A week that began with so much promise ended with a second consecutive 1-0 home defeat to a top 4 rival. As in Tuesday's loss to Dundee United, the team performed much to the same level as in the recent 5 game winning run. Those victories lifted us briefly into fourth place but could not be sustained due to a basic lack of quality.
Ryan Williamson and James Vincent replaced James Craigen and Ryan Blair in the starting 11, with Kallum Higginbotham moving from right to left midfield. The formation, with Louis Longridge playing behind Bruce Anderson, left the main striker isolated, a poor choice of tactics playing at home in a must win game. There was insufficient support from midfield and we rarely looked like scoring.
The formation switched to 4-4-2 in the second half, with Higginbotham playing alongside Anderson, before Faissal El Bakhtaoui came off the bench to add some spark to our attack. Other subs used were James Craigen for the injured Joe Thomson - we can only hope his injury was not as serious as it appeared - and later in the game, Matty Todd for James Vincent.
Starting lineup & formation:
With the exception of a late flurry of activity in the Ayr penalty box, this was a must-win game that lacked any attacking thrust from a Pars team that will now see out the season safe from relegation but now highly unlikely to be in contention for a promotion play-off place. There is an argument that we are nowhere near ready for top division football - we will require a squad overhaul this summer for next season's Championship, never mind a rebuild for the Premiership.
Ayr United began the game with only 2 League wins in 2019 but looked the better of the 2 sides in the opening period. Michael Moffat missed a chance to capitalise on poor Pars defending and then Lawrence Shankland failed to convert a half chance inside the penalty box. The game's only goal came after 31 minutes, and just as with Dundee United's goal 3 days ago, the Dunfermline defence allowed an opponent to run, unchallenged, and finish. This time it was Declan McDaid who took advantage, with his shot finding its way past Ryan Scully who seemed distracted by Shankland.
Joe Thomson, who seemed to run off an injury early in the game, then fell to the ground near half time and had to be stretchered off, a very sad moment for the popular player.
The second half formation change, mentioned above, did not lead to any goal chances but the introduction of Faissal El Bakhtaoui, replacing Kallum Higginbotham, at least gave the Pars' attack some much-needed energy. Faissal flicked on a ball for Danny Devine to hook over the bar, and also had a chance himself but chose to shoot from a tight angle instead of passing.
Late in the game, there were a handful of chances for Dunfermline, two of which fell to Louis Longridge, whose first touch let him down and then who got a shot in a minute later but hit the keeper. Other chances came and went but it was too little, too late.
We now have six games for the manager to continue to assess the group of players and perhaps give game time to fringe players. Summer recruitment is vital and we must bring in players with more creativity and attacking prowess. Stevie Crawford has utilised the current squad in the best way he sees fit but the defensive approach is often awful to watch and will surely not be repeated next season once many of the present squad are gone and replaced.
Ryan Scully 5.5 Not entirely blameless for the goal.
Ryan Williamson 5 Poor defensively, culpable for the goal, some good overlaps in the second half.
Danny Devine 5.5 A mixture of a goal saving block and showing great desire to get a goal, to moments of shaky defending.
Lee Ashcroft 5.5 Solid enough but not the inspirational figure we need as captain.
Jackson Longridge 6 The best of the back 4 and a player we need to hold onto this summer.
Tom Beadling 5 Needs to have a much bigger influence in games.
Joe Thomson 6 Suffered what appeared to be a serious injury, a real shame for the team's driving force from midfield.
James Vincent 4 Desperately poor game.
Kallum Higginbotham 4 Misplaced flicks, no goal threat, no assists. Could be Higgy's final start.
Louis Longridge 4 Failed to take 2 great chances late in the game and was ineffective for most of the game.
Bruce Anderson 5.5 Left to fight a lone battle for much of the game.
James Craigen - one of our better players, came on and did reasonably well in right midfield.
Faissal El Bakhtaoui - made an impact but lacked end product.
Matty Todd - given the final 15 minutes and could be set to feature more in the coming weeks.
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Dunfermline's five game winning run ended with old foes Dundee United once again coming out on top against us, in a game that saw the Pars start brightly but fade after the only goal was scored, before rallying towards the end but failing to find the net.
The disappointment felt at the final whistle was a consequence of the team's progress over the past few games and how expectations have risen. This loss, while a setback, makes Friday's match against Ayr United all the more important as we enter the final few weeks of the season.
Stevie Crawford selected the same team that started last time out against Alloa 2 and a half weeks ago. One significant change on the substitutes bench was the return from injury of Faissal El Bakhtaoui.
The team lined up in a 4-1-3-1-1 formation, with Tom Beadling in defensive midfield. Kallum Higginbotham, Joe Thomson and Ryan Blair formed a midfield 3 - occasionally becoming 4 when Louis Longridge dropped back from his left sided role, playing behind lone striker Bruce Anderson.
The solid run of results that spanned 5 matches, all won with no goals conceded, was built on a strong defensive foundation but after a positive start to the game - Ryan Blair fizzing a cross into the box that had no takers, which was followed by a few other half chances that lacked either a killer final pass, or a clinical finish - the Pars defence showed signs of vulnerability. James Craigen gave away possession and was fortunate not to be punished for the error, while centrally, United were testing Lee Ashcroft and Danny Devine, who both looked uncomfortable. The game's only goal came in the 24th minute when Peter Pawlett was allowed to run, unchallenged, and slot the ball past Ryan Scully. ''Goals change games'' is an old adage and this was certainly the case after United scored. The visitors took great heart from their goal while the Pars' play became increasingly disjointed. Scully made 2 good reaction saves and there were other chances for Pavol Safranko and Calum Butcher.
Halftime came as a relief, a chance to regroup and regain the composure that had been such an important facet of the team's displays of late.
The second half was an improvement over the final 20 minutes of the first period. The team pressed continuously for an equaliser but too often some good build up play ended with an overhit cross, or a ball being played into a dangerous area with no one on the end to convert. United were still a threat on breakaways but as the minutes ticked by, the team's old failing of lack of goals proved to be the barrier between deserving an equaliser and actually getting one.
Frustration greeted the final whistle; this was an opportunity missed and was a game that highlighted how far we have come, and also how far we still have to go to fully realise our ambitions.
Ryan Scully 7 Two excellent first half saves and a solid game from the keeper, despite his long period without conceding coming to an end.
James Craigen 6 Shaky defensive work in the first period but improved in the second half in an attacking sense.
Danny Devine 5.5 Battled away but was well below the standard he has set in recent games.
Lee Ashcroft 5.5 Lack of pace was evident at times and will not be happy with his part in United's goal.
Jackson Longridge 7 One of the team's best attacking outlets and has is returning to his early season form.
Tom Beadling 6 One crucial first half interception to save United breaking through after a Craigen error.
Kallum Higginbotham 5 No denying how keen he is to impress but this was another game when little went right for Higgy.
Joe Thomson 5.5 Joe's least effective game for a while. Energetic as usual but did little of note creatively.
Ryan Blair 5 Disappointing performance. Dead ball delivery decent but didn't offer much in general play.
Louis Longridge 5 A couple of good runs but generally looked heavy legged.
Bruce Anderson 6 Isolated up front and failed to get on the end of balls played into the box. Not his best game.
Subs used: Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Matty Todd, Myles Hippolyte
Another win, another clean sheet - our fifth consecutive winning game with no goals conceded, with 4 of those victories coming with a 1-0 scoreline. It's a testament to the organisation installed in the team by the manager and his assistants. As Sir Alex Ferguson said in his book 'Leading': ''We had to be sure our system was deeply ingrained. Before you can field a great team, you have to be organised.'' Organised is exactly what we are - the players work tirelessly for each other and are patient in the belief that a chance will come. Thankfully, Stevie Crawford identified and was able to bring in a natural goalscorer in Bruce Anderson, who just as in previous games was there to score the required goal. 1-0 wins are becoming our trademark and long may it continue.
There were 2 changes to last week's starting 11: fit-again Jackson Longridge at left back, while his brother Louis replaced injured Aidan Connolly in the number 10 role. The midfield diamond was replaced by 4 across the middle. This is how the team lined up, in a 4-4-1-1 formation:
Pre-match weather forecasts predicted hail and while that did not materialise, the game was played in high winds and a chilly temperature. Alloa's ridiculously narrow pitch, combined with the wind, was not conducive to good football, and the first half - as is the norm in our games these days - passed by with barely anything of note happening. Alloa did have an early penalty appeal when an uncharacteristic error from James Craigen - his header back to Ryan Scully lacking strength - saw the Pars keeper collide with Alloa forward Dario Zanatta, whose appeals were waved away by referee Euan Anderson. Occasional Pars' efforts were high and wide of the Alloa goal.
The second half was an improvement on the opening 45 minutes. The team's discipline and shape was solid enough in the first half but they added a little more creativity after halftime, which saw the only goal being scored by Bruce Anderson in the 53rd minute. Alloa centre half Andy Graham, who had an otherwise solid game, was flummoxed by Anderson's movement in the box, with the Pars striker quicker and nippier than his opponent, finding space and slotting the ball coolly past Alloa keeper Neil Parry. Anderson is a born goal poacher, a huge asset for any team.
The wind continued to chill the bones of the fans inside the old ground. It was largely pointless playing with any width due to the narrowness of the pitch. The manager, who is proving to be a master pragmatist, replaced Kallum Higginbotham with James Vincent, moving Louis Longridge to left midfield, flooding the centre of the park and squeezing out the opposition. Alloa pushed for an equaliser - Louis Longridge had to head away an Andy Graham header that could have brought the game level, then Ryan Scully was required to save a shot from Zanatta.
Myles Hipployte was brought on in place of Anderson but in his brief cameo seemed cumbersome, not taking advantage of 2 breakaway opportunities.
The win keeps us in the top 4 and with Dundee United up next, at EEP on Saturday, the momentum continues to build. This report began with a quote from Sir Alex Ferguson, who I will also give the final word to; his thoughts seem to be shared by our own management team, proving that regardless of the club, or level, the same principles apply:
''Often our victories came after we had drained the life from our opponents. Games are all about waiting for chances and then pouncing on them. I always felt that our triumphs were an expression of the consistent application of discipline. The work of a team should always embrace a great player but the great player must always work.''
Ryan Scully 7.5 Rarely called upon but did produce one good, instinctive second half save.
James Craigen 7 A little sloppy early on but settled down into his usual steady game.
Danny Devine 8 Very vocal, first to almost every challenge. My man of the match.
Lee Ashcroft 7.5 Solid and determined - looking much more like the player from last season.
Jackson Longridge 7.5 A quality player who makes the game look easy, as all good players do.
Joe Thomson 7 Used in right midfield, and along with the central defenders is our driving force.
Tom Beadling 7 An important part of Stevie Crawford's system: works hard for the team.
Ryan Blair 7 Had a quieter game after his man of the match display last week but was tidy in possession and always handy at set pieces.
Kallum Higginbotham 6.5 While Higgy's discipline has improved, his creativity has waned. We need more out of him.
Louis Longridge 7 Still appears to be building up match fitness. An intelligent player who also did his bit defensively, heading away a goal-bound Alloa effort in the second half.
Bruce Anderson 7.5 One real chance=one goal. Bruce has a goalscorer's instinct and has been a crucial addition to the team.
Fourth place, 4 consecutive wins and 4 cleans sheets in a row: the Pars' revival continued yesterday with another 3 points, in a game that the team truly did earn their victory. This was the epitome of grinding out a win: a determination to secure a positive result saw us through, surviving multiple stramashes in the final 10 minutes. This was teamwork at its best even when the quality of football wasn't always what the players are capable of.
Stevie Crawford brought Aidan Connolly back into the starting lineup, replacing Louis Longridge, whose brother Jackson was a substitute after missing the last 2 games through injury. The initial formation was a diamond with Joe Thomson at its attacking tip and Kallum Higginbotham playing just behind Bruce Anderson up front. However, this soon changed to the 4-1-4-1 formation shown below, which solidified the midfield but left Anderson isolated.
Starting 11 and formation:
Stevie Crawford's January transfer dealings continue to impress, together with revitalised performances from players inherited from the previous manager. After Bruce Anderson's 2 goals against Partick Thistle in midweek, this time it was Ryan Scully and Ryan Blair, the other 2 players in the trio of January arrivals, who made telling contributions to this victory which was the definition of hard fought.
In a strong wind and with rain whipping round the stadium, Dunfermline had the first chance of the game when Kallum Higginbotham was unable to convert from close range after 3 minutes. Opponents Queens had Stephen Dobbie orchestrating play, and ex-Par Fraser Aird on the left wing. It was Aird who came closest to scoring for the away side in the first half when, after 16 minutes, he cut inside and had a shot from distance that was well held by Ryan Scully.
Seven minutes later, Dunfermline almost took the lead when Ryan Blair's perfectly executed free kick brought out an excellent save from Alan Martin in the Queens' goal. Blair's next involvement saw him yellow carded for pulling back Aird in what could otherwise have been a dangerous breakaway. Bruce Anderson then had a chance but didn't connect properly with his shot. The half ended goalless and without much for the purist to enthuse over.
The second half began with both teams battling hard but with little guile on display. The Pars' chance to record a win that would move us up to fourth place on a day when no other Championship games were taking place seemed to be ebbing away until, with 16 minutes remaining, the game's only goal came. Substitute Jackson Longridge played the ball to Ryan Blair and from 20 yards the midfielder drilled a shot past Martin. The ball was struck with pinpoint accuracy and the scorer was mobbed by his team mates in front of the Norrie McCathie stand.
Referee Gavin Duncan then made a strange decision, only booking Darren Brownlie when the defender put a forearm across Bruce Anderson just when the Dunfermline striker was about to get past him and have a run in on goal. It seemed a certain red, for the foul itself plus the use of the arm but a yellow card was shown.
Queens then made 3 substitutions and threw everything into attack. Former Par Andy Stirling hit a shot over the bar and Lyndon Dykes' on target effort was booted away by Louis Longridge. Bruce Anderson then had a chance to double Dunfermline's lead but headed straight at Martin. With the visitors pressing, the Pars broke upfield and from Anderson's pass, Louis Longridge ran in on goal. From a few yards out, a goal seemed inevitable but Longridge's attempt at dinking the ball over the out-rushing Queens' keeper went wide of the post.
Only a few minutes remained and the home goal was now under siege. Scully came out to claim a high punt into the box, taking out opponents plus Danny Devine in the process of making sure the ball was his. The Pars keeper then made a superb save from Barry Maguire's header. Stephen Dobbie had a shot deflected over and there were a few stramashes inside the Pars' penalty box. The final few minutes were nerve-shredding and the has rarely been a more welcome sound than that of referee Duncan's final whistle.
For someone who was such a cultured attacking player, Stevie Crawford is proving to be a supreme pragmatist as a manager. We are becoming adept at winning games through sheer hard work as opposed to playing open, expansive football. The manager is working with what he has, in addition to the good signings he made in January. Ultimately, he has found a recipe for achieving positive results, in much the same way as Livingston did last season. Long may it continue.
Ryan Scully 8 Became more involved as the game went on, proving his worth in a hectic last 10 minutes with one excellent save and several confident catches, including a plow through a ruck of players to grab the ball when the team were under pressure.
Ryan Williamson 6 A few heavy touches when in good attacking positions characterised his afternoon.
Danny Devine 7 Part of a backline that stood up to late Queens' pressure. Continues to impress, doing basic defending more than capably.
Lee Ashcroft 7 Aside from a continuing tendency to slide attempted clearances, the captain combined with Devine to block and clear several opposition attacks as the game went on.
James Craigen 7 Never lets the team down and proved his versatility again by starting at left back and ending the game in midfield after Jackson Longridge was brought on.
Tom Beadling 7 A good shift in the defensive midfield role, doing a lot of work that often goes unseen.
Kallum Higginbotham 6 Briefly played in attack before a formation switch saw him move to the right wing. Full of good intentions but it's not really clicking for Higgy these days.
Joe Thomson 7 Great attitude and a real team player. Continued to chase the opposition down even in injury time.
Ryan Blair 8.5 My man of the match: a first half free kick that was tipped over, top quality delivery from corner kicks, and a very well taken goal.
Aidan Connolly 6 Did a job for the team. A determined wee character.
Bruce Anderson 7 Had two chances to score, one in each half, and was crudely taken out when about to run through on goal; needs more support however - too often isolated.
Subs used: Louis Longridge (59 minutes), Jackson Longridge (68), Mark Durnan (89).