James Craigen’s early set-piece strike was the difference between Dunfermline Athletic and Inverness Caledonian Thistle at East End Park.
Joe Cardle and Jean-Yves M’Voto missed out for the hosts, with the pair picking up knocks in training following Saturday’s loss to St Mirren. Frennchman M’Voto hurt his hamstring while Cardle rolled his ankle just 24 hours ahead of Tuesday night’s fixture. Callum Morris came in to replace M’Voto, with Higginbotham starting in place of Daniel Armstrong, who dropped to the bench for the Fifers, with Lewis Martin also making a start in place of the suspended Jason Talbot. Fraser Aird and Dean Shiels came back into the 18-man match-day squad, alongside Scott Lochhead who has returned to East End Park following the completion of his loan spell with Forfar Athletic.
Inverness came into the match having not played competitively since the 24th of February, following a 2-0 home defeat to Greenock Morton. John Robertson’s side were missing the injured duo of Coll Donaldson and Nathan Austin, while Riccardo Calder was also unavailable. A mix-up with the team-sheet saw Cameron Harper start rather tha Brad McKay, while Carl Tremarco and Jake Mulraney returned to the starting eleven. Canadian internationalist Charlie Trafford dropped down on to the bench.
Kevin Clancy led the teams out, with the Pars in their traditional home colours of the black and white, with Inverness wearing their first-choice kit, too. Dunfermline kicked off, shooting towards the empty Cowdenbeath end.
It was a lively opening by the hosts, with Tom Beadling driving forward and letting fly within 30 seconds. His shot cannoned off youngster Harper, who deflected the ball behind for an early corner to the home side.
Higginbotham drilled in a low corner towards the near post, with Lee Ashcroft flicking the ball on, but it harmlessly looped over the bar and out for a goal-kick.
In the fifth minute, Iain Vigurs took out Higginbotham on the edge of the box, as the winger cut inside from the right. Many players surrounded the ball discussing which option to take, as Harper received treatment from the visiting medical staff. The call was taken to take the teenager off, replacing him with ex-Pars defender, Brad McKay.
After the stoppage had ended, James CRAIGEN curled home the opener with a terrific left-footed shot which flew past Mark Ridgers as it nestled into the back of the Caley Thistle net. The former Falkirk midfielder, scoring his first goal for Dunfermline, helped the Fife side make the most of their early dominance with a fantastic swerving effort into the left-hand corner of the net.
In the following ten minutes, the game became very scrappy, as both sides snuffed each other out. There were 6 fouls in this period, with Higginbotham at the centre of most of them, with the Englishman being penalised by referee Kevin Clancy on numerous occasions.
However, on 16 minutes, Declan McManus got the break of the ball in the middle of the park as the striker burst into the space ahead of him; the ex-Raith striker had partner Nicky Clark waiting inside the area but chose to go alone, seeing his right-footed attempt blocked out for a corner off of Gary Warren.
Higginbotham swung the ball into the box from the right on 28 minutes, with the ball to the back-post being met by Colin Seedorf, who took no risks with Craigen lurking round the back as the ball got turned away for a corner. Craigen took the set-piece himself, with Morris rising highest to get a header on goal but the effort didn’t trouble Ridgers on this occasion.
More fouls followed as the match became bogged down in a midfield tussle, with neither side showing enough quality to create many clear goalscoring chances. Lee Robinson was yet to make a save while Ridgers was also quiet at the opposite end of the park. It was a frustrating game to watch but the Pars fans were happy to hear Clancy’s whistle for the break, as they hoped the interval would inspire their side to kick on for a second goal. The Highlanders, on the other hand, would be hoping for much better in the second period, with their side not registering a shot on goal or a corner within the opening 45 minutes, despite having the bulk of possession.
George Oakley linked up well with Liam Polworth early on in the second-half, but the number 7 slashed his shot well wide of target, but, the small band of Inverness supporters at least felt more encouraged at the beginning of the final period of this encounter.
Minutes later, Seedorf delivered a low ball into the danger area, with Aaron Doran getting a shot away but it was weak and easily saved by Robinson, diving low to his right. A better connection may have saw the equaliser come, as the winger drifted in from the left but was unable to convert from 12-yards out.
Then, at the other end, Craigen played a neat one-two with Clark, with the former Partick Thistle winger hammering in a daisy-cutter that Ridgers done well to tip away for a corner. Craigen then had another effort from the resultant set-piece but he got this attempt all wrong as it sailed behind for a goal-kick.
The goalscorer was in a menacing mood, as he had two more shots at goal, albeit both being off-target, as the Pars began to dominate. Clark tried to double the home side’s lead from 20-yards but his side-footed effort was straight at Ridgers in the end.
John Robertson then made a double switch in the hope fresh impetus up-front may swing the contest into Caley’s favour. Doran and Jake Mulraney departed, with Zak Elbouzedi and Connor Bell coming on down the flanks.
Neat play by Allan Johnston’s men down the right saw Beadling deliver – Ridgers couldn’t hold the cross and it ensued a bit of pinball within the box before Tremarco saved the day, clearing the ball of the goalline to keep the scoreline at 1-0, with the clock ticking down.
The pressure wouldn’t cease as the Highlanders struggled to penetrate the Dunfermline defence. McManus got on the end of James Vincent’s through ball, but, snatched at his chance as it flew wide. Then, Clark this time was set free down the left, with the striker cutting in-field before flighting a perfectly timed ball into McManus but the striker could only head against the post.
Substitute Elbouzedi tried to make an impact as he took on the impressive Martin. The winger managed to get a delivery in with just under 10 minutes remaining, however, Vigurs header was easy-pickings for Robinson who was rarely troubled all evening. It was Lewis Martin who was next to try his luck after he had won the ball back on the half-way line: the defender sprinted forward before unleashing a thunderous 25-yard effort which Ridgers done well to hold.
Ridgers made a fantastic save late on as the Inverness shot-stopper denied Higginbotham. McManus latched onto a long-ball before cutting inside and laying the opportunity on a plate for the Englishman, but, it was the former Scotland Under-21 keeper who came out on top this time, superbly palming the ball away from danger.
Gary Warren was shown the first yellow card of the match as stoppage time approached for a hand-ball 22-yards out. McManus looked keen to wrap up the three points for Johnston’s side but his set-piece strike ended up in with the home fans.
There would be no late rally by Robertson’s men though, who struggled to get to grips with Dunfermline all evening. Caley travel down the road now 8 points behind their opponents from Tuesday evening, while Dunfermline keep their hopes of a promotion play-off berth alive with a massive three points in West Fife.
Robertson spoke to the media post-match, admitting that the hosts deserved to win.
Allan Johnston also spoke to the press following Tuesday evening’s 1-0 victory at East End Park:
FULL-TIME: Dunfermline Athletic 1-0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle
25. Lee Robinson
2. Ryan Williamson
5. Callum Morris
6. Lee Ashcroft
3. Lewis Martin
26. James Vincent
28. James Craigen
31. Tom Beadling
7. Kallum Higginbotham
10. Nicky Clark
9. Declan McManus
20. Cammy Gill (GK)
8. Nat Wedderburn
12. Daniel Armstrong
16. Andy Ryan
17. Fraser Aird
19. Scott Lochhead
27. Dean Shiels
28. Mark Ridgers
17. Colin Seedorf
5, Gary Warren
3. Carl Tremarco
33. Cameron Harper (Brad McKay 5′)
7. Liam Polworth
11. Iain Vigurs
4. Joe Chalmers
15. Jake Mulraney (Zak Elbouzedi 71′)
14. George Oakley
10. Aaron Doran (Connor Bell 71′)
1. Ryan Esson (GK)
18. Zak Elbouzedi
20. Connor Bell
22. Brad McKay
24. Charlie Trafford
27. Daniel Mackay
32. Jack Brown
Referee: Kevin Clancy