After a series of games that were characterised by dour, defensive displays with little to enthuse over, yesterday's match at Firhill produced a much more open contest, with Dunfermline adopting a more attacking formation than of late and going 2 goals ahead, but eventually having to settle for a point. Both teams had much to play for at different ends of the table - the Pars aiming for a late charge at the top 4 and a promotion play-off place, while hosts Thistle require points to avoid taking part in the wrong set of play-offs at the lower end of the Championship.
James Craigen started at rightback, with Ryan Williamson dropping to the bench. 17 year old Matty Todd made his first start, after 3 appearances as a substitute. Ryan Blair replaced the injured Joe Thomson in midfield, while Faissal El Bakhtaoui started a game for the first time in over 2 months, up front with Bruce Anderson, with Louis Longridge - last week's secondary striker - moving to left midfield in place of Kallum Higginbotham.
The team lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with much more attacking intent than last week's 4-1-3-1-1.
Starting lineup & formation:
The last time the Pars surrendered a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2, manager Allan Johnston was sacked 2 days later. There will be no such repercussions for Stevie Crawford but he will have seen much that has to change and improve in his team if we are to achieve promotion next season. The opening half hour was almost entirely dominated by Dunfermline, and the team were able to convert their domination into goals. The first Pars goal was scored in the 10th minute by Tom Beadling, who took a pass from Louis Longridge, and skillfully out-thought 2 Thistle defenders before lashing the ball past Conor Hazard in the Thistle goal.
Bruce Anderson made it 2-0 after 24 minutes, hooking a first time shot from a Louis Longridge corner kick beyond Hazard, for his 5th goal in 9 appearances for the Pars since joining on loan from Aberdeen. Anderson could then have made it 3-0 after excellent play from Faissal El Bakhtaoui, who outpaced his marker and laid the ball on for Anderson, who unfortunately underhit his shot.
Thistle gained a foothold in the game in the 31st minute when Scott McDonald's hard-driven cross hit Ryan Blair a yard out and found the net. It was an unavoidable own goal and gave Thistle hope when it seemed as though the game was slipping away from them.
There were opportunities early in the second half to regain the 2 goal lead - Lee Ashcroft missed a sitter when heading wide, then Ryan Blair's 30 yard free kick, bound for the top corner, was tipped over by Hazard.
What followed after that was sadly typical of much of Dunfermline's season. Lack of leadership and disorganisation in central defence lead to Thistle putting a series of balls into the Pars' penalty box, with no one taking charge, causing Ryan Scully to block a couple of attempts and then concede an equaliser when a ball from Miles Storey took a slight deflection off James Craigen, leaving Danny Devine floundering and Scott McDonald the grateful recipient, scoring from the inside left position into the corner of the net. Tom Beadling then almost scored an own goal when he skelped a clearance just wide of Scully's goal. Ashcroft and Devine were then joined by Beadling in a 3 man central defence, a change which told its own story.
Substitute Myles Hippolyte then had a chance to win the game, but he couldn't get enough contact on a flighted free kick from Ryan Blair to trouble Hazard.
A win would have kept our promotion hopes alive but in truth, we are nowhere near ready for top flight football. There were positive aspects in moments yesterday but the need for a summer overhaul was once again confirmed during the second half. On-field leadership is needed.
Ryan Scully 6 A couple of good blocks but looked vulnerable at times.
James Craigen 6 Decent game at fullback before moving to midfield during the second half.
Danny Devine 4 Indecisive performance and looked very nervy.
Lee Ashcroft 4 Not a captain: missed a chance from a few yards out and floundered in defence.
Jackson Longridge 6.5 The best of the back 4, strong in the tackle.
Matty Todd 5.5 Enthusiastic debut but lack of experience showed at times.
Tom Beadling 6 Expert finish for his goal and ended the game helping out in defence.
Ryan Blair 5 Dead ball expert but needs to show similar quality in open play.
Louis Longridge 5.5 Two assists yet was otherwise poor, giving away possession regularly.
Faissal El Bakhtaoui 6 Opening half hour was man of the match quality but faded as the game went on.
Bruce Anderson 6.5 Scored a very well-taken goal and looked much more of a threat with a striking partner playing alongside him instead of 15 yards behind.
Subs used: Ryan Williamson, Myles Hippolyte, Lewis McCann
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