Dunfermline moved up to top spot after an impressive and dominant display at the Your Radio 103FM Stadium, with Allan Johnston’s men taking advantage of Dundee United’s slip up to lead the pack early on in the SPFL Ladbrokes Championship.
Stevie Aitken made four changes from Saturday’s match with on-loan Hearts forward Ally Roy coming into the side alongside Christian Nade; Danny Handling and Craig Barr. Former Raith striker Mark Stewart was out of the 18-man squad completely while David Smith, David Wilson and Dougie Hill fell down to the substitutes bench.
Dunfermline, coming in to the match on the back of a 3-1 victory over Falkirk named an unchanged starting eleven, with Aaron Splaine and Fraser Aird dropping out of the squad completely, to be replaced by Jean-Yves M’Voto and Nicky Clark, both returning after injury.
The home side were in their all white home colours, with the visitors wearing their red and black striped shirt for the first time this season. The Pars started brightly with Joe Cardle influencing proceedings down the left but the first goal began on the right side when – similarly to last week versus the Bairns – McManus was sent free by a through pass from Higginbotham; Scott Gallacher raced from his goal with the Dunfermline striker rounding the keeper before laying the ball back for 17-year-old Callum Smith who saw his shot blocked on the line. However, the Sons defence were unable to clear and as the ball fell free, Joe Cardle was in the right place at the right time for his 8th goal of the season.
The home side struggled to trouble Allan Johnston’s men defensively; Scott Gallacher was the busier of the two goalkeepers, having to gather a shot from long-range by the confident Cardle. It was McManus again who sprung the offside trap just before the twenty-minute mark. The footrace between himself and Andy Dowie saw the Dumbarton captain foul the speedy attacker. Despite calls for a straight red card from the away section, referee Barry Cook only produced a caution. The resultant free-kick was almost a perfect training ground move but Joe Cardle fired over the bar from close range.
As the first-half went on, Dumbarton looked to settle into the game but, after winning a corner on 27 minutes, the Sons were then to concede only seconds later. The ball was cleared by the Pars defence and it was Smith who took the ball under control; as he slotted the ball into the home sides’ half for Cardle to run on to, it was Higginbotham who galloped beyond his team-mate to receive a pass on the left hand side of the box, before the Englishman coolly slotted the ball home to double Dunfermline’s advantage.
The first effort of the match by Dumbarton of note was by Tom Walsh. After starting on the right, the attacker was moved inside early on when Danny Handling was replaced (by David Smith) due to injury. The former Rangers man picked the pocket of former Ibrox team-mate Dean Shiels before unleashing a skyward effort that didn’t trouble Dunfermline keeper Sean Murdoch.
As the half-time whistled went, a comfortable Allan Johnston strolled across the park, while Stevie Aitken looked a disappointed and frustrated figure, heading into the break.
The away side started the better in the second period once again without troubling Gallacher; while the change in formation by the home side seemed to help the pattern of play as the match became a lot more scrappy in the second period.
After a good shift by the Pars front men, Declan McManus and Callum Smith were replaced by David Hopkirk and Andy Ryan. The former Airdrieonians striker fired over a free-kick from the edge of the box just minutes after coming on, shortly after defensive midfielder Nat Wedderburn forced another save by Gallacher in the Sons net to keep the scoreline at 2-0.
With twenty or so minutes to go, Dumbarton came the closest the opening their goal account all afternoon from a set-piece. The Walsh inswinging corner was headed onto the crossbar by Craig Barr before the Pars scrambled it away for another Walsh delivery.
Just minutes later and the home side were reduced to 10 men. Captain Andy Dowie, who could’ve been sent off in the first-half for a last man challenge, was shown a second yellow for a foul on David Hopkirk who had broken free. With the substitute storming down on goal, referee Cook allowed play-on, but the striker missed the target despite only having the keeper to beat before former Dunfermline defender Dowie was sent for an early shower.
Once again it was central defender Barr who was causing Murdoch to work the most. This time, from a Chris McLaughlin long throw, the number 55 forced Murdoch’s only real save of the match, with the goalkeeper getting down low to palm away a headed effort in a late push by the home side.
It was Dunfermline who were to prevail though, with two late goals. Substitute Nicky Clark returned from injury, getting the final few minutes of the match – in which he scored and assisted a goal. Clark scored his 5th of the season when he guided home a header from a Hopkirk delivery from the left, before the striker set up strike-partner Andy Ryan with a neat backheel after a free-flowing move by the Pars, with the striker sweeping home to give the Pars an emphatic scoreline come full-time.
With other results going Dunfermline’s way, Allan Johnston’s men sit top of the pile early on. With this being Dumbarton’s first defeat of the season, it isn’t panic stations yet for the Your Radio 103FM Stadium faithful.
FULL TIME: Dumbarton 0-4 Dunfermline Athletic
1. Scott Gallacher
12. Sam Wardrop
4. Andy Dowie (Captain)
55. Craig Barr
3. Chris McLaughlin
14. Kyle Hutton
6. Stuart Carswell
10. Tom Walsh (David Wilson 82′)
21. Danny Handling (David Smith 17′)
17. Ally Roy (Callum Gallagher 74′)
27. Christian Nade
19. Jamie Ewings (GK)
2. David Smith
7. Callum Gallagher
8. David Wilson
11. Chris Jonhston
15. Dougie Hill
16. Kyle Prior
1. Sean Murdoch
2. Ryan Williamson
5. Callum Morris (Captain)
6. Lee Ashcroft
14. Jason Talbot
7. Kallum Higginbotham
27, Dean Shiels
8. Nat Wedderburn
11. Joe Cardle
9. Declan McManus
23. Callum Smith
20. Cammy Gill (GK)
3. Lewis Martin
4. Jean-Yves M’Voto
10. Nicky Clark
12. David Hopkirk
15. Michael Paton
16. Andy Ryan
Referee: Barry Cook