A tremendous display to progress into the next round at the expense of crisis-hit Hearts
Despite being without top scorer Nicky Clark plus Dean Shiels, one of the best footballers at the club, Dunfermline progressed to the last 16 of the Betfred Cup with a fantastic team performance and some outstanding individual displays. It had been anticipated that Shiels would move up front to replace Clark, whose injury was confirmed 2 days ago. Shiels' absence was a surprise, so while there was an expected return for Nat Wedderburn in midfield, there was also a first start for 17 year old striker Callum Smith. Hearts manager Ian Cathro dropped his best player Jamie Walker due to speculation about a transfer to Rangers, while new signings Christophe Berra and Kyle Lafferty started.
The Pars began the stronger team, taking the game to a home side that was clearly lacking in confidence, following their defeat at Peterhead in midweek. With a point required to top the group, regardless of any penalty kick bonus point, Dunfermline attacked from the outset, determined to secure a rare win at Tynecastle and win the group convincingly.
Disappointingly, after such a good opening period, Hearts took the lead in the 20th minute when Don Cowie's shot beat the outstretched arm of Sean Murdoch. The Pars keeper seemed to get his angles wrong, but he was to atone for that as the game progressed.
The equaliser came after 29 minutes and was quite simply stunning. Kallum Higginbotham's pass found Joe Cardle in the inside-right position. Cardle moved to the left to make space then curled a fantastic left foot shot beyond Jack Hamilton in the Hearts goal. This was Cardle at his very best - a mercurial talent who has the ability to create something very special out of nothing.
Mention has to made made of the despicable Kyle Lafferty, who needlessly wound up the travelling support after Hearts' opener, and then disgracefully took a dive in the box later in the first half. He was not booked for either incident. Referee Craig Thomson, who had a shocking game, failed to punish the player, whose career has been full of examples of cheating, diving and feigning injury.
The game had action at both ends of the pitch, with Callum Smith and Declan McManus working tirelessly in attack, while at the opposite end of the field Murdoch made a fine finger tip save from a Beuben effort, then 5 minutes before the break made an outstanding reflex save to prevent an own goal from a flicked header by Callum Morris.
The second half was 7 minutes old when Dunfermline took a deserved lead. Callum Smith received the ball in space, and showing great composure held the ball up before playing in Declan McManus, who elected to take an extra touch before shooting past Hamilton. The Pars players and fans went wild.
Dunfermline were denied a chance to go further ahead when referee Thomson refused to award a penalty despite McManus being barged in the back. Thomson seemed intent on playing Hearts back into the game, awarding freekicks for innocuous challenges, from which Hearts resorted to long punts into the Pars penalty box.
Scott Lochhead, who had replaced the excellent Smith, had an effort from distance but it was the home side who were gradually getting more of the ball, partly thanks to the referee, but showing no guile or any semblance of a plan to break down the well organised Dunfermline backline. Captain Callum Morris was an inspirational figure at the back, with the ever-dependable Lee Ashcroft beside him. Fullbacks Ryan Williamson and Lewis Martin continued their fine early season form: Williamson is back to his best and combined solid defensive work with some dangerous runs up the right wing. Martin, a player who excels by doing the simple things simply, had a very good game, clearing his lines when required. The defence were protected by 2 central midfielders who some feel collectively lack the pace to play together against Premiership opposition, but Big Nat and the outstanding Michael Paton both gave excellent performances. Kallum Higginbotham was always involved on the right wing, while on the left, Cardle gave a man of the match performance.
Hearts fans were leaving the stadium before their team got a late equaliser when Isma Goncalves stabbed the ball in after a mini-stramash in the box. The referee then added over 4 minutes on after the 90 minutes ended, for reasons known only to himself. During that period, Hearts should have stolen a victory but first Goncalves and then sub Cole Stockton missed glorious chances to win the game, which would have been daylight robbery.
The final whistle eventually was blown, and the Pars had the point they needed to win the group. Drawn games in the Betfred Cup groups stage are followed by a penalty shoot-out for an extra bonus point. Although neither side needed the extra point - Dunfermline were through regardless, while Hearts had to gather the full 3 points to progress - it was the Pars who won the shoot-out after successful kicks from Paton, Lochhead and Big Nat. McManus saw his chipped effort saved, but it didn't matter after only Lafferty scored for Hearts, with McGhee, Martin and Cowie all sending their shots wide or over the goal, not even forcing Murdoch to make a save.
A great day and a huge confidence booster for the upcoming Championship campaign.
Pars starting 11 & subs:
Tomorrow: full match photo gallery.
Photos & edits: Pars Review
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