Pars move into top 4 thanks to Clark hat-trick
James Vincent was missing, leading to Fraser Aird being named in the starting 11, on the left, with James Craigen moving to centre midfield. Dean Shiels came back into the squad on the bench.
This was a crucial win that built on the momentum gathered over the past few weeks. Dunfermline are now in fourth place and have 5 League fixtures to play that compare favourably to the remaining games faced by top 4 rivals Morton, Dundee United and today's opponents Queens. Inverness and Falkirk cannot yet be counted out either but 4 of our last 5 games are against teams that are below us in the table.
After a well-observed minute's silence to mark the passing of 1961 Scottish Cup winning captain Ron Mailer, the Pars took the game to Queens' who were without injured top scorer Stephen Dobbie. After winning convincingly in the last meeting of the teams at East End Park, Queens now had to cope with a much different Dunfermline side: full of energy, quick passing movements and good link-up play. Queens' keeper Jack Leighfield made a great save with his legs from a goal-bound Nicky Clark shot in the 15th minute; Clark came close again with an effort that was blocked, and Callum Morris saw a header saved. The closest Queens came was a Joe Thomson shot that hit the bar with the player flagged offside in any case.
The opening goal came after 33 minutes and was expertly-placed header by Clark after good work by Fraser Aird. Clark then got his second, finishing off an excellent team move that saw a series of passes between midfield and attack, ending with Clark's well-taken shot. It was possibly the best team goal of the season, such was the good play in the build-up to the clinical finish.
Leading 2-0 at half-time, the visitors began the second half looking to get back into a game that they had been mostly spectators in during the first 45 minutes. Pars keeper Lee Robinson made 2 excellent reaction saves but was beaten when a shot from across the box by Jordan Marshall evaded his full-length dive, to make the score 2-1 after 69 minutes.
Declan McManus, without a goal since early January, had an opportunity to score when played through on goal but he delayed his shot and was tackled inside the box by Darren Brownlie. Clark put a shot narrowly wide but Queens remained a threat, forcing Dunfermline back in contrast to the one-sided first half.
In added on time, Ryan Williamson, who had not enjoyed the best of games defensively and who had seemed strangely reticent to make his trademark overlapping runs, was given a good ball down the right and lofted over a first-time cross that Clark met with a glancing header. The ball hit the net and the 3 points were secured. Ron Mailer would have been very happy.
Positives to be taken as Pars are denied Tannadice victory
No changes to the starting 11 or substitutes following Tuesday's win at Brechin. Team lined up in a 4-1-3-2 formation with James Vincent in defensive midfield.
The winless run at Tannadice continues but there was much to be encouraged by in the Dunfermline performance today. For far too long we capitulated against Dundee United, lacking belief and unable to make much of an impression on games at their stadium. Today we matched them in terms of attitude and although United had - marginally - more opportunities to score, we were in no way second best, in what was an evenly contested game.
For the fourth consecutive game we lined up with the same starting 11. Continuity can often produce positive results in football and that is certainly the case with the current Dunfermline team. The January signings are now fully bedded in and working well together. Goalkeeper Lee Robinson, who was brought in due to Sean Murdoch's injury, has been a revelation - one mistake against Morton aside, he has played a big part in the much improved defensive record over the past 2 months, and maintained his performance level today, including a great save from a goal-bound free kick.
United started brightly and a move from left to right in the opening minute almost resulted in a goal but for Lewis Martin's great block, which prevented a shot from Anthony Ralston from finding the net. Dunfermline settled into the game and were unlucky not to open the scoring after 17 minutes when Declan McManus hit the post with a shot from inside the box. Both teams looked to impose themselves with United having a tendency to fall to ground with the slightest contact. There were a few half chances for both sides until the 41st minute when Robinson tipped over Scott Fraser's free kick, a great save from the Pars keeper. Tam Scobbie then almost gace United the lead from the corner kick that followed Robinson's save but his header was kicked off the line by Nicky Clark.
Clark was to make another telling contribution 7 minutes into the second half when he scored his 17th goal of the season. Kallum Higginbotham played a good ball to Ryan Williamson, from the which the Pars fullback found Clark with an accurate cross, which Clark turned in to put the Pars 1-0 up.
Unfortunately, the lead lasted just 3 minutes, and even more sadly from a Dunfermline standpoint was the nature of the United equaliser. James Craigen, back in defence, could have played the ball anywhere except straight off United striker Scott McDonald. Craigen's attempted clearance hit McDonald and rebounded into Robinson's net. A really poor goal to give away.
McDonald then had a shot that flew wide of the Pars goal, and his team mate Ralston also went close with an attempt that Robinson saved. Dunfermline then came close when the ball bobbled around the box, eventually falling to Clark who could not keep his shot down. Back up the other end, United's Mark Durnan might have done better with a close range header that he put wide. McManus then narrowly missed out when Clark did well to hook back the ball from the goal line and across the goal, but just out of reach for McManus to make contact.
The Pars support were in great voice throughout the game and outsung the subdued home fans. We appreciated the effort put in by the players - this was a "real game", after many wasted trips to Tayside, no one could complain about the way the team competed. With just 1 loss in the last 7 games, Dunfermline are improving at just the right time and can look at a favourable fixture list over the remaining weeks of the season with confidence.
Job done as a Nicky Clark hat trick gives Pars 3 points and closes gap on top 4
For the second midweek game in a row, Ben steps in to write the match report.
No changes to the starting 11. One change on the bench: fit-again Andy Ryan replaced Dean Shiels.
A good overall performance from the Pars against a hard-working Brechin side facing inevitable relegation and without a win in 28 League games this season. After struggling to score goals in recent games, we quickly established a 2 goal lead with goals from Nicky Clark in the 8th and 9th minutes. Both were well-taken finishes. Clark then completed his hat trick, and the scoring, after 54 minutes.
The Pars were dominant in both halves, keeping possession and winning their fair share of second balls. The crowd at Brechin are very close to the pitch and there was good banter with home goalkeeper Graeme Smith. Glebe Park can have the feel of being in a bowling club, and being so close to the players, it was good to hear the commanding and motivational shouts from Dunfermline players to team mates to keep their standards up and giving praise and encouragement.
With his 3 goal haul Nicky Clark has now equalled his goals tally of 16 from last season, with 4 of those goals coming against Brechin. Much has been made of Clark's record against part time teams (14 of his 16 goals have been against part time opposition) but as a penalty box poacher, he relies on service, which comes more regularly against so-called "lesser" opposition. If he was given the same opportunities to score against full-time teams, the chances are he would have even more than his current total for the season.
Although there was a clear expectation of a Pars victory last night, credit has to be given for the professional way the players went about achieving the win. Dundee United and Livingston have both drawn games at Brechin this season, while Morton and St Mirren won by single goal margins. We have now played Brechin away twice and won both games 3-0.
As a whole though there were good performances throughout but I’d say the standouts were Tom Beadling - another solid midfield performance; Lee Ashcroft - a dominating and vocal defensive display; Lee Robinson - some good saves when tested; and Nicky Clark - 3 well-taken goals, showing what he can do when given the opportunity to score.
With the game won, Allan Johnston brought on Dan Armstrong and Andy Ryan for Nicky Clark and Declan McManus after 64 minutes, and Fraser Aird for James Vincent 8 minutes later. Dunfermline continued to attack but couldn't add a further goal. Ex-Par Finn Graham came close to scoring a fine goal for Brechin, skillfully working his way past a group of Pars players before shooting wide.
Now we look ahead to Saturday when we visit Tannadice, another massive game in the play-off race, especially with Queen of the South’s win over Dundee United last night. With St Mirren and Livingston secure in the top 4, there’s now up to 4 other teams who could enter, exit or miss out of the play-offs and there’s absolutely no reason why we can't achieve a top 4 place if we keep our standards up over the next month or so.
Pars draw a blank against unadventurous opposition
Jason Talbot returned to the squad after suspension and Jean Yves M'Voto was fit again after missing Tuesday's Inverness game through suspension. Both players were named among the substitutes, with midweek squad members Andy Ryan and Scott Lochhead out of the 18.
After Tuesday's 1-0 win over Inverness, a win over fourth-placed Morton would have cut the gap between us and our visitors to a single point, with a game in hand against Brechin due to be played in 3 days. Unfortunately, a second consecutive win could not be achieved and the remarkably unambitious Greenock side left with a point that pleased their manager Jim Duffy. Despite defeating Dunfermline 3 times in League and Cup games this season, Morton seemingly had no great desire to cement their top 4 place with a win today. Dunfermline, undoubtedly pressing for a winner, were unable to get the one goal that would surely have won the game.
The game was played in freezing cold wind with occasional snow flurries. The atmosphere in the stadium was as cold as the weather, with the home fans sitting passively throughout. There was no chorus of booing at any point, but the tepid response from the stands tells its own story.
The first half was uneventful. Morton's only clear chance of the entire game came after 9 minutes when Jack Iredale shot wide from a good position. For Dunfermline, Nicky Clark had an early effort saved by Derek Gaston, while later in the half Declan McManus shot into the side netting.
McManus was involved again in the 59th minute when he broke down the right. His pass found Clark but the striker could not capitalise on the opening, with the ball then reaching James Craigen and eventually cleared. This was the type of chance that should have ended in a goal - but while Dunfermline are now hard to score against, they are also having problems finding the net themselves, lacking a clinical edge.
There was an element of bad luck for the Pars when Tom Beadling hit the bar and then sub Dan Armstrong saw his shot strike the post. McManus had another chance when Gaston saved a Kallum Higginbotham shot and when the ball fell to McManus, he could not get a clean shot on goal, scuffing his effort, and the chance was lost.
Allan Johnston, who had no recognised striker on the bench, substituted Clark and put winger Armstrong up front alongside McManus. Fraser Aird was also given game time in place of the ineffective Craigen.
Apathy is taking a hold on the dwindling Pars support, with goals scarce and little to get enthused about. There is still hope of a play-off place and with greater creativity and a more ruthless approach in front of goal, the team may yet achieve a top 4 finish, especially if the opposition are as unambitious as Morton.
Pars achieve a much-needed victory that keeps top 4 hopes alive
Ben steps in again to write this match report.
Jason Talbot was suspended for this game and Jean Yves M'Voto and Joe Cardle, along with Michael Paton, missed out through injury. Kallum Higginbotham and Lewis Martin came into the starting 11, with Dean Shiels, Fraser Aird and Scott Lochhead added to the squad as subs.
A stepping stone to a bigger test at the weekend, Tuesday evening's match against Inverness brought a welcome victory that was admittedly not for the purists but produced the result that makes Saturday's meeting with 4th placed Morton a game that could define the rest of our season.
The first half felt like a typical mid-table meeting of 2 sides who have struggled for form of late. The game's only goal came from a James Craigen free kick. The goal aside, I thought both teams were very average with no one really testing either keeper. The second half was when the game really kicked into life from a Pars perspective, with Kallum Higginbotham having possibly his best game since October which, in turn, allowed Ryan Williamson to be back to his attacking best. The right wing combination of those 2 players was a key feature in much of our good early season form and, reunited for the first time in several weeks, they once again linked up well together. I also thought Lewis Martin, Tom Beadling and Declan McManus had good games and put themselves about well, with McManus very unlucky not to find the net at least once on the night, including one effort off the post. Higginbotham brought out a good save from Inverness keeper Mark Ridgers, who also dealt with a well-struck long range shot from Lewis Martin.
Inverness didn’t offer much however, and you had to feel for their small band of supporters who made the 280 mile round trip only to see such a lacklustre performance from their team , who offered nothing in terms of an attacking threat all night.
With Dunfermline, it’s always the hope that kills you and this performance (second half mainly) has put that little bit of belief back in me that we can make a late challenge for the play-offs. Of course, it will all be in vain if we don’t pick up the three points on Saturday, which is another must-win game at East End Park to look forward to. If the team can perform as they did in the second half of this game then I’ll be confident of a positive result.
Damage limitation becomes the manager's aim as Pars lose again
Dan Armstrong replaced Andy Ryan in the starting 11. The remainder of the team remained the same as in the last League game. The same subs (with Ryan dropping to the bench) were named, with Fraser Aird and Dean Shiels again not included in the matchday squad.
Team: Robinson, Williamson, Talbot, M'Voto, Ashcroft, Beadling, Craigen, Vincent, McManus, Clark, Armstrong. Subs: Gill, Martin, Morris, Wedderburn, Cardle, Higginbotham, Ryan.
It is now almost 5 months since Dunfermline defeated a team above 8th place in the Championship. This latest defeat saw Allan Johnston admit to damage limitation in the latter stages of the game. Unable to win, the latest objective is now to avoid a heavy loss.
In heavy rain and strong winds, St Mirren went into the game without the ill Lewis Morgan, and named ex-Par Gavin Reilly up front. The home side had the better chances in the first half, with Pars keeper Lee Robinson making a fantastic reaction save to prevent Stephen McGinn from giving Saints the lead. Danny Mullen then put a header wide of Robinson's goal when he really should have hit the target. Dunfermline's only serious effort on goal came from a Nicky Clark shot that Craig Samson did well to turn round the post.
Although St Mirren had more goal attempts than Dunfermline, it was the Pars who had the best chance to break the deadlock. Armstrong passed to James Craigen but the midfielder sliced his shot horribly wide from close range. Joe Cardle then replaced Armstrong.
When it seemed that the game could end goalless, St Mirren were awarded a 69th minute penalty. Jason Talbot, booked in the first half, received a second yellow for conceding the penalty and was sent off. Harry Davis placed his kick straight down the middle to put St Mirren ahead. Lewis Martin was brought on at left back at the expense of Craigen.
Three minutes later, St Mirren made it 2-0. After a tussle inside the Pars penalty box, the ball fell to Liam Smith whose well-struck shot hit the net.
What happened next was an embarrassment to Dunfermline Athletic. Rather than try to mount any sort of comeback, Allan Johnston substituted Declan McManus, and brought on Callum Morris. A centre forward withdrawn for a central defender. Down to 10 men and more than half the outfield players were now defenders. Nicky Clark was left up front on his own. The Pars support made their feelings clear. Is this what we have become? So bad that the best we can do is just keep the score down? Johnston admitted in his post match interview that the Morris substitution was made with avoiding a heavier defeat in mind. This was not the first leg of a home and away play-off tie. While salvaging something at 2-0 down might have seemed unlikely, it is totally unacceptable to so openly surrender any hopes of doing anything except conceding any further goals.