St Mirren were badly beaten and dropped to second in the SPFL Ladbrokes Championship table as Dunfermline leapfrogged their Paisley opponents to lead the pack after 6 matches.
Both sides were relatively unchanged despite their contrasting results the week before; Dunfermline remained with the same starting 11 which faced Morton in Greenock last weekend, with Jean-Yves M’Voto not being in the squad, with Fraser Aird taking a seat on the bench this time around whereas the visitors made one alteration from their victory over Inverness in Paisley seven days previously with Gary Irvine dropping to the bench to be replaced by Hearts-loanee, Liam Smith.
The away side started the brighter in an open game during the early stages. Gavin Reilly – looking to impress after a poor and unsuccessful loan spell with the Pars last term – had the first goal scoring opportunity of the match after he got the better of Lee Ashcroft around 30 yards from goal. The former Queen of the South and Hearts forward raced towards goal but hit his shot wide of the past.
Jack Baird and Lewis Morgan had efforts inside the opening 15 minutes before the Buddies seemed to get the first stroke of luck of the afternoon when Joe Cardle hobbled off with what looked to be a muscular injury. The winger – Dunfermline’s top scorer this season with 9 – came from left to right to get on the end of a through ball but as the 30-year-old battled against former East End Park defender Gregor Buchanan, something went and down went the Englishman, writhing in pain.
On came David Hopkirk and this seemed to crank the Fifers up a gear as just moments after replacing Cardle, the Pars got the opening goal of the contest. Nat Wedderburn played a lovely cross-field pass for Kallum Higginbotham to nod down to the advancing Declan McManus – the striker took a touch on the chest before firing the ball past Craig Samson to send the large home support into raptures.
With the game continuing to be end-to-end, it seemed to suit Allan Johnston’s men more as they broke on the Buddies with pace and this was evident when Kallum Higginbotham almost assisted the Pars’ second. It should have been converted by David Hopkirk but the winger dragged his shot wide when clean through on goal.
Lee Ashcroft had a shot blocked from a corner before St Mirren forced one of their own; Reilly worked space for himself on the right side of the box before playing a low ball across the 6-yard-line; with left-wing-back Stelios Demetriou looking certain to equalise, it was Ryan Williamson to the rescue as the full-back cleared the danger at the far post just ahead of the Cypriot. From the resulting delivery by Ian McShane, the ball had to cleared off the line by Jason Talbot as the Pars held on as the opening period drew to a close.
There was to be one last twist to the two sides’ team talks at the break however, with Hopkirk making amends for his earlier miss with a delightful finish from 19 yards. Williamson was set free down the right – as Dunfermline continued to cause the Saints trouble on the wings with the visitors playing a very unique 3-2-4-1 formation – and his pull back found the ex-Annan forward free inside the D: the attacker took a touch before curling the ball home to send East End Park into a volume of noise again as the half-time whistle approached.
Jack Ross was swift to change shape and tactics at the break, with John Sutton replacing Stelios Demetriou. The Englishman had the first opportunity of the final period when his header from a Lewis Morgan corner went over Murdoch’s bar before Higginbotham fired a shot high and wide to the relief of the Saints.
Both sides new how crucial the next goal would be and it came for the hosts just eleven minutes into the second half. Dean Shiels had an effort well-saved by Samson as the Northern Irishman looked certain to score. From the corner that the Buddies keeper conceded, however, it was Dunfermline captain Callum Morris who scored a scrappy third to seal the points for the Fife side. Higginbotham mis-kicked his delivery and as groans began to emerge from the stands, McShane completely missed the ball at the near post; his air swipe allowed Morris to get to the ball first ahead of his marker and left Samson with no chance once again.
Ian McShane forced Murdoch into his only stop of the afternoon with a low daisy-cutter which the goalkeeper done well to gather cleanly before Samson could not catch the ball with ease as he juggled a McManus shot behind for another Pars corner. Nicky Clark also had an effort from 20 yards but his shot was harmless to the goal as it landed in the stand behind the net.
Aaron Splaine came on for the influential Kallum Higginbotham and he was to be involved heavily in the matches next talking point. With just minutes remaining, and the St Mirren fans beginning to exit the stadium, the ball ran out for a throw in to the Buddies inside their own half on the left. Inexplicably, experienced defender Adam Eckersley tangled innocuously with the youngster in front of the linesman which left Craig Thomson with no option bar to send the defender off. In-discipline was shown against just 30 seconds later when McManus was fouled on the right by Gregor Buchanan and the 27-year-old was shown a second yellow.
As the game fizzled out, the Pars returned to the top of the table after their blip last weekend away to Morton; St Mirren take a dent in their promotion hopes, but, with 30 games remaining a lot of twists and turns are expected yet.
FULL TIME: Dunfermline Athletic 3-0 St Mirren
- Sean Murdoch
- Ryan Williamson
- Callum Morris (Captain)
- Lee Ashcroft
- Jason Talbot
- Kallum Higginbotham (Aaron Splaine 82’)
- Dean Shiels
- Nat Wedderburn
- Joe Cardle (David Hopkirk 18’)
- Declan McManus
- Nicky Clark
- Cameron Gill (GK)
- Lewis Martin
- David Hopkirk
- Aaron Splaine
- Andy Ryan
- Fraser Aird
- Callum Smith
- Craig Samson
- Jack Baird
- Gregor Buchanan
- Adam Eckersley
- Ian McShane
- Stephen McGinn (Captain)
- Liam Smith
- Cameron Smith (Josh Todd 79’)
`10. Lewis Morgan
- Stelios Demetriou (John Sutton 45’)
- Gavin Reilly (Ross Stewart 75’)
- Ross Stewart (GK)
- Gary Irvine
- Darryl Duffy
- John Sutton
- Josh Todd
- Jordan Kirkpatrick
- Ross Stewart
Referee: Craig Thomson