Greg Shields' reserve side were comfortable winners of the Fife Cup at East End Park last night, dominating the game and playing some good football in the process. 22 year old Tom Lang was the team's oldest player, playing in central defence alongside 18 year old captain Paul Brown. East Fife fielded a few first team players but were no threat to the Dunfermline side at any stage of the game.
The Pars side included Vinnie Steels, listed as a trialist. The 18 year old, on Burnley's books, had a very good game and it was refreshing to see an old fashioned winger, taking the ball past the fullback time after time, and whipping over inviting crosses into the box. His burst of pace was also noticeable. The whole team played well and once again midfielder Paul Allan was excellent in possession, a tidy player who rarely wastes a ball.
The first half had echoes of the first team's Betfred Cup games at East End Park this season: racing to a 3-0 lead and although unable to add any further goals in the second period, never in danger of letting the opposition back into the game. The opening goal came after 22 minutes when Tom Lang headed in from a Matty Bowman corner kick. Five minutes later, it was 2-0: East Fife's defenders failed to clear the ball and then brought down Lewis Sawers inside the box. Gabby McGill scored from the spot.
In the 37th minute it was 3-0: Steels' cross was finished expertly by 17 year old Cammy Graham, who was impressive throughout the match.
There were no further goals in the second half but the introduction of 3 Pars' substitutes provided further encouragement for the future. 16 year olds Quinn Coulson, Aaran Dair and Kieran Mitchell all contributed to some quick and incisive passing moves. The ball was played on the ground throughout and the team's link-up play was very good to watch.
After the final whistle, the team collected their winners' medals and Paul Brown lifted the trophy. Winning is a good habit to get into and games such as this are a further step in the development of this young squad.
Outplayed but also making life difficult for ourselves at times: yesterday's defeat to top of the table Dundee United was further confirmation that this season's rebuilt Pars squad are still in the early development stage and will require time and patience in the quest to eventually achieve consistency of performance.
Two changes were made to the team that started against Celtic last week: Josh Coley replaced Josh Edwards and Andy Ryan started up front in place of Kyle Turner. This was a more attacking line up but neither Coley nor Ryan did much to justify their selection; Coley was substituted at half time and Ryan withdrawn during the second half, both ineffective. Their replacements - Turner and Lewis McCann - were arguably the team's best performers during their time of the pitch.
The opening 5 minutes started well enough but soon we began to look vulnerable. After last week's admirable defensive resilience at Parkhead, we looked fragile at the back, playing ourselves into trouble with slack passes involving goalkeeper Ryan Scully and the back four, gifting the ball to the opposition in dangerous areas. In the 10th minute, the first goal came from a predictable source, Lawrence Shankland, who was too strong for Stuart Morrison and released a shot that went through Scully's legs and in. Still we continued to build play up from the back but lacked accuracy and again caused ourselves unnecessary bother with loose distribution and several players looking off the pace of the game.
The game's second goal was scored by Shankland after 30 minutes. Paul McMullen got past Lewis Martin and from his accurate cross, Shankland headed the ball in via Scully's body. We were creating very little at the other end and halftime came with us 2-0 down and hardly having threatened the visitors' goal.
Kyle Turner was brought on at halftime to replace Josh Coley and the team's formation was switched to 4-3-3. Turner almost got the Pars back into the game with a shot that was saved by United keeper Benjamin Siegrist. Kevin Nisbet, who for most of the game cut an isolated figure in attack, then had one clear chance to score but shot wide of goal in the direction he was looking rather than at the target. Aside from a few corners that Lee Ashcroft could not get his head to, that was the total of our attempts at goal and although the second half display was an improvement on the opening 45 minutes, we were still second best in all areas.
United had at least 4 chances to extend their lead: Nicky Clark shot wide after Stuart Morrison's poor ball out of defence played us into trouble; Peter Pawlett had a miss of Chris Iwelumo proportions; Shankland failed to complete his hat trick from the penalty spot, Scully smothering the striker's kick; and Shankland again, with a header, could have done better.
In the match preview for this game I commented that ''expectation should be tempered with realism''. When our best 14 or 15 players are on form, we can produce quality displays such as the opening half against Dundee; when off-form, we play as we did yesterday. I would like to see a couple of more experienced players brought in to prevent relying on teenagers from the bench, some of whom are not far enough along in their development to influence first team games, and to challenge the more established first picks. There is no need for scapegoating or negativity; as noted at the start of this report, time and patience are required, while also eliminating kamikaze defensive sloppiness.
Heroes, very one of them. A few minutes separated us from a penalty shoot out that could have seen the elimination of Scotland's champions from the Betfred Cup, ending their bid for a quadruple treble. We came as close - and much closer - than almost any other team has since 2016 in defeating Celtic in a cup competition and despite their greater possession, ultimately they had to rely on a fluke and a deflection to defeat us.
This was a day to remember and included one of those moments that will live forever in the memory of every Pars fan. In the 55th minute Mikey Johnston's mishit cross flew beyond Ryan Scully to give Celtic the lead, after we had frustrated them and could even had gone ahead earlier in the game when Kevin Nisbet, through on goal, took a heavier touch than he would have liked and could only poke the ball wide of goal. Then the moment came. 77 minutes on the clock: Pars sub Andy Ryan fought off a challenge from Calum McGregor and broke down the left, into the box and cut the ball back perfectly for Tom Beadling who struck it with purpose and accuracy into the corner of the net. Pandemonium followed in the Pars section of the stands - we had stood up to the country's best team and were now level with them and suddenly in with a real chance of causing a huge upset.
Defensively, we gave as good a performance as any Pars side in living memory. Collectively we were superb but a special word has to go to the outstanding Lewis Martin: a colossus on the left side of the Pars defence who, wearing the number 4 shirt, was faultless and inspirational. Norrie would have been proud of the whole team yesterday and none more than Martin, wearing the legendary captain's number. The current captain, Paul Paton, and vice captain Lee Ashcroft showed great leadership and guided their younger team mates through the game.
With only 5 minutes of extra time remaining, James Forrest's shot was deflected beyond Scully and gave Celtic their second fortuitous goal of the game. There was still time for a Pars free kick to be flighted into the box. Ashcroft fell after Olivier Ntcham had a hand on his back. Appeals for a penalty were turned away by referee John Beaton. The game then ended with Celtic's Lewis Morgan killing time at the corner flag, desperate for the game to end.
Everyone associated with DAFC can be proud: players, management, and the superb backing that the 1200 travelling fans gave the team. We faced up to a team with far greater resources but what they do not have is our unity, on and off the pitch: we are on the road back and this was a significant part of our journey back to the top flight of Scottish football.
If only football matches lasted 45 minutes - or 44. For the fifth time in 6 games this season, Dunfermline went into the break ahead but were unable, for the fourth game out of those 6, to add any goals in the second half. Last week, the game against Dundee turned in the 44th minute with the award of a penalty to the opposition, resulting in a 2-0 lead being reduced to 2-1 and the pendulum swinging in favour of Dundee for most of the remainder of the game. Yesterday, with Dunfermline leading 1-0, a Queens' header crashed off the bar in the final minute of the opening period. An escape, but once again a sign of what was to follow.
Stevie Crawford made 2 changes to his starting 11: Kyle Turner, suspended last week, came in on the left wing for Josh Coley, while Andy Ryan replaced Lewis McCann up front.
The home side, managed by Allan Johnston, included ex-Pars Faissal El Bakhtoui, Michael Paton and Scott Mercer.
It was talisman Turner who opened the scoring in the 8th minute after a skillful dodge past 2 Queens defenders and a well placed shot beyond Robby McCrorie in the home goal. Andy Ryan should have made it 2-0 with a shot from 15 yards that went wide and then Kevin Nisbet, played through on goal, could only hit his shot at the out-rushing McRorie. In other games, the team have established at least a 2 goal lead but the failure to add to Turner's goal was to prove costly.
The second half began with the infamous Dumfries seagulls still perched on top of the moss-covered roof of the main stand. The club had issued a warning during the week (I kid you not) that anyone caught feeding the seagulls would be ejected from the ground; the stadium announcer repeated that warning before the game started then added, in jest presumably, that ''you can't feed them but you can eat them if you want''. Gallows humour, Dunfries-style. The birds, who apparently settle down and do their business on Palmerston's artificial pitch when games are not being played, had certainly made their mark on the seats of the East Stand where we sat.
Back to the game - although the second half was largely devoid of quality or incident. Queens showed a cynical side to their game, twice pulling back Dunfermline attackers when a breakaway seemed possible. Five home players plus Allan Johnston were booked, with no yellows issued to Crawford's team.
With Dunfermline unable to take hold of the game, Queens equalised through old foe Gary Oliver after 62 minutes. Lee Ashcroft's challenge and attempted clearance fell to Oliver who tucked the ball beyond Ryan Scully. The Pars keeper then made an excellent save, tipping a goal-bound Darren Brownlie header over the bar. There was late drama when Paul Paton hit his own post with a sliced clearance; then referee Steven Reid, who had not enjoyed the best of games, seemed to point to the spot after Queens' Connor Murray was challenged in the box, then changed his mind to the relief of Pars players and fans.
In the final minute, a Pars corner was headed wide by Euan Murray, who fell awkwardly and required medical attention. Concern grew for the defender as he was stretchered off but fortunately it was confirmed after the match that a hospital visit was not required after his neck had been injured in the incident.
A disappointing game overall, with the trend for second half declines continuing.
Thankfully, there were no reports of any seagulls being eaten by any especially-hungry local or travelling fans.
A game to mark the centenary of Burntisland Shipyard was played in mainly wet conditions yesterday evening on the Fife coast. A Pars reserve side featuring several first team squad players were far too strong for the home side, who included former Dunfermline under 20s players Robbie Crawford (son of Stevie) and Johnny Galloway.
Former Motherwell winger Broque Watson was on the left wing for the Pars, the 20 year old listed as a trialist. The player spent part of last season on loan at East Fife and did his prospects of being awarded a contract no harm by opening the scoring at Burntisland, tapping home a Lewis Sawers cross after 12 minutes.
Matty Todd made it 2-0 with a shot from 12 yards in the 48th minute. Leftback Josh Edwards then drilled a shot into the corner of the net from the edge of the penalty box to make it 3-0 after 50 minutes. Pars sub Cammy Graham made it 4-0 after rounding the Burntisland keeper with 10 minutes remaining, then in the final minute a trialist substitute (his identity wasn't revealed) got the fifth and final Dunfermline goal. By this point the Pars team was almost entirely filled with teenagers and it was encouraging to see two of the five goals come as the team's average age plummeted.
This was a worthwhile exercise for Greg Shields' reserve side. Danny Devine and Tom Lang were untroubled in central defence, while recent signing Josh Edwards was in his more familiar left back role, after a couple of recent first team appearances from the bench in left midfield.
Line up and photos:
Two disputed penalty decisions robbed Dunfermline of 3 points in the SPFL'S 2019/20 season opener at East End Park. Referee Greg Aitken applied his own interpretation of the new handball rule when awarding Dundee a gateway back into the game seconds before halftime, then gave the visitors a second penalty in the 75th minute after a clean tackle by Lee Ashcroft. This left Dunfermline hugely frustrated after dominating the first half, going 2-0 up and outplaying the Dens Park side, who until this game had not conceded a goal in over 500 minutes of football this season - Betfred games plus friendlies.
Manager Stevie Crawford made one change to the team that defeated East Kilbride in the Betfred Cup last weekend - Lewis McCann replacing the suspended Kyle Turner. McCann played just behind Kevin Nisbet in attack in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
A feature of this season has been a quick fire start to the first half, and this game continued that trend: the Pars 2 goals scored make it a total of 13 first half goals in 5 competitive games, conceding 1; in contrast, the second half of games has seen only 2 Pars goals, and 4 conceded. We have a strong starting 11 - the key word being starting - with decent options on the bench as individuals but not as a collective when fielded at the same time due to injuries or substitutions. It is imperative to our hopes this season that we get a full 90 minutes out of starters such as Josh Coley and Ryan Dow.
The team's first half display was a joy to watch, some of the best football played at East End Park in years: Ryan Dow's opener was created by Kevin Nisbet, then a reversal of roles saw Dow set up Nisbet for the second. Nisbet then hit the bar with a shot from 18 yards and there seemed no way back into the game for Dundee until referee Aitken decided that Dow had committed a handball offence in the 44th minute. Decide for yourself if the decision was correct - the new rules can be read here. Danny Johnson scored from the spot and Dundee, who aside from a Josh Meekings header that was tipped over by Scully, had not been in the game, were given fresh hope as the halftime whistle sounded.
Just as in the game against St Mirren in the Betfred Cup, a game that Dunfermline were dominating changed flow and became an exercise in defending a lead, with a cheap goal - this time through a refereeing error - letting the opposition back in. As cramp and tiredness, confirmed in Crawford's post-match interview, began to chip away at the strong starting line-up, Dundee enjoyed far more possession as the game went on but, significantly, failed to trouble Scully. That was until the 75th minute and the equaliser, again scored by Johnson.
Andy Ryan, on the bench and presumably not fully fit, watched on as midfielder Matty Todd was given a stint up front as Lewis McCann's second half replacement, before Ryan was eventually given playing time in the final 5 minutes. All of this highlighted the one real, glaring issue in this new-look Pars squad: lack of strength - literally - within the subs' bench and squad.
The Pars ended the game with a point that pre-match may have been deemed more than acceptable. There was, however, irritation and frustration at the loss of the 2 goal lead, not directed at the players but at in ineptness of the lead official. We were also left to wonder if a stronger option up front from the bench may have helped see us over the line by increasing ball retention in the second half and providing a more effective outlet. As noted above, we have the nucleus of a strong team, with good individual options, but have a weakness when forced to field too many non-starters at the same time.
Onto Palmerston, with renewed hope, the return of Kyle Turner, and the hope of seeing our top performers play the whole game.
Pars Review Man of the Match: Kevin Nisbet
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