East Stirlingshire 0 Dunfermline Athletic 2
Sometimes it’s all about being in the hat for the next round. The Pars did what they had to do, winning a dreadful game in difficult overhead and underfoot conditions, with an early Ryan Wallace penalty and a late strike from substitute Craig Dargo proving to be the difference between the sides.
So it was East Stirlingshire in the League Cup. It’s a long time (nearly 30 years) since I last made an away match against the Shire. That was for a midweek fixture at Firs Park, and with final exams looming I remember taking a textbook on Galois Theory to revise on the train to Falkirk. As for the game, that was in the middle of possibly the worst season in the Pars’ history, but we came away with a 2-0 victory courtesy of a brace of second hand goals. My memory of the game is only marginally better than my recall of the theory of polynomial equations, but I think portly trialist Jim Dunlop made a nice turn and pass to send Stevie Morrison away down the right and Trevor Smith converted his cross with a header that looped over the small goalie Tulloch, before John Perry wrapped things up late on with a breakaway. My mood was further cheered with news that Caley (my other team in those days), had shocked Stirling Albion in the cup at Annfield.
That was football 30 years ago – train journeys to visit grounds that no longer exist, cup-ties with lower division teams (we’ll draw a veil over the Scottish Cup defeat to the Shire the next season, a disastrous 3-1 home reverse, whereas the Albion were putting 20 (twenty) past Selkirk) and fading memories of having once mixed with the big boys.
Roll forward three decades and it’s the start of a new era at Dunfermline –the club are still in intensive care, but there are grounds for optimism, with an excellent result off the pitch in the bag, and a pretty decent one on it as well in already in this nascent season. The Shire now groundshare at Ochilview, next to the old McCowan’s toffee factory, and a decent number of fans nipped over the Kincardine Bridge to take their place on the terracing, or a seat in the old familiar stand. Here there was no segregation – so fans of one team sat alongside fans of the other – and the new community spirit seemed evident as players mixed with ordinary mortals, Bryan Jackson looked to have brought along his dad for the game, and Paul Gallacher stopped by as well.
The starting eleven was unchanged from last week – Scully between the sticks, a back 4 of Millen, Young, Morris and Whittle, what looked like a diamond pattern in the midfield, with Kane, Falkingham and Byrne, and Ferguson, and a strike-force of Wallace and Thomson. There were a couple of changes on the bench – loanees Moore and Johnston took their place alongside Dargo, Geggan and Hrivnak.
The home team won the toss and elected to play with the wind, defending the terracing housing the visiting fans. The tricky combination of plastic pitch and stiff breeze reared its head within 20 seconds as Morris misjudged the bounce of the ball, Young couldn’t quite get there to cover at first but managed to poke the ball out for a corner. The Pars defence seemed slow to react to the dead-ball, but Kane headed the ball behind for another corner. This next attempt was dealt with slightly better, but it wasn’t long before Falkingham was next to bail out his defence by heading behind after Young had conceded a free-kick.
The Pars were struggling – Wallace had an early shot at goal in 7 minutes, although an off-side flag had already been raised, before three talking points arrived one after the other in 9 minutes. Kane’s header from a Millen corner was headed on by Thomson, but cleared off the line and as the Pars forwards looked to the linesman, the Shire broke. Whittle was committed to the challenge on the half-way line, but appeared to be done by a combination of wind and bounce, and clattered into his opponent. Handbags ensued, and the stand-side assistant was on the pitch to restore calm, only to be shooed off again by referee Northcroft, who had unaccountably waved play on. The Pars switched the ball to the right, sent Falkingham through the channel, and he was downed in the area. A clear penalty, and this time Wallace grabbed the ball and sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot. 1-0 Pars
That should have settled the Pars, and it did to an extent, but the cluttered midfield and the conditions meant the match was no spectacle. There were some meaty challenges, and with the ball not behaving as normal sometimes the players came off second best and thus Falkingham had to be replaced by Geggan midway through the half. The ball was rarely on the deck, and Scully’s clearances and goal-kicks struggled to reach any distance – indeed one miscued effort nearly went out for a corner. The Pars’ new number one was the busier of the keepers, and was nearly caught out when Geggan and Kane combined to send a back-pass perilously close to the top corner, but the back-pedalling custodian managed to keep that one out. The same player was a little unlucky when he spilled the ball and was penalised for allegedly picking the ball up outside his penalty area, although it looked that although most of his body was out the ball was still in bounds. However no damage was done, and although the referee’s whistle suddenly fell silent as he found 3 minutes of stoppage time from nowhere, the Pars had the lead at the break.
Half time: Shire 0 Pars 1.
Straight from the kick-off Shire managed to find the top corner, although this was of one of the 8 sets of goalposts that adorned the far-side of the pitch. Both sides shared some early half-chances – a deflected shot led to a corner which Bolochowechyj headed firmly past, and Ryan Wallace might have made more of a rare shooting chance rather than loop the ball over the top in 53 minutes. Then Max Wright, who pleasingly had spent most of the game on the right, found himself with a good chance on the left of the box, but went for it with his right foot and skewed the ball well past.