A 2-0 absolute PUMPING: maybe not the most eloquent description but one that is entirely fitting. We asked for what we saw in the spirited final 10 minutes of last week's game, but spread over the 90, and we got it. It mattered not that this was the worst Falkirk side in living memory - what on earth was their former manager Paul Hartley doing in the summer, bringing in such dross? Their problem, not ours - we dealt with them professionally and could have had 5 or 6 but for an inspired Falkirk goalkeeper, the crossbar, and bad luck when a couple of decent efforts narrowly missed.
The same starting 11 that defeated Partick Thistle was named again today and from the outset it was clear that we were playing on a different level to our rivals. Falkirk's only tactic was to commit a series of fouls that should have caused referee Bobby Madden to issue more yellow cards. Our midfield bossed the game - James Vincent had possibly his best game for Dunfermline, while Malaury Martin once again oozed class - despite lacking pace, the Frenchman is sheer quality - for me, the best midfielder in the Championship.
Our domination was not reflected in the scoreline - both our goals came late in each half, the first from Andy Ryan, and the second from the pantomime villain from old Pars/Falkirk games, when he played in Falkirk blue - sub Myles Hippolyte, who also saw an effort hit the bar. The lively Pars support sang Hipployte's name, winding up the home support in the process. Ryan's goal was a header from a Louis Longridge (another ex-Bairn!) cross, while Hippolyte's late clincher came after great work by Faissal El Bakhtaoui. Quite how Faissal didn't score today is a mystery: Falkirk keeper Leo Fasan denied him 3 times, the third of which was set to be a superb goal until the tall keeper turned the shot round the post.
Aidan Connolly came close with a shot from 22 yards, Ryan shot into the side netting after making space for himself inside the box, and there were other effort that contributed to the Pars' total of 18 attempts at goal. In comparison, Falkirk had 3 attempts at goal, with only 1 on target.
This was a hugely satisfying afternoon: rarely have we dominated a game so much, especially against Falkirk. We are now outside the play-off places by goal difference - level on points with fourth place Dundee United. Just over 2 weeks ago, the upcoming League games against Morton, Partick and Falkirk were seen as pivotal for the club's hopes this season, and for the manager, who was under pressure after a series of defeats: 7 points (which could easily have been 9) later, we have made steady progress, securing some important results, in the knowledge that there is even more to come from the team, who will take great confidence from today's result and performance.
A dire game with the exception of the final 10 minutes when Dunfermline broke out of the lethargy that hung over the players for the vast majority of the match. A first home League win was achieved thanks to a calamitous error by Thistle captain Christie Elliott, whose misplaced clearance fell to Aidan Connolly a few yards from goal. The Pars winger took full advantage of the gift to score the game's only goal after 69 minutes. Connolly later had a chance from a similar position but somehow managed to hit the post with the goal gaping.
Allan Johnston named the same starting 11 that drew with Morton last weekend. The team played reasonably well at Cappielow but were a disjointed and lifeless lot in a first half this evening that must have had every viewer on BBC Alba, where the game was being shown live, reaching for the remote to switch channels. It was truly dire stuff - terrible football from both sides.
The second half began as a continuation of the first in terms of the standard of play. Dunfermline had multiple corners, almost all of which hit the first Thistle defender. Ironically, one of the culprits was Malaury Martin, who, corner kicks aside, was the best footballer on the pitch by some distance. As for his team mates, Mark Durnan had a good game in central defence - including a late clearance that prevented an almost certain goal; Lee Robinson atoned for his howler last week with a great blocking save in added time; Joe Thomson looked lively when brought on as a sub, replacing Andy Ryan, and with the formation changing from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1, which coincided with the Pars' best period of the game, the final 10 minutes. James Craigen, James Vincent and Aidan Connolly had semi-decent games. The rest of the team had games to forget. Faissal has reached the point where if there were better options on the bench, he should be rested. One attempted pass in midfield, which was shanked sideways high into the main stand, summed up Faissal's evening.
The final 10 minutes saw the game spring to life and having suffered 80 minutes of dross, we can only wonder why it took so long. It shouldn't take a fortuitous goal to give the team the shot in the arm they so desperately needed. Better teams than Thistle would have punished us before Connolly's goal.
Ultimately, it's a much needed 'W' in the results column: the month ends with the team undefeated and only one goal conceded in the 4 games played, but with just the one victory. However, the quality of play in those games - with the exception of most of the Morton game, and the final 10 minutes tonight, continues to be a concern.
A much improved performance was undone by a calamitous goalkeeping error at a ground where the team have now conceded costly late goals through individual errors for a third consecutive visit. A point pre-match may have been seen as a decent result but the team merited all 3: while not a vintage display, there were several encouraging elements, not least of which was the manager's team selection.
A lack of fit central defenders has almost forced Allan Johnston to revert to a back 4 after weeks of preferring a 3-5-2 formation. The defensive record, which up until the start of this month was the second worst in the 4 SPFL divisions, has improved dramatically, coinciding with a switch to a back 4. The game seemed to be heading for another Pars shutout, which would have been the third in a row, but for Lee Robinson's mistake; the keeper had earlier made an excellent reaction save from a Jack Iredale shot. Robinson then began to show the other side to his game, when he seemed to drop the ball at the edge of his penalty area, and then handled it outside the area in a failed attempt to amend for the error. He was booked and thankfully nothing came from the resultant free kick.
With 8 minutes remaining, and the Pars 1-0 up, Morton's Scott Tiffoney struck a speculative shot from distance. It appeared to be an easy save for Robinson but he allowed the ball to almost pass through his hands and into the net.
In the Morton goal, former Pars keeper Ryan Scully had none of Robinson's flashiness but ended the game the happier of the 2 goalkeepers, largely because he concentrated on the basics of his job, something I have mentioned time and time again regarding Robinson. I do not expect the errors he made today to be featured on his Instagram page.
Without Ryan Williamson, still not fully fit, James Craigen continued at right back and there was a welcome start for perennial substitute Aidan Connolly, and for new signing Malaury Martin. The French midfielder was the team's standout player - this is a quality footballer and we can look forward to better things once fellow midfielder Tom Beadling - on the bench today as part of his recovery from injury - is match fit. Martin did what all good footballers do - made the game look easy, showing good close control and rarely wasting possession.
Aside from Iredale's first half effort, Morton did very little in attack, while Dunfermline spent more time in the opposition half but for all the good link-up play, did not test Scully enough. Faissal again failed to score, seemingly unable to get into goalscoring positions, despite putting a great deal of effort into the game.
Andy Ryan, recalled to the starting line-up, did what Andy Ryan does: score. He is a born goal poacher and deserves a run in the team. His finish from a pinpoint Louis Longridge pass after 68 minutes put the team in a great position to record a first League win since the opening weekend. Then came Robinson's moment: echoes of Liverpool keeper Loris Karius in the Champions League final.
Encouraging signs, mixed with one very costly, and avoidable, moment that undid a lot of good work and effort.
A deserved passage through to the next round of the Reserve Challenge Cup and the return of Tom Beadling were the main stories to take from today's Pars/QOS second string game at New Central Park, Kelty. Both sides fielded youthful lineups, with senior players currently on the first team bench included for Dunfermline. The game was essentially an under 20s match but it was enjoyable and there was some good football played.
The teams were coached by goalscoring legends from their respective clubs - Stevie Crawford for the Pars and current QOS striker Stephen Dobbie. In attendance in the crowd were ex-Pars Hamish French, Stephen Husband and Par-for-9-days Willo Flood.
Tom Beadling gave Dunfermline a 13th minute lead when his free kick curled into the lower corner of the net. Beadling looked composed and assured, and will be a big asset to the first team midfield once he regains full fitness. He remained on the pitch at half time, warming down, with the plan clearly to give him 45 minutes.
The Queens' equaliser from Robbie Ivison came from inside the box, the scorer given far too much space to shoot past Cammy Gill. Apart from a couple of flurries, Queens did not threaten the Pars goal very often and it was Dunfermline who took a deserved lead with 73 minutes on the clock. Overlapping full back Josh Roberson was fouled in the box and Callum Smith - on loan at Arbroath but eligible to play for the Pars reserve team - put the penalty away confidently, sending the keeper the wrong way. Smith was unlucky not score at least one other goal, slipping at the point of shooting on one occasion and later firing in a powerful drive the just went over the bar.
The team lined up 4-4-1-1, with Matty Todd playing just behind Smith in attack. Midfielder Paul Brown impressed, a wee tenacious character who lets the opposition know he's there. Wingers Lewis Crosbie and Lewis Sawers also played well. Matty Todd is another player who has featured in the first team squad this season, and he had a good game but seemed overly frustrated at times - there's no doubting his enthusiasm.
A good win and into the next round of the Reserve Cup in what was a satisfying runout for Crawford's young team.
Sinking to new levels of mediocrity and led by a manager who admits he'd rather play games away from home; no longer to even 'pump part timers', which was always handy after struggling against other teams who actually play the game for a living: Allan Johnston's Pars of 2018/19 are a woeful bunch that have forgotten how to play and even how to score.
After 5 League games, we sit third bottom; had Falkirk not collapsed in the second half at Ayr today (losing 3-2 after being 2-0 ahead), one Alloa goal today would have sent us to the foot of the division. Our goal difference is 14 worse than Queen of the South. After 5 games.
How much longer do the board persevere with Allan Johnston? After making a complete hash of the midfield in the summer of 2017, this summer he has ruined the forward line, bringing in wingers to play as strikers, and completely failing to utilise the talent of his best footballer, Faissal El Bakhtaoui, who spends entire games trying to out-jump opposition central defenders as the ball is punted up to him. Get the ball on the ground and play football!
The players look as though they just met an hour before kick-off. The captain is a shadow of the player he was for the past 2 seasons. The big lump signed from Milton Keyes is taking corners aimed at 5'8'' team mates. The French midfielder wasn't even brought on as a sub today (there was no third sub used) despite the midfield being beyond awful. What's the thinking behind all this?
No goals for another week, no creativity, passes over-hit, a manager who signs players who either need weeks to get match fit, or in one case, already injured. The manager drones on about 'hopefully we can score more goals next week', which aside from the obvious - we aren't scoring any goals, so one would be an improvement - there is nothing to suggest that he has any answer to this slump, which has come earlier than his usual annual slump. The lack of fire on the pitch is reflected in the lack of leadership in the dugout. Even uninspiring managers can succeed, however, if they can set up a team to play half-decent football.
All very sad.
The weekend away has definitely been a more enjoyable experience than the game we came to watch. In a dire 90 minutes, Dunfermline had one shot on target (Aidan Connolly’s late effort that, ironically, would have been better served as a pass to an unmarked Faissal El Bakhtaoui). The home side were taller than almost any team I have seen us face and were very industrial. There wasn't much good football on show.
Allan Johnston reverted to a 4-4-2 starting lineup, possibility due to the absence of central defender Danny Devine, presumably one of the unnamed players who Johnston said had an injury niggle in the build up to the game. That left Lee Ashcroft and Mark Durnan as the only 2 fit centre halves at the club, with under 20s option Stuart Morrison injured in the pre-match warm-up and Lewis Martin weeks away from fitness after his recent operation. Fullbacks were James Craigen and Jackson Longridge, with Lee Ashcroft and Mark Durnan in central defence. In midfield, Kallum Higginbotham was wide right, with new signing Robbie Muirhead on the left. James Vincent and Joe Thomson were in the middle. Faissal El Bakhtaoui and Louis Longridge were up front. At the start of the second half, Longridge was on the left midfield, swapping positions with Muirhead. Eight minutes into the second period, Higgy was substituted, a move which saw Longridge change positions yet again, this time to right midfield.
Despite Boreham Wood being so poor, Dunfermline could not capitalise on that - the Pars were disjointed, slack with their passing and lacking urgency. Boreham Wood's fans were easily outnumbered by the away support, but the Pars team failed to take much inspiration from the enthusiastic backing they received from around 750 supporters. The team has regressed noticeably over the last month and certain players look out of sorts. Johnston has yet again recruited a non- striker in recent signing Robbie Muirhead, leaving us with a real lack of natural goal threats. Plenty of creators but not enough finishers.
Lee Robinson did his best to unnerve the Boreham Wood penalty takers, after the game ended goalless. Mercifully, we were spared extra time but after all of the opening 11 penalties were scored, it was Boreham Wood who eventually failed to convert, their sixth kick smacking off the bar. Robinson’s antics made no difference, ultimately. The successful kicks were the highlight by far of the day from a poor Pars team. Hopefully, with new players Robbie Muirhead and Malaury Martin gaining fitness, our form will improve.
Meanwhile, the trip itself has been a big success and, as I said in the match preview and at the start of this article, we will remember the weekend away more than the game itself.
Joe Thomson and Myles Hippolyte replaced James Craigen and Andy Ryan from last week's starting line-up.
It's now time for decisions to be made: today's performance was a shambles, devoid of ideas, enthusiasm and organisation. No leadership. Long balls to a skinny 5'9'' striker. Three central defenders, all resembling labourers picked up from a building site on the morning of the game and handed a strip.
I was totally spoiled with Bert Paton's great team of the mid 1990s and elements of the Calderwood era. Sad to say, this current squad have a couple of decent players (the Longridge brothers) and a manager who has got rid of, or failed to retain, players who the team should have been built around for years to come.
AJ came out with the usual cliches about 'individual mistakes' and 'having to do better' post match. We've heard it all before. We took on 2 loanees from Hearts, one of them an injured striker and the other a midfielder - why did we need another midfielder? - who hasn't played a game for a year. We had to sign defenders. We now have a defence that has conceded 12 goals in 4 League games and we ended the game with a slow centre half at right back, having withdrawn the actual right back and replaced him with the only player in the squad that he can link up with effectively.
Inverness scored as easily as Ayr did last week, our defence showing no resistance, even allowing an unmarked Shaun Rooney to score. There was no cohesion through the team and as noted above, lumping the ball to Faissal is just a complete waste of time.
We have no right to win every game but this was no way to lose one.
Myles Hippolyte played well on the wing as a sub at Ayr but faded when moved up front - so this week AJ starts him.... as a striker.
Andy Ryan is given 1 start then jettisoned.
Manager now fixated with a new formation after years of being fixated with another formation that, ironically, would be a better fit for his current squad.
That's enough for now - you get the general idea.
Andy Ryan replaced Myles Hippolyte in the only change to last week's starting 11.
3-5-2 formation until Devine subbed for Hippolyte after 29 minutes, with formation changing to 4-4-2.
Writing about any sport where performance levels can fluctuate should always be done cautiously - not over-praising a good display, while not being overly harsh when things do not go well. There has rarely been a better example of how a pendulum can swing so far in both directions in the space of 7 days than the way Dunfermline played today, in contrast to the excellent performance against Hearts last Saturday. After giving so much credit to the same set of players a few days ago, today was an absolute mess.
Goals were given away without the opposition having to be especially good. Ian McCall is doing a great job at Ayr and has his team (which includes a handful of Dunfermline rejects!) well organised, playing for each other and utilising the skills of his better players to full effect. Yet we gifted the home side every goal: Alan Forrest, the shortest player on the pitch, was left unmarked to head the opener. The defence was posted missing and goalkeeper Lee Robinson seemed to be reaching to save an invisible ball that was close, but not close enough, to the actual ball that sailed past him and into the net.
Before that, Danny Devine had passed the ball straight to an Ayr player, then was booked after hacking down another opponent in frustration. Soon after, with the Pars 1-0 down, he was subbed for Myles Hippolyte and proceeded to boot a water bottle and then lash out at the dugout, arguing with Allan Johnston then being given a lecture by Sandy Clark. Johnston is often criticised for not being proactive with his substitutions but that criticism could not be levelled at him today; whether he was correct to abandon his 3-5-2 formation so early, and whether he subbed the right player, is open to debate. The other central defenders - Lee Ashcroft and Mark Durnan - were culpable for goals 2 and 3, as the Moff teased the Pars backline, proving again what a good footballer he is - with a hand in Forrest's second and the inevitable Lawrence Shankland goal that made it 3-0. Lee Robinson, meanwhile, was picking a fight with Shankland which continued as the half time whistle blew. What a shambles. How could this be the team that did so well last week?
Hippolyte was switched to the right wing at the start of the second half and was the team's best creative player (not that he had much competition) until Johnston brought on sub Higgy late in the game and moved Hippolyte to the middle of the attack. So many changes, but no cohesion, the team resembling a group of strangers. There was an alarming soft centre, from goalkeeper through the spine of the team; that included an completely ineffectual Faissal El Bakhtaoui up front.
Jackson Longridge got a goal back after 55 minutes and although there were efforts at goal from Louis Longridge, Hippolyte, Faissal and another sub, Aidan Connolly, there was to be no second Dunfermline goal. Instead, the Moff got Ayr's fourth with 9 minutes remaining. There was still enough time for Robinson to do his Manuel Neuer routine, which is okay when 1-0 down but looks clownish when 4-1 behind. On one foray far from his goal, he gave away possession and looked on as the attempted lob by an Ayr player missed the goal and saved the keeper from further embarrassment.
This team appear to have Jeckyll and Hyde syndrome. I would not be surprised if I am writing a completely different report this time next week. Today, though, was a mess.
Myles Hipployte: had some good touches and was involved in the better passages of play during the second half.
Jackson Longridge: got a goal and was the only defender to escape criticism.
Aidan Connolly (sub): was his usual active self and was unlucky with a free kick that was deflected over the bar.
Danny Devine regained his place in defence after injury, with Joe Thomson dropping to the bench. Last week's left sided centre half, Jackson Longridge, moved back to his natural position at left wingback, with James Craigen shifting to his usual midfield role after playing at left wingback last week.
How on earth did we lose that? That was my immediate post-game reaction, as tweeted here minutes after the game ended. We saw a performance to be proud of from a Dunfermline side that looked every inch Premiership class, on top for long periods of the game, against a Hearts team that currently top the Premiership table and who defeated Celtic last weekend.
The Pars starting 11 could be seen as the strongest currently available. Tom Beadling, who is not yet fully match fit, would be a strong contender for a midfield slot. Every player in black and white made a positive contribution today.
A first half largely dominated by Dunfermline saw Faissal El Bakhtoaui hit the post with an angled shot, the closest we came to seeing a goal that the home side deserved. Hearts were being made to look ordinary - the energy, creativity and organisation in the Dunfermline side was of a level higher than we have seen for some time, spurred on by the tremendous atmosphere generated by both sets of supporters inside East End Park. For Hearts, the much-vaunted Uche Ikpeazu lurked on the periphery of the game, well-marshalled by Lee Ashcroft and his fellow central defenders.
The second half saw Hearts have more possession than they enjoyed in the opening 45, yet doing very little with the ball. It was Dunfermline who looked the more dangerous team, and Hearts were kept in the game by 2 acrobatic saves by their keeper Bobby Zlamal, firstly from a volley from Faissal after a great run and cross from Ryan Williamson; and then from a header by Danny Devine. In between those 2 efforts, Hearts scored the game's only goal, with their only serious on-target shot of the entire game. Olly Lee's shot found the net and put the Jambos ahead, undeservedly.
A late flurry from Dunfermline saw sub Aidan Connolly fail to convert a Williamson cross from close range, the ball then hitting off Faissal's legs and behind.
The final whistle blew to the sound of an appreciative home support: the team had done everything except score and had out-classed the top flight leaders. We need more days like this - the reward is there and we now have to push on and make that step up.
Ryan Williamson: what a contrast from last week! Storming runs up the wing and resolute in defence. My Man of the Match.
Jackson Longridge: a thunderous second half tackle showed his commitment - another good game from one of AJ's best signings.
Louis Longridge: King Louis was once again a classy figure in an attacking midfield role. Technically our best player.
Danny Devine dropped out through injury; no defenders on the bench and with Lewis Martin also injured, Jackson Longridge was shoe-horned into a back 3, with James Craigen at left wingback. the defence was a back 4 for the first time this season. Ryan Williamson came back into the team after suspension. The formation changed throughout the game.
Five wins out of five in the Betfred Cup and the League opener last week had given Pars fans understandable optimism going into this game against the title favourites. County are bankrolled by wealthy owner Roy McGregor and are well positioned to make an instant return to the top division following their relegation last season. They are a robust, strong, physical bunch who have an element of skill but, overall, less technical ability than the Pars squad. What County do have is strength and a well-thought out game plan. They fully deserved their win and today will be a sobering experience for everyone associated with Dunfermline.
Scottish football is well known to have a physical edge and just as last season's Championship runners-up Livingston barged their way to promotion - making the best use of their pool of players - County could well win this season's Championship with the same basic ingredients. There is no need to over-react to this defeat - it is what it is, and could be the harsh lesson that we need. We had too many players who lost their physical battle with their direct opponent, on a player-by-player basis, which added together results in a team being out-muscled. This Dunfermline squad have talent but when players such as Ryan Williamson fail to defend properly and play timidly, we become vulnerable. Williamson struggled all game and was rightly subbed, despite the opportunity to reunite the Williamson/Higginbotham right wing combination when Higgy was brought on. Instead, Allan Johnston put James Craigen to right back. Myles Hippolyte had a poor game, although being switched from striker to midfield, and back again, probably didn't help. The formation and the moving around of certain players did not benefit the team. In short, today highlighted our deficiencies, our lack of defensive options and cover, and how physically we looked very much second best.
County's first goal was a superb strike by Josh Mullin that was unsaveable; it was then matched by Louis Longridge's finish for the Pars' equaliser. The visitors went ahead just before half time when Michael Gardyne was allowed to go unchallenged by Williamson, walzting through the defence and finishing well. Lee Robinson made a great save from Gardyne earlier in the first half but the team did not heed that warning.
Dunfermline had played reasonably well in the first half but the second half was a huge letdown. No shots on target until sub Andy Ryan's injury time effort, and the only other decent effort coming from another sub, Aidan Connolly, with a free kick that went narrowly wide of the goal.
County's third, from Keith Watson after 68 minutes, killed the game and the visitors used some streetwise game management to secure the win. The physical gulf between the 2 sides was summed up by the appearance of Pars sub Aidan Connolly, a hard worker with a lot of skill, but a tiny figure next to the six-foot plussers he was up against.
Reality bites, indeed.