games. Inverness came into the match late on but only tested Ryan Scully once, when Joe Chalmers' shot forced the Pars keeper to tip the ball over the bar.
The Dunfermline lead was almost doubled in the final minute when both Bruce Anderson and Joe Thomson fired in shots.
Losing Faissal was a pre-match disappointment but his replacement, Aidan Connolly, did well and made a nuisance of himself to opponents who were almost a foot taller. The formation saw James Vincent in the defensive midfield role - if only Vincent's passing was on the same level as his ability to break up play. It was interesting to see Ryan Williamson come on as a winger when there were players such as Kallum Higginbotham and Myles Hippolyte on the bench, unused. Williamson's time on the pitch coincided with Inverness' best spell of the game and did not give the Pars player an opportunity to attack on the wing. It was an experiment worth repeating before any judgements can be made.
Ryan Scully 7: one good second half save and looked solid and dependable late in the match.
James Craigen 6: did well in another games as an auxiliary fullback. Not a long-term answer for this position.
Danny Devine 6.5: wisely, did not try anything remotely beyond the basics.
Lee Ashcroft 6.5: distribution not great but has learned a lesson after the Raith game - keep it simple.
Jackson Longridge 7.5: a return to his early season form. Pushed up the left wing when possible and no errors in defence.
James Vincent 6: did the dirty work but occasionally wasteful in possession.
Tom Beadling 6: reliable figure on the right of a central midfield trio but can still contribute more creatively.
Joe Thomson 8: perpetual motion, the heartbeat of the team and not afraid to shoot. Man of the match.
Ryan Blair 7: first start for the midfielder. Good delivery from set pieces and will be an even bigger influence with more game time to build up match fitness.
Aidan Connolly 7.5: surprise choice to replace the injured Faissal but showed great determination to battle with much taller opponents. Unlucky not to score when his shot hit the bar.
Bruce Anderson 6.5: great to see a Pars striker make space and give his team mates options with a pass.
Subs used (no ratings given):
Ryan Williamson: played the final quarter of an hour on the wing but didn't see much of the ball.
Louis Longridge: after only 45 minutes of reserve team football, came on to play behind Anderson. His return will be a big boost in the coming weeks.
Mark Durnan: On in injury time to bolster the defence.
Another game lost, this time from a winning position. After an encouraging first half, we lost our way in the second period, with an individual error leading to the winning goal after changing our shape to contain the opposition. Very, very disappointing - we were well on top after new signing Bruce Anderson put us ahead shortly before half time, which gave everyone a huge boost, the first Pars goal of the Stevie Crawford era and the product of good play between our two strikers, something that has been lacking until today.
The team lined up with 2 changes - Tom Beadling was missing, with James Craigen moving into midfield from full-back, and Ryan Williamson coming into the side at right back. Bruce Anderson took Callum Smith's place alongside Faissal El Bakhtaoui in attack. The formation was changed from last week's midfield diamond to 4-4-2, with Kallum Higginbotham and Joe Thomson playing wide on the right and left. We started the game promisingly, with Joe Thomson (twice) and James Craigen striking from distance. Ross County threatened only once in the rarly part of the game, when Ryan Scully saved well from Brian Graham's header.
The defence were clearing the ball in a basic but effective manner, with the exception of a slip from Danny Devine that led to a booking.
Anderson and El Bakhtaoui were linking well together and it was from a Faissal through ball that Anderson was put through, but his final shot was saved by Scott Fox in the County goal. Anderson then had another half chance that he might have done better with. The new striker's time came, though, taking an excellent pass from Faissal and shooting past Fox to put the Pars 1-0 up after 41 minutes.
The second half began with Michael Gardyne replacing Declan McManus for County, in what was to prove a significant change. Gardyne played wide left, and gave Ryan Williamson a hard time, the Pars defender often failing to cut out the danger caused by the County substitute.
Seven minutes into the half, the equaliser came. It seemed as though scorer Billy McKay was offise but it was later confirmed by Stevie Crawford that he was played onside, left unmarked to score from a few yards out. The team lost confidence after the goal was awarded and survived a scare when James Craigen cleared the ball off the line, and then a 64th minute goal from McKay that was ruled offside.
Stevie Crawford then made a double substitution, removing the front pair and bringing on Callum Smith to play as a loan striker and the other new loan signing, Ryan Blair, into what was now a 5 man midfield. It was done to make us harder to break down - clearly - but it also limited our attacking threat. Kallum Higginbotham, whose fluffed clearance in the 72nd minute let in County for a chance that they failed to capitalise on, did the same thing 5 minutes later, only this time Gardyne took full advantage, cutting inside and firing a shot past Scully. Six minutes later, Myles Hippolyte was brought on in place of James Craigen, and we were back with a front two.
This was 3 points lost, and despite a good first half, we are now only 4 points off the foot of the table. We return to League action in a fortnight and need to turn periods of good play into wins. If not, we are in for a very difficult end to the season.
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