Dunfermline defeated arch rivals Falkirk at East End Park on Tuesday afternoon to begin 2018 in style, with the Pars getting their third quarter in the SPFL Ladbrokes Championship off to a winning start.
Allan Johnston was forced into two changes from the previous match against Brechin with Sean Murdoch missing out through injury while captain Callum Morris was suspended. Frenchman Jean-Yves M’Voto came into the back four while newly-signed goalkeeper Lee Robinson was handed his debut just hours after putting pen to paper.
For the visitors, they made three changes with the injured Myles Hippolyte, Paul Watson and Lewis Kidd missing out; replacing the trio was Paul Hartley’s three new signings at The Falkirk Stadium with experienced campaigner Sean Welsh being the most notable. The former Partick midfielder took up his role in the centre of the field with Thomas Robson and Andrew Nelson also being thrown in straight away after their moves from Sunderland.
It was the hosts who started brightly: from their own kick-off, they managed to force a chance through stand-in captain Nicky Clark, but his right-footed effort went narrowly wide of Robbie Mutch’s left-hand post.
M’Voto was next to try his luck, but, the towering centre-back was denied by a good stop by the youngster, palming the former Raith Rovers man’s effort wide for a corner from a Dean Shiels free-kick delivery.
Clark and McManus were linking up well, with 21 goals between the pair already this season. Clark saw Jordan McGhee block an effort on 15 minutes but just seconds later, the pair linked up again. Declan McManus remained composed as he drove forward, before finding Clark to his right who slipped the ball home from inside the area. Mutch could have done better, with the ball squirming away from his grasp before hitting the post and spinning into the empty net.
Clark was to pounce again inside the area, after getting his head onto a Jason Talbot delivery but this time, the header looped over the bar to safety. After so much dominance from the Pars inside the opening 25 minutes, the Bairns changed shape, which seemed to help them garner a way back into the contest.
McGhee hit a long-distance effort wide which didn’t trouble Robinson before the Sunderland-born shot-stopper was called into action as he denied the pile-driver from Aaron Muirhead with ten minutes to go until the interval. The Falkirk captain was around 25 yards out and hit his ferocious effort low and hard but the shot was well saved by the 31-year-old.
Nelson then tried to curl an effort past Robinson for a debut goal but his effort went wide before Louis Longridge found himself free on goal. It looked certain that the visitors would draw level but the on-loan Hamilton forward dragged his effort wide; after some deliberation with his officials, Willie Collum gave a corner which can only mean that Robinson got a touch to the ball and made a fantastic save to keep his side in front at the break.
Joe Cardle went on a mazy-run at the start of the second half but was blocked out as he entered the penalty area: Michael Paton then Jason Talbot kept the attack alive before the ex-Port Vale winger flicked the ball into the area for McManus to get the slightest of touches as he found the bottom corner, to send East End Park into raptures as the Fifers doubled their advantage.
Reghan Tumilty saw his effort saved by Robinson before Hartley had saw enough. Peter Grant and Tom Taiwo made way for Rory Loy and Alex Harris in an attacking substitution for the Bairns as they tried to get a foot-hold on the match once more.
Ryan Williamson drove down the right-hand side before cutting in but his left-footed effort was weak and an easy save for the 19-year-old Mutch. Then, Cardle broke down the Dunfermline right on the counter-attack and ran into the space; the winger looked set to score, doing everything right by firing across the goalkeeper but the ball hit the inside of the post before rebounding into the grateful arms of the youngster, with Clark waiting to pounce on the loose ball.
Welsh and then McGhee had efforts at goal as the Falkirk players overloaded the Dunfermline penalty box in a last-ditch attempt to get a goal to make the final few minutes nervous, but, once again, the goalkeeper was up to task to deny the visitors. Kallum Higginbotham then came on against his old employers to a ring of boo’s from the away end as he took the place of Cardle late on. Andy Ryan would also replace Declan McManus with two minutes of normal time remaining.
Tumilty was left unmarked at the back-post as Hartley’s men smashed the post on 90 minutes in their last attempt of the game. At the other end, Mutch slipped as he looked to go route one and that allowed Ryan to nip in; the former Hamilton striker rounded the goalie before skewing out left. With rings of “shoot!” from the stand, the forward sprayed a low ball into the penalty box for strike-partner Clark who looked set to tap-home into the empty net before the vital interception by Welsh to concede a corner.
Overall, a very entertaining game with chances at both ends. Lee Robinson had a magnificent debut while Hartley will be disappointed his side couldn’t capitalise on the chances they did create.
Speaking to the media after the game, the former Alloa and Dundee boss said:
“I think that [Robinson’s save from Longridge] was a big moment in the game. We didn’t start the match well but we changed the shape midway through the first-half. We then took control of the game before having a great opportunity before half-time to get back into it. We felt confident going back out for the second-half after the changes we had made as we had started to pass the ball around better, but, the two goals we lose were sloppy, poor, goals. Their keeper probably had more saves than our keeper toda – he was the difference.”
Asked about throwing all three of his new signings in, the Falkirk gaffer replied:
“We have a lot of games coming up over the next few weeks, so why not? How else are we going to find out if they can handle these occasions? I thought they all did well; we are disappointed with the result but we just need to re-group and go again. We have a really busy period coming up, starting with another tough match on Saturday [against Dundee United].”
FULL-TIME: Dunfermline Athletic 2-0 Falkirk
25. Lee Robinson
2. Ryan Williamson
4. Jean-Yves M’Voto
6. Lee Ashcroft
14. Jason Talbot
15. Michael Paton
27. Dean Shiels
8. Nat Wedderburn
11. Joe Cardle (Kallum Higginbotham 86′)
9. Declan McManus (Andy Ryan 88′)
10. Nicky Clark (Captain)
20. Cammy Gill (GK)
3. Lewis Martin
7. Kallum Higginbotham
16. Andy Ryan
17. Fraser Aird
23. Callum Smith
31. Robbie Mutch
4. Aaron Muirhead (Captain)
3. Jordan McGhee
5. Peter Grant
16. Reghan Tumilty
7. Tom Taiwo
45. Sean Welsh
10. Craig Sibbald
42. Thomas Robson
14. Louis Longridge
43. Andrew Nelson
1. Robbie Thomson (GK)
2. Lewis Kidd
17. Alex Harris
24. Cameron Blues
28. James Craigen
33. Rory Loy
44. Paul Watson
Referee: Willie Collum