Fourth place, 4 consecutive wins and 4 cleans sheets in a row: the Pars' revival continued yesterday with another 3 points, in a game that the team truly did earn their victory. This was the epitome of grinding out a win: a determination to secure a positive result saw us through, surviving multiple stramashes in the final 10 minutes. This was teamwork at its best even when the quality of football wasn't always what the players are capable of.
Stevie Crawford brought Aidan Connolly back into the starting lineup, replacing Louis Longridge, whose brother Jackson was a substitute after missing the last 2 games through injury. The initial formation was a diamond with Joe Thomson at its attacking tip and Kallum Higginbotham playing just behind Bruce Anderson up front. However, this soon changed to the 4-1-4-1 formation shown below, which solidified the midfield but left Anderson isolated.
Starting 11 and formation:
Stevie Crawford's January transfer dealings continue to impress, together with revitalised performances from players inherited from the previous manager. After Bruce Anderson's 2 goals against Partick Thistle in midweek, this time it was Ryan Scully and Ryan Blair, the other 2 players in the trio of January arrivals, who made telling contributions to this victory which was the definition of hard fought.
In a strong wind and with rain whipping round the stadium, Dunfermline had the first chance of the game when Kallum Higginbotham was unable to convert from close range after 3 minutes. Opponents Queens had Stephen Dobbie orchestrating play, and ex-Par Fraser Aird on the left wing. It was Aird who came closest to scoring for the away side in the first half when, after 16 minutes, he cut inside and had a shot from distance that was well held by Ryan Scully.
Seven minutes later, Dunfermline almost took the lead when Ryan Blair's perfectly executed free kick brought out an excellent save from Alan Martin in the Queens' goal. Blair's next involvement saw him yellow carded for pulling back Aird in what could otherwise have been a dangerous breakaway. Bruce Anderson then had a chance but didn't connect properly with his shot. The half ended goalless and without much for the purist to enthuse over.
The second half began with both teams battling hard but with little guile on display. The Pars' chance to record a win that would move us up to fourth place on a day when no other Championship games were taking place seemed to be ebbing away until, with 16 minutes remaining, the game's only goal came. Substitute Jackson Longridge played the ball to Ryan Blair and from 20 yards the midfielder drilled a shot past Martin. The ball was struck with pinpoint accuracy and the scorer was mobbed by his team mates in front of the Norrie McCathie stand.
Referee Gavin Duncan then made a strange decision, only booking Darren Brownlie when the defender put a forearm across Bruce Anderson just when the Dunfermline striker was about to get past him and have a run in on goal. It seemed a certain red, for the foul itself plus the use of the arm but a yellow card was shown.
Queens then made 3 substitutions and threw everything into attack. Former Par Andy Stirling hit a shot over the bar and Lyndon Dykes' on target effort was booted away by Louis Longridge. Bruce Anderson then had a chance to double Dunfermline's lead but headed straight at Martin. With the visitors pressing, the Pars broke upfield and from Anderson's pass, Louis Longridge ran in on goal. From a few yards out, a goal seemed inevitable but Longridge's attempt at dinking the ball over the out-rushing Queens' keeper went wide of the post.
Only a few minutes remained and the home goal was now under siege. Scully came out to claim a high punt into the box, taking out opponents plus Danny Devine in the process of making sure the ball was his. The Pars keeper then made a superb save from Barry Maguire's header. Stephen Dobbie had a shot deflected over and there were a few stramashes inside the Pars' penalty box. The final few minutes were nerve-shredding and the has rarely been a more welcome sound than that of referee Duncan's final whistle.
For someone who was such a cultured attacking player, Stevie Crawford is proving to be a supreme pragmatist as a manager. We are becoming adept at winning games through sheer hard work as opposed to playing open, expansive football. The manager is working with what he has, in addition to the good signings he made in January. Ultimately, he has found a recipe for achieving positive results, in much the same way as Livingston did last season. Long may it continue.
Ryan Scully 8 Became more involved as the game went on, proving his worth in a hectic last 10 minutes with one excellent save and several confident catches, including a plow through a ruck of players to grab the ball when the team were under pressure.
Ryan Williamson 6 A few heavy touches when in good attacking positions characterised his afternoon.
Danny Devine 7 Part of a backline that stood up to late Queens' pressure. Continues to impress, doing basic defending more than capably.
Lee Ashcroft 7 Aside from a continuing tendency to slide attempted clearances, the captain combined with Devine to block and clear several opposition attacks as the game went on.
James Craigen 7 Never lets the team down and proved his versatility again by starting at left back and ending the game in midfield after Jackson Longridge was brought on.
Tom Beadling 7 A good shift in the defensive midfield role, doing a lot of work that often goes unseen.
Kallum Higginbotham 6 Briefly played in attack before a formation switch saw him move to the right wing. Full of good intentions but it's not really clicking for Higgy these days.
Joe Thomson 7 Great attitude and a real team player. Continued to chase the opposition down even in injury time.
Ryan Blair 8.5 My man of the match: a first half free kick that was tipped over, top quality delivery from corner kicks, and a very well taken goal.
Aidan Connolly 6 Did a job for the team. A determined wee character.
Bruce Anderson 7 Had two chances to score, one in each half, and was crudely taken out when about to run through on goal; needs more support however - too often isolated.
Subs used: Louis Longridge (59 minutes), Jackson Longridge (68), Mark Durnan (89).