Clark at the double as Pars striker grabs second hat-trick in three games to help Dunfermline defeat Doonhamers

It was a massive game at East End Park on Saturday afternoon as playoff hopefuls Dunfermline and Queen of the South met in Fife. A win for either side would set them up nicely for the run-in while a draw would suit neither side as the games begin to whittle down in Scotland’s second tier.
The Pars have been on a good run of form but they were forced to make one alteration to their starting eleven as James Vincent missed out through injury. Canadian international Fraser Aird earned a start following a positive performance in a behind closed-door’s match against Manchester United Under-23’s midweek, with Dean Shiels coming onto the bench.
The Dumfries side also had a key player missing through injury: Stephen Dobbie was not named in the 18-man squad to the relief of the home fans, while Kyle Cameron, on-loan from Newcastle, also dropped out. Ex-Dunfermline full-back Scott Mercer replaced another former East Ender as Shaun Rooney had to do with a seat on the bench as fifth came up against sixth.
Gary Naysmith’s men started well in the opening 10 minutes, forcing the Fifers to defend crosses and set-pieces, while Dom Thomas tried his luck from distance with a long-range volley but the left-footed attempt from the right-hand side hit the stanchion behind Lee Robinson’s net with the ex-Doonhamer being untroubled on this occasion.
Allan Johnston’s men crept their way into the match though, with their first effort at goal coming shortly afterwards, with a free-flowing move involving Kallum Higginbotham and latterly Fraser Aird, as Nicky Clark saw his driven shot from inside the area kept out by young shot-stopper, Jack Leighfield.
The hosts were in command now as they ramped up the pressure; Aird cut inside and tried his luck but his attempt was deflected by Mercer before the Queens defence could clear. Next, Declan McManus and Clark battled for the same crossed ball with McManus heading off-target on this occasion. Then, Clark saw Leighfield pull off another fantastic save to deny the Pars’ top-goalscorer a certain opener with a top-drawer finger tip save to concede a corner.
Captain Callum Morris was next to be denied as his header from the resultant set-piece delivery was cleared off the line as Johnston’s side remained camped within the visitors half of the pitch.
Naysmith’s side were clinging on by their fingertips as Kyle Jacobs almost scored an own-goal, swiping at the ball which looped towards his own net but drifted over for another corner to Dunfermline. However, the opener wasn’t far round the corner with just over half-an-hour gone at East End Park.
Aird teased the Dumfries side’s defence with a floated ball in to the back-post, in which Clark rose highest to nod the ball home past the helpless Leighfield to give the home side a deserved lead. A second was to follow just five minutes later as McManus laid the ball off to his strike partner who made no mistake from 20-yards, firing across the keeper and into the far corner to send the 4,000 plus home crowd in to raptures once again.
Naysmith and assistant boss Dougie Anderson would be hoping for much better in the second-half for a lacklustre Queen of the South who had been blown away by Dunfermline. Johnston and his sidekick Sandy Clark would be delighted with their lead but would also know how important a third goal would be to possibly kill the encounter dead as the Pars chased three massive points in the SPFL Ladbrokes Championship.
The Doonhamers must have known the importance of the end-result, too, come the beginning of the final period as they started off much better. Despite a shot at goal not coming until 55 minutes, Dunfermline knew they weren’t home and dry yet as Dom Thomas broke away on a counter-attack before unleashing a rasping drive which had Robinson stranded: thankfully for the hosts, the shot whizzed over the cross-bar.
A defensive blunder between Lee Ashcroft and Lewis Martin allowed Lyndon Dykes in on goal but the attacker – who has been linked with a move to Hearts this week – shot straight at Robinson as the Aussie striker failed to capitalise on a glorious opportunity for the away side.
Joe Thomson, who had netted in his previous two appearances, had the next try at goal as the visitors began to exert some dominance, with Robinson pulling off another save to deny the Celtic loanee before he dived onto the second ball inside his 6-yard box to avert the potential of a rebounded effort by Queens, into the unguarded net.
Derek Lyle came on for captain John Rankin as Naysmith gambled with an extra forward on the pitch, while Higginbotham was replaced by Daniel Armstrong on the right of midfield for Dunfermline. Then, the game took a massive turn.
Jordan Marshall was afforded space to drive forward into and he shot towards goal. As the ball went across goal, it looked a simple enough save for the keeper but the full-back’s attempt bobbled over the hands of Robinson and into the back of the net to give the Doonhamers a lifeline.
The Pars looked nervous after this, as the hosts got deeper and deeper as the game progressed. Nikolay Todorov was introduced for Dykes – who had missed another sitter by this point – with 10 minutes to go while Nat Wedderburn was brought on to solidify the Fifers midfield, replacing the influential figure of Fraser Aird.
Armstrong cut in from the right but his left-footed effort lacked conviction as Leighfield parried before his defence swept up the remaining danger. Thomas was next to fire in on goal but Robinson stood firm this time as the clock continued to tick closer to a defeat for the visiting side. Rooney came on for Mercer in a last-ditch attempt at an equaliser by Naysmith’s men, but, it was the home side who grabbed that all important fourth goal of the contest.
Armstrong clipped a ball over the top down the right for Williamson to race onto as the Queens defence were caught up-field. He looped the ball into the area for Clark to complete his hat-trick as the Pars players seemed to breathe a sigh of relief with the 93rd minute strike.
FULL-TIME: Dunfermline Athletic 3-1 Queen of the South
Team Line-Ups:
25. Lee Robinson
2. Ryan Williamson
5. Callum Morris (Captain)
6. Lee Ashcroft
3. Lewis Martin
7. Kallum Higginbotham (Daniel Armstrong 68′)
28. James Craigen
31. Tom Beadling
17. Fraser Aird (Nat Wedderburn 83′)
10. Nicky Clark
9. Declan McManus
20. Cammy Gill (GK)
4. Jean-Yves M’Voto
8. Nat Wedderburn
12. Daniel Armstrong
14. Jason Talbot
16. Andy Ryan
27. Dean Shiels
Queen of the South
20. Jack Leighfield
24. Scott Mercer (Shaun Rooney 86′)
4. Callum Fordyce
5. Darren Brownlie
3. Jordan Marshall
14. Kyle Jacobs
8. John Rankin (Derek Lyle 66′) (Captain)
10. Dom Thomas
12. Joe Thomson
16. Josh Todd
25. Lyndon Dykes (Nikolay Todorov 80′)
34. Curtis Lyle (GK)
2. Shaun Rooney
9. Derek Lyle
15. Nikolay Todorov
17. Connor Murray
21. Daniel Carmichael
23. Myles Beerman
Referee: Willie Collum
Attendance: 4,762


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