Dunfermline Athletic 0 Cowdenbeath 3 (1-4 on aggregate)
In the end it all came down to one game, and the Pars found themselves outplayed by the team in the higher division as once more the season ended in calamity. All the excitement created by a large crowd dissipated within 30 seconds of kick-off as the visitors scored when Kane Hemmings was first to react to a knock-down. The Pars failed to create many threats and when O’Brien pounced to double the lead, that was that. A third goal soon after only served to rub salt in the wounds.
It’s easy to be wise after the event, but for weeks there has been a feeling the whole season would boil down to just the one game, one where the lack of experience of playing crunch games, especially against decent opposition might not be matched by a relative freshness of personnel.
There was a huge buzz about this tie, so much so that I found myself making two trips across the Forth Road Bridge in the one day; one to join the queue awaiting the opening of the ticket office, and another to go the game itself. That, and the unusual kick-off time of 16:05 on a Sunday afforded the opportunity to observe at close quarters the strange propensity of the human race to get inolvd in traffic queues, although for once they were mostly heading in the opposite direction.
Nevertheless the ground was pretty full by kick-off, with only the Cowdenbeath end, aptly occupied by visiting fans, showing any degree of emptiness.
Jim Jefferies eschewed the chance to make major changes to the team that had drawn at Central Park in midweek, deciding to make just the one switch bringing in Shaun Byrne for Stephen Husband. Thus he stuck with the 5-3-2/ 3-5-2 that had had its moments of late, with Scully in goals, Williamson and Whittle as the two wing backs, the defensive trio of Martin, Young and Grainger, a midfield threesome of Byrne, Geggan and Falkingham, and El Bakhtaoui and Thomson in attack.
That meant places on the bench for Husband and Forbes, Morris and Page, Millen, Goodfellow, and Craig Dargo, demonstrating at once both the relative defensive and midfield riches available and the paucity of attacking options.
Pars connections in the visiting party were largely restricted to the bench, with Jimmy Nicholl and Lee Makel sharing the coaching duties, although Chris Kane featured on the bench, despite the gentleman`s agreement that he wouldn`t play. The front pairing of Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart would be the one to watch however.
The visitors kicked off, and within 30 seconds had the lead. It took all of 5 seconds for Falkingham to be penalised for an innocuous challenge on Robertson. The latter hit the free-kick long into the box, it was knocked down and Hemmings reacted sharply to stick the ball underneath Scully.
Dunfermline Athletic 0 Cowdenbeath 1
It was a shocker of a start, the only consolation being that, rather like the game against Forfar last year, there was plenty time to come back, although O’Brien tried his luck with a speculative shot a couple of minutes later as the Pars still looked rattled.
It was 100 mph stuff early on; a nice 1-2-3 between Falkingham and Williamson saw the Pars win their first corner, but the Pars were penalised for pushing when Grainger’s delivery came in.
Falkingham’s passing was a bit hit and miss, with Wedderburn easily reading one after a quarter of an hour as Cowden broke with a 2v2, but Martin managed to stop the Hemmings/Stewart double act from profiting. There was another heart in mouth moment a minute later when Hemmings seemed to get the better of Martin only to be tripped, but Martin had been fouled first.
Cowdenbeath continued to dominate – Grainger conceded a free-kick at the edge of the box following another break, although the defensive wall held firm on that occasion, before Young was booked for a very obvious shirt-pull.
The Pars had some brief respite, winning a corner, which Grainger hit too deep, before Falkingham set up El Bakhtaoui but the latter’s shot was off-target.
Byrne was having a poor game, and in 34 minutes he got caught in possession, again Hemmings and Stewart came forward, swapping passes and only a superb save from Scully denied Hemmings from scoring his second. It was Scully to the rescue again, a minute later, when he went full-stretch to push away a net-bound Brett shot after a free-kick had only been half-cleared.
It seemed that the visitors were getting all the breaks of the ball, and this suspicion was confirmed when a 45th minute stramash saw the ball fail to settle for the Pars players, and cannon off Young to be cleared. A late free-kick underlined the lack of Husband’s presence, although Grainger hit a fine effort through the wall, but a yard past the post.
So a very disappointing first half concluded, with the Pars fortunate to still be in the tie.
Half time: Pars 0 Blue Brazil 1 (1-2 on aggregate)
The Pars were out two minutes early for the second half with Forbes in place of Byrne – surely it was time for a big performance from the former Partick player. Geggan led his troops in a huddle, and the Pars were soon on the attack from the restart when Williamson won a corner.
However, that actually put more pressure on the home team, as a clearance left Hemmings challenging Whittle for the ball, although Alex held his nerve to deny his opponent a clear run on goal.