Dunfermline won the spoils in their first derby of the season, against rivals Falkirk. The Bairns finished the match with 9 men after Craig Sibbald and Lee Miller were sent off, in an act of indiscipline according to visiting manager Peter Houston.
The Pars made 7 changes from their Irn-Bru Cup victory of Arbroath while the Bairns came into this match on the back of a free midweek, due to them having a bye into the second round of the competition.
Falkirk weren’t without their problems, however, with influential pair Rory Loy and Myles Hippolyte both missing; Kevin O’Hara and Craig Sibbald made their first league starts of the season in their place, while Aaron Muirhead returned from suspension with Peter Grant dropping to the bench.
It was a hectic opening few moments with half-chances at either end. Kevin O’Hara and Joe Cardle both sent across deliveries but neither side could profit.
It didn’t take long, however, for the hosts to open the scoring. Kallum Higginbotham picked up the ball in the centre circle before slicing open the Falkrik rearguard with an inch perfect pass for Declan McManus to race onto. Composed, the striker beared down on goal before slotting it home for his fourth goal for the Pars since his summer move.
The ever-impressive Tony Gallacher charged forward as the Bairns tried to get back into the match but his surge down the left only resulted in the Dunfermline defence sniffing out the danger, and while the teenager got a shot away, the right-footed effort was weak and an easy save for Murdoch.
Not long after and it was 2-0. Callim Smith received the ball on the half-way-line and despite being under pressure he shielded the ball, created space for himself before lofting up forward for the advanced run of full-back Ryan Williamson; the Pars number 2 slid a great ball into the box and with Peter Houston’s defence posted missing again, it was left-winger Joe Cardle who steered the ball home with a first-time finish to give Robbie Thomson no chance once again in the visiting goal.
The tempo dropped and the frustrations started to grow. As Higginbotham collected the ball in the left-corner flag, he flicked it up and scooped it over his head as he crossed the ball into the box; thus, angering his former Partick Thistle team-mate Mark Kerr, saw both players receive a yellow card each for a small spat which John Beaton dealt with correctly.
Callum Smith was next to face Robbie Thomson but the 17-year-old was unlucky as his effort crashed off the inside of the post and cleared to safety. Shortly afterwards, Higginbotham again was at the heart of everything Dunfermline done good in the first period, with the winger slicing a left-footed volley high and wide of the goalkeeper’s upright.
Gallacher was next to have a go, with the visitors almost finding a way back into the match just before half-time, with the Bairns ending the half strongly. Murdoch made a strong save from a venomous effort by the full-back before McManus committed a foul on the edge of his own penalty area. Joe McKee’s effort hit the wall before Muirhead fired high and wide with an ambitious effort from range.
Peter Houston made two changes at the break with Lee Miller coming on for ineffectual forward Nathan Austin in a straight swap upfront while Peter Grant came on and took up his regular position at centre-back, with Luca Gasparotto moving to right-back in the place of the departed Aaron Muirhead.
It was the visitors who began brightly and it was the Canadian internationalist, Gasparotto, who had the opening chance of the second half but his header was off-target, despite getting a free header at goal from Craig Sibbald’s in-swinging delivery.
It was Sibbald who was involved in the match’s first flashpoint. After Cardle had fouled the winger on the touchline, the returning Falkirk midfielder kicked out and was quickly shown a straight red-card by John Beaton.
It was the rejuvenated Cardle who shone, with the Englishman teeing up Smith inside the area with a neat cut-back but the youngster got his shot all wrong as it landed in the stand rather than in the back of the net, when it looked certain to be 3-0. Cardle then had a chance of his own but his driven effort flew across the face of goal and out of play without testing Thomson in the away goal.
Controversy reigned upon East End Park on the hour mark when McManus looked to have grabbed his second and put the game beyond doubt but the linesman flagged for offside to deny the former Fleetwood Town striker.
Just moments later and Falkirk were reduced to 9 men. Experienced striker, and half-time substitute, Lee Miller was also shown a straight red-card when he appeared to catch Nat Wedderburn with a flailing elbow and once again, Beaton was quick to flash the red card and dismiss the player.
His, however, saw a swing in momentum: the home side’s tempo dropped as they looked destined to coast home to victory while the work-rate of the Bairns increased tenfold. This could also be explained by the changes made by Allan Johnston, with strike force Callum Smith and Declan McManus being replaced by David Hopkirk and newest signing Andy Ryan, while Higginbotham was taken off, with Fraser Aird getting the final 20 minutes.
When Falkirk did manage to get high enough up the park to create an opportunity, it was once again the marauding run by Gallacher that caused all the trouble. The full-back found himself, once again, in space, with his low effort smashing off the post and when the ball landed at the feet of Tom Taiwo, the midfielder was clinical, firing the ball past Murdoch to make it a nervy finish for the Fifers.
By this point, Alex Harris had replaced Kevin O’Hara to give fresh legs and an injection of pace upfront while Peter Grant had been thrown forward to give the Pars defence a more physical test in the closing stages. This left gaps at the back and it was Aird who almost capitalised on the shortage of numbers by finding himself free at the edge of the area, but he was off-balance and his left-footed effort went harmlessly over.
However, it was Cardle who had the final say with his seventh goal of the season coming in injury time, to restore the two gaol advantage and seal the first Dunfermline victory over Falkirk since 2011. The winger was set free down the left by Andy Ryan and it was another clinical finish by the number 11, which saw the away end begin to empty.
By the time the match had kicked back off, there was no time left for any more drama, as Beaton called proceedings to an end, sending the 4,000+ home fans away in happy spirits, while boos rang out from the away end with a small number of Bairns fans staying behind to make their feelings known.
The Pars sit second in the league, just two points behind bookies favourites Dundee United, while, Falkirk are at the wrong end of the table after only collecting one point from an opening nine available, creating early pressure on the head of Houston, who – after the match – told the media that he will make his players work until they find a solution to their present problems.
FULL TIME: Dunfermline Athletic 3-1 Falkirk
1. Sean Murdoch
2. Ryan Williamson
5. Callum Morris (Captain)
6. Lee Ashcroft
14. Jason Talbot
7. Kallum Higginbotham (Fraser Aird 73′)
27. Dean Shiels
8. Nat Wedderburn
11. Joe Cardle
9. Declan McManus (David Hopkirk 67′)
23. Callum Smith (Andy Ryan 67′)
20. Cammy Gill (GK)
3. Lewis Martin
12. David Hopkirk
13. Aaron Splaine
15. Michael Paton
16. Andy Ryan
17. Fraser Aird
1. Robbie Thomson
4. Aaron Muirhead (Peter Grant 45′)
44. Paul Watson
15. Luca Gasparotto
23. Tony Gallacher
7. Tom Taiwo
8. Mark Kerr (Captain)
6. Joe McKee
20. Kevin O’Hara (Alex Harris 81′)
9. Nathan Austin (Lee Miller 45′)
10. Craig Sibbald (SENT OFF: 52′)
12. David Mitchell (GK)
5. Peter Grant
17. Alex Harris
18. Lee Miller
19. Scott Shepherd
24. Cameron Blues
28.. James Craigen
Referee: John Beaton