It was a horrible night in Fife as play-off hopefuls Dunfermline Athletic came up against second placed Livingston at East End Park. The game was marred by torrential rain, snow storms and a biting wind – but, the home fans left the happier after 90 minutes thanks to Lee Ashcroft’s first-half strike.
Dunfermline named the same starting eleven as Saturday as Allan Johnston’s side looked to carry forward their recent good run into another crucial match – which was rescheduled for Tuesday evening following a previous snow storm which saw the game being cancelled in February. That meant that Fraser Aird retained his place on the left, as James Vincent; Joe Cardle; Michael Paton; Sean Murdoch and Jean-Yves M’Voto missed out through injury.
The visitors included former Dunfermline midfielder Shaun Byrne and centre-back Gregor Buchanan in their match-day squad as David Hopkin’s men travelled to West Fife in a good vein of form, themselves, too. Despite this fact, the Lions made 4 changes from the 3-0 win against Dumbarton just 3 days earlier. Goalscorers Raffaele De Vita and Lee Miller dropped to the bench with Scott Robinson and Keaghan Jacobs taking up starting slots in the midfield. Buchanan also missed out, alongside Jack McMillan, as captain Craig Halkett and fellow defender Alan Lithgow returned from bans which saw the pair miss the win against the Sons.
Livi seemed to begin in a 3-4-3 formation and it was left-midfielder Jackson Longridge who fired in the first effort of the evening, as he linked well with Nicky Cadden before knocking the ball high over the bar inside the opening 100 seconds.
Then, with their first meaningful attack of the match, the Pars took the lead. Kallum Higginbotham and Ryan Williamson linked up down the right following a foul, with the English winger swinging in the ball from deep for Lee Ashcroft to scoop over Neil Alexander and into the right-hand corner of the net. The ball seemed to be flicked on into the ex-Kilmarnock defender’s path by a visiting player, but, Dunfermline weren’t caring as they got the opener with just over 10 minutes gone.
The response was strong by Hopkin’s men though as the West Lothian club fought back straight from kick-off after they earned a set[-piece opportunity of their own. Robinson played the ball short to the near post before it was laid back for Scott Pittman to have a dig at goal; it took a deflection off of a Livingston player inside the 6-yard box but Lee Robinson was alert to the danger as he palmed the ball away before Dunfermline hacked the ball to safety.
With the weather causing havoc and the pitch soft under-foot, the game had very little flow in terms of rhythm and tempo, with the majority of the openings coming from corner kicks and free-kick situations. This time, it was the hosts who came close as Callum Morris won a header at the back post which eventually fell to Higginbotham but after dancing his way into the area and slipping the ball across the goal, it was cleared as far as Ashcroft who was confident enough to have another dig at goal, this time his curling effort went narrowly wide of Alexander’s right-hand post.
Ryan Hardie was set-free down the right-hand side and after getting into a good position, the Scotland Under-21 international attempted to lob Robinson but his former Rangers colleague wasn’t to be beaten on this occasion as the ball drifted behind for a goal-kick. Hardie again tried his luck, this time after being played-in down the left-hand side, with Robinson diving to his right to gather a stinging effort from the attacker.
James Craigen – who started this recent good spell of form for Dunfermline with a free-kick goal against Inverness – tried his luck from a similar position on the stroke of half-time but his effort was wasted as he blazed the ball high over the bar. Referee Stephen Finnie blew his whistle shortly afterwards to bring the opening 45 minutes to an end, with the game being fairly even. Hopkin’s side had, arguably, the better and clearer openings with neither goalkeeper being overly troubled. However, Johnston would go in the happier of the two managers as his side took their chance when it came along through Ashcroft to sneak their noses in front at the interval.
The clearest chance at the beginning of the second period fell to Nicky Clark, who had scored 7 goals in his previous 3 matches, but his right-footed curler drifted past fellow former Ibrox team-mate Alexander’s post, following a good run and delivery from Ryan Williamson.
Scott Robinson – previously with Dunfermline under manager Johnston – headed wide as the visitors began to pile on the pressure. Hopkin seized the opportunity to bring on fresh legs as Adam Frizzell came on for Nicky Cadden down the left. The on-loan Kilmarnock midfielder swung in a corner as the hour mark approached but his cross was well defended by Dunfermline in the end, as Clark cleared the ball of the line to keep the Fifers ahead.
The away side really should have drew level shortly afterwards as Hardie headed the ball across goal with a simple tap-in looking guaranteed until a Pars player managed to somehow divert the ball over his own bar in a last-ditch attempt to save the day.
Fraser Aird and Declan McManus tested Neil Alexander but the experienced goalkeeper was up to the task as both sides pushed for the next goal which could be vital come the end of the season. Dunfermline knew a second goal could seal then the three points and they came close again shortly after as Alexander saved three times, twice denying Clark while also stopping Higginbotham from a narrow angle as Livi held on.
Tom Beadling was involved late-on in both boxes as the Sunderland-loanee initially hit the post with a header late on before blocking away Longridge’s driven effort in injury-time. The hosts clung on, despite a contentious penalty call deep into stoppage time, with Ryan Hardie hitting the deck as he raced into the area, but Stephen Finnie felt no infringement occurred as Dunfermline held out for a narrow 1-0 victory, to move them up to third in the SPFL Ladbrokes Championship table, 6 points behind Tuesday’s opponents and 2 ahead of 5th placed Greenock Morton, but Johnston’s side have played a game more.
Five games remain for the Lions, who seem certain to clinch a promotion play-off place: however, this didn’t stop manager Hopkin being enraged at full-time, as he told the media:
“I think we switched off once, from a set-play – and Dunfermline scored – but, then I felt the rest of the game was us [attacking]. We created chances, we had every bit of possession, but, we need to credit Dunfermline for managing to defend for the whole game. I felt we were comfortable and I felt if we had scored, we would have went on to win the game.
[It was a] stonewall penalty. I think the referee is going to be report me for asking him at the end why he didn’t give it: I asked a question…why would Ryan Hardie, in the 94th minute, one on one with the goalkeeper, fall? There is your answer; two people come together but the ball goes in the same line, he looks at it and I think he bottled it. There you go, that is me saying it – I will probably get inn trouble for saying it, but, I am thinking we deserved a point, we deserved a victory tonight. I think we played against a very good side and made them look average. I am disappointed the referee hasn’t given us a penalty in the 94th minute, as, if it had finished 1-1, I would have walked away from here delighted considering the effort we put in. However, to come away with nothing is a travesty: we will probably play worse and win games. It is probably the best we have played all season.”
On the other hand, Allan Johnston was thrilled with his side’s hard-fought win.
“I thought it was a real team performance; the boys gave everything. Against Livingston, you need to match their attitude, as it is fantastic. I thought we done that. We played some decent football as well: at times, on the counter-attack, we looked as if we could have really punished them. Really good performance [by everyone], even the guys who came on as a sub, they gave everything. I couldn’t ask for much more – it was a big performance, a big result and it sets us up nicely for another big game at the weekend.
I felt sometimes the referee made the game harder than it had to be at times, with some of his decisions, if I am honest. We are only as good as our last game; everybody wants to win the game at the weekend – we all know how much it means to the fans, as well as the club. We are desperate to win that one so we can keep on building on this good run that we are on, right now. If the players match their commitment, determination and desire that they showed tonight, alongside our quality, then we will win more games than we lose.”
FULL-TIME: Dunfermline Athletic 1-0 Livingston
25. Lee Robinson
2. Ryan Williamson
5. Callum Morris (Captain)
6. Lee Ashcroft
3. Lewis Martin
7. Kallum Higginbotham
28. James Craigen
31. Tom Beadling
17. Fraser Aird (Nat Wedderburn 71′)
9. Declan McManus (Andy Ryan 81′)
10. Nicky Clark
20. Cammy Gill (GK)
8. Nat Wedderburn
12. Daniel Armstrong
14. Jason Talbot
16. Andy Ryan
18. Conner Duthie
27. Dean Shiels
1. Neil Alexander
31. Declan Gallagher
26. Craig Halkett (Captain)
4. Alan Lithgow
3. Jackson Longridge
14. Keaghan Jacobs
6. Shaun Byrne
8. Scott Pittman (Jordan Thompson 73′)
17. Scott Robinson (Lee Miller 65′)
9. Ryan Hardie
11. Nicky Cadden (Adam Frizzell 57′)
20, Gary Maley (GK)
2. Jack McMillan
5. Gregor Buchanan
18. Lee Miller
19. Adam Frizzell
23. Raffaele De Vita
24. Jordan Thompson
Referee: Stephen Finnie