Well, that was more like it! Before the game, I tweeted that we needed a performance that was worthy of the black and white - something we have not seen nearly enough of this season. Today, for at least an hour of this game, we got it. In a 4-3-3 formation with one change from last week - Myles Hippolyte replacing Faissal El Bakhtaoui - we overcame the shock of an early Falkirk goal to equalise quickly and dominate the game. Not only in terms of possession, which we have done several times, but also in the way we put pressure on the opposition, playing with an intensity, drive and determination, while also finishing off the good play with goals. There could easily have been more - this could have been 8 or 9 and the scoreline flatters a Falkirk side who were very poor and seemed demoralised by the level of performance that we produced, mixed in with their own ineptitude.
The Falkirk goal, from Joe McKee, was soon cancelled out by Myles Hippolyte, scoring his sixth of the season, which moves him to the top of the Pars' scoring chart. Hippolyte showed strength and skill to make space for his shot that gave Falkirk keeper David Mitchell no chance.
Spreading the responsibility for goalscoring amongst the whole team has been one of Allan Johnston's mantras and today the midfield made a huge contribution. The 4-3-3 formation is by far the most effective way to utilise Joe Thomson, Tom Beadling and James Vincent together without playing any of them out of position. Beadling scored twice, with a 17th minute finish from a Kallum Higginbotham cross and then a 51st minute strike after great work by Higgy. James Vincent was a strong contender for man of the match - his goal was a thing of beauty, smashing a shot across Rogers into the corner of the net to make the score 4-1 in front of a delirious Pars support. For me, Joe Thomson was the pick of the trio - what energy he has, coupled with a fantastic attitude - and ability.
Falkirk's second goal did not spark any type of fightback and although the game fizzled out in the final quarter, the job was more than done by a rampant Pars side who showed exactly what they are capable of, from the kick-off following Falkirk's opener, to the scoring of our fourth. This is the standard they have to maintain. On this form, this is a team capable of climbing this division, for there is nothing to fear when they perform as they did today: hunting down the opposition in packs of 3, pressing, winning challenges, and allowing the more creative players to flourish in a flexible formation that brings out the best of the players selected.
Well done to the players and the manager for getting it exactly right today.
A frustrating goalless draw which should have ended better but could easily have been worse - a game that reflected the season so far for a Dunfermline side that must have had 'a goal' on their list for Santa, but just like the Pars strikers, the fat man in the red suit did not deliver.
Leaders Ayr were a shadow of the side that destroyed Dundee United at Tannadice 3 weeks ago. Whether that was due to the Dunfermline team's performance, or whether they simply under-performed, we will never know. What should be noted is that despite being second best for much of the game, Ayr had the clearest goalscoring chances - one falling to Michael Moffat, clean through on Lee Robinson's goal in the first half only for the Pars keeper to block his shot; and then, at the very end, Lawrence Shankland missing a sitter with the goal at his mercy. It would have been an outrageous smash and grab win had it gone in but it would also have been a familiar sight for everyone involved with Dunfermline - failing to score and then being robbed by the opposition.
This was not a bad performance but the fact remains, we cannot score a goal. Kallum Higginbotham was a creative spark on the right midfield and then, after a second half switch of formation from 4-1-3-2 to 4-3-3, on the left of a front 3. Faissal, meanwhile, was the same as in every other game. Nice wee flicks, zero end product, ending with him selfishly trying a speculative long range shot when he should have passed. The team cannot afford a striker who cannot score and a return to Dundee must be considered come January, especially if it frees up space to bring someone else in on loan, or on a permanent deal.
The first half saw Moffat's miss, Aidan Keena almost converting a Higginbotham cross at the other end, and then, soon before half time, an argument between Lee Robinson and Lee Ashcroft. As the halftime whistle was blown, the two players continued their disagreement (see video on the Pars Review Twitter page here) - whatever the issue was, it was unprofessional and did not reflect well on either player.
Dunfermline had the better of the second half but saw shots blocked and one piledriver from Joe Thomson saved by Ayr keeper Ross Doohan. There was no lack of effort and we looked the better team. But no goals is the story of our faltering season. At least we were spared a demoralising defeat when Shankland missed at the end. We now look ahead to Falkirk next week and hope that by then, Santa will have at least arranged a deal for a goalscorer to join up in January when the transfer window opens.
Stupidly, I allowed myself to look ahead with optimism after last week's win over Morton. Perhaps the unusualness of a long overdue home win made me lose a sense of perspective and naively believe that we were about to see an improvement in results. Sadly not. After a decent first half, when we hit the bar twice and dominated possession (heard that one before?), we came out in the second half and put in a dire display - long balls to a striker (Faissal) who can't even time a jump, failure to string 3 passes together, a Pars player (Robbie Muirhead) seemingly inviting a fan into the dugout after hearing criticism from the Dunfermline support after being subbed, the captain (Lee Ashcroft) almost selling a goal after getting flummoxed in his penalty box......all features of a terrible second 45 minutes.
The team lineup was unchanged from last week's win but it was obvious, even in a generally good first half - we played well enough despite going into the break 1-0 down - certain players were operating at a level below the previous game. James Vincent and James Craigen, both subbed in the second half, were empty shirts. On a more positive note, the much-maligned Muirhead had an effort from distance that clipped the bar, and also placed a pin-point cross on Danny Devine's head from a corner that also ended in the bar being skelped. Thistle, meanwhile, were playing on the break, and Lee Robinson had a few good blocks. The home side's goal, in the 12th minute, was a well-drilled shot from around 20 yards by Blair Spittal.
Faissal forced Thistle keeper Jamie Sneddon into a great reaction save from a header and we looked forward to the second half, reasonably confident that on the balance of play we would get ourselves back in the game.
The second goal, disputed by the Pars players, came from Miles Storey, when he flicked the ball inside the 6 yard box. Did it cross the line? Hard to tell, but the goal was given. 2-0 down after 56 minutes. Craigen and Vincent were subbed for Tom Beadling and Myles Hippolyte. The latter ran about tugging at Thistle shirts, eventually booked for doing so, and playing into the opposition's hands.
Then at the end, Lee Robinson did what Lee Robinson does - you will see the clip later this evening on Ben's YouTube channel (link here) - when, after Jai Quitongo and Lee Ashcroft fell over each other, Robbo needlessly got himself involved, leaping onto both players and making himself look very foolish - he just can't help himself. And he was our best player.
For the second time in 3 games, we have lost to the team at the bottom of the League. That was Thistle's first win since September 22. As Christmas approaches, we are the gift that keeps on giving - to our opponents.
Well, that was a much more enjoyable Saturday afternoon! Possession and dominance was, at last, added to by goals, with the team scoring more today in 90 minutes than in the previous 7 home League games combined. From the outset, the players were direct, taking shots from distance, making things happen - a vital component that turned what could have been yet another hard luck story into 3 points.
Credit to Allan Johnston for selecting the best team he had available to him - bringing in James Craigen to right midfield and fit-again Aidan Keena up front. Robbie Muirhead started on the left of midfield and the much-maligned player, who has looked unfit and out of sorts for much of his time at East End Park, had a very good game, having a hand in 2 of the 3 goals, using his physique to great effect, looking like a far more effective player than the one we have seen until today.
The opening goal came after just 4 minutes when Robbie Muirhead struck a shot from 22 yards that rattled the post and came back into Andy Ryan territory, finding Aidan Keena, who scored with ease. This obviously settled the team (Morton had a half chance a minute earlier that went by Lee Robinson's post) and their confidence grew. Joe Thomson had a chance to double the lead; Jackson Longridge's header struck a post and from the rebound, Danny Devine's effort hit the bar; Longridge then hit a shot from distance that went narrowly wide; Muirhead continued to press from the left, intent on making an impression and adding an extra dimension to the team's play.
The second goal came a few minutes before the break. Faissal's run into the penalty box was stopped by a crude challenge from ex-Par Gregor Buchanan. A penalty was awarded. James Craigen took the ball but such was Faissal's determination to score his first League goal of the season, the striker took the ball from Craigen and dispatched the penalty kick into the corner of the net.
The second half was more subdued, although Keena had an early chance to score his second goal but after good play could not add the required finish. Morton offered no threat but credit for that must at least partly go to the pressing game that Dunfermline were employing. Tenacious Joe Thomson had a very good game in midfield and every player was working hard to ensure the win would be achieved.
With 5 minutes remaining, a good bustling run from Muirhead ended with Morton keeper Derek Gaston making a save. The ball ran to an inrushing James Craigen who scored the team's third, marking the goal with an exuberant celebration behind the home goal.
Well done to the players and the manager today; this is the level of performance that we know the team are capable of, with that crucial element added: goals.