No changes to the starting 11 that defeated Dumbarton. Conner Duthie replaced Dean Shiels on the bench.
A result that can be viewed in different ways: to avoid defeat after playing so long with 10 men is obviously a huge positive to take onto the second leg. Yet the injustice over the very harsh 55th minute red card for Lee Ashcroft, robbing us of a key defender and (depending on the outcome of a likely appeal) also missing the game on Friday, could have a more telling impact. There was also frustration at the United keeper pulling off 3 outstanding saves to deny us a precious victory.
The game was evenly contested and even after the sending off, we still posed a threat on the break. Our attitude and mindset when facing United has improved considerably over the past 2 seasons. Although we have not recorded a win over them, in recent matches circumstances rather than our previously weak mentality against them have denied us a win on more than one occasion. Simply put, our luck must turn, as we have addressed our own issues and now can go into games against United knowing that we have no reason to feel inferior.
Dunfermline came closest to opening the scoring when Declan McManus, on for the injured Andy Ryan, hit the bar after 37 minutes. For all United's possession, they rarely tested Lee Robinson in the first half. After half time, that was to change and the Pars keeper, who has been such a success since signing in January, denied Scott McDonald with a great save at full stretch. Robinson was assured, confident and fully merited his 12th clean sheet in 20 games for the club.
Ashcroft was red carded after contact with Scott McDonald, fully 35 yards from goal and with other players in close attendance. Was it even a foul? It certainly was not "denying a goalscoring opportunity" and the appeal that Allan Johnston talked about post-match should see the decision downgraded to a yellow card at worst.
United had a few half chances but will be disappointed that they could not apply more pressure to a resolute Pars defence.
In the United goal, Deniz Mehmet kept his side in the game and in the play-offs with 3 incredible saves in the second half - 2 from Nicky Clark and the other from a long range goalbound Fraser Aird shot. Aird was the Pars' best outfield player, a direct runner who also showed his versatility by covering both fullback positions after the sending off and then late in the game when Ryan Williamson had to be subbed through injury.
We can be concerned with Ashcroft's possible absence on Friday and also the effect of the injury to Williamson, but for tonight we should feel proud of our team. We would require an element of rebuilding if we were to achieve promotion but there is a basis already there of a decent side, with skill and togetherness combining to extend our unbeaten run to 11 games and still in with a great chance of progressing through to the play-off semi final.
This Pars team do not accept defeat. The next step is to record a famous victory on Friday and move onto the next challenge.
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