Yesterday brought a much-needed first Pars victory of 2019 and of the Stevie Crawford era. Such is the congested nature of this division that we are still involved on the edges of both promotion and relegation play-off places. Neither a win or a loss yesterday would have moved us out of seventh position but in terms of points, earning all 3 could prove very important in the weeks ahead. A 1-0 win at home to Inverness almost 12 months ago was the catalyst for a promotion push in the final third of the season and with only 5 points separating us from the Highlanders, currently occupying fourth place, there is still hope that the final 12 games this term could see a repeat of last season, while remaining wary of being drawn a battle with the teams below us.
There were 3 changes to the starting 11 that faced Ross County in our last game, 2 weeks ago. Two were by choice - James Craigen moving to right back and Ryan Blair starting his first game for the club, with Ryan Williamson and Kallum Higginbotham dropping to the bench. The third change was enforced - Faissal El Bakhtaoui, who had linked us so well with Bruce Anderson in their only game together, was injured and replaced by Aidan Connolly. This might have seemed a surprise choice but it was to prove to be a very good decision by Stevie Crawford. On the bench among the substitutes after injury absences were Louis Longridge and Murk Durnan.
Starting 11 and formation:
The team lined up in a 4-1-3-2 formation and it was soon apparent that the tall Inverness side were intent on imposing themselves physically, committing a series of rash fouls. Midfielder Darren McCauley, booked after 26 minutes, then committed another bookable foul that led to a lecture from referee Steven Kirkland, clearly not wishing to send the player off. Inverness boss John Robertson then substituted the player with only half an hour gone, an acknowledgement that a red card would surely have followed soon after, if the referee was to do his job properly.
There was little else of note in a fairly drab first half.
The second half was only 2 minutes old when the Pars took the lead. Joe Thomson, a driving force in midfield and always willing to shoot from distance, tested Inverness keeper Mark Ridgers and saw his effort fumbled by the keeper on its way into the net. A classic case of if you don't shoot, you don't score.
Aidan Connolly hit the bar with a well struck shot from 16 yards and there were other half chances for a Pars side that was showing more confidence than in recent games. Inverness came into the match late on but only tested Ryan Scully once, when Joe Chalmers' shot forced the Pars keeper to tip the ball over the bar.
The Dunfermline lead was almost doubled in the final minute when both Bruce Anderson and Joe Thomson fired in shots.
Losing Faissal was a pre-match disappointment but his replacement, Aidan Connolly, did well and made a nuisance of himself to opponents who were almost a foot taller. The formation saw James Vincent in the defensive midfield role - if only Vincent's passing was on the same level as his ability to break up play. It was interesting to see Ryan Williamson come on as a winger when there were players such as Kallum Higginbotham and Myles Hippolyte on the bench, unused. Williamson's time on the pitch coincided with Inverness' best spell of the game and did not give the Pars player an opportunity to attack on the wing. It was an experiment worth repeating before any judgements can be made.
Ryan Scully 7: one good second half save and looked solid and dependable late in the match.
James Craigen 6: did well in another games as an auxiliary fullback. Not a long-term answer for this position.
Danny Devine 6.5: wisely, did not try anything remotely beyond the basics.
Lee Ashcroft 6.5: distribution not great but has learned a lesson after the Raith game - keep it simple.
Jackson Longridge 7.5: a return to his early season form. Pushed up the left wing when possible and no errors in defence.
James Vincent 6: did the dirty work but occasionally wasteful in possession.
Tom Beadling 6: reliable figure on the right of a central midfield trio but can still contribute more creatively.
Joe Thomson 8: perpetual motion, the heartbeat of the team and not afraid to shoot. Man of the match.
Ryan Blair 7: first start for the midfielder. Good delivery from set pieces and will be an even bigger influence with more game time to build up match fitness.
Aidan Connolly 7.5: surprise choice to replace the injured Faissal but showed great determination to battle with much taller opponents. Unlucky not to score when his shot hit the bar.
Bruce Anderson 6.5: great to see a Pars striker make space and give his team mates options with a pass.
Subs used (no ratings given):
Ryan Williamson: played the final quarter of an hour on the wing but didn't see much of the ball.
Louis Longridge: after only 45 minutes of reserve team football, came on to play behind Anderson. His return will be a big boost in the coming weeks.
Mark Durnan: On in injury time to bolster the defence.