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.