Dunfermline Athletic 6 Forfar Athletic 1 (7 - 4 on aggregate)Author: Alistair Campbell Date: Sunday, 12th May 2013
This was one of the most astonishing games ever seen at East End Park. Trailing from the first leg, the Pars went further behind when Iain Campbell scored direct from a corner, before missing a penalty. However, with the visitors being reduced to first 10 then 9 and finally 8 men, the Pars slowly pulled back the arrears through an own-goal, a Thomson strike, then a brave Millen penalty which took the match to extra time. There could only be one winner thereafter, and the Pars overwhelmed their short-handed guests with goals from Smith and a double from Husband.
It’s strange how footballing fortunes change. Back in the 70s, when the Pars were in mid-decline, Forfar were twice the worst senior team in Scotland. Scroll forward a handful of years and by the start of the first Leishman era Forfar would be considered favourites in any match between the clubs as they enjoyed relative success which included a couple of cup semi final outings and coming within a couple of points of Premier Division status.
This season, and in these circumstances, it was hard to pick a favourite for this tie. Although nominally the side from the higher division, the Pars had lost twice already to the Loons this season, and by all accounts had been given quite a hiding at Station Park in midweek. However, such is the inconsistency of young teams that hope sprang eternal for the second leg, despite the Pars’ frankly abysmal home form. A couple of changes were made to the Pars team – one was a bit of a gamble with Ryan Wallace starting on the left of midfield in place of Shaun Byrne who dropped to the bench; the other was Ross Millen coming in at right back allowing Andy Geggan back into midfield in place of Kane. However, John Potter had dusted himself down from a difficult evening and he retained his position alongside Kerr Young at centre-back where his experience could prove valuable. With Hrivnak in goals, Whittle at left back and Husband and Falkingham in midfield, Thomson and Smith completed the line-up. As well as Byrne and Kane, Dargo, El Bakhtaoui and Goodfellow were the options for change.
The visitors went with the same team, including 3 ex-Pars – beanpole striker Chris Templeman, defender Mark McCulloch, and left-back Iain Campbell – and had the Campbell twins in the dug-out.
With many people having expected the season to be over at this point, there was still a decent crowd out on a slightly chilly day for this unexpected fixture, and the visitors kicked off in their orange strip, defending the Cowdenbeath end. There were immediate concerns when Wallace went down within 15 seconds, but there seemed no further damage to his dislocated shoulder and play continued. As ever, the Pars wanted a positive start, but contrived to lose a needless goal in 6 minutes. Thomson allowed the ball to run out for what he assumed would be a Dunfermline bye-kick, only for a corner to be awarded. Iain Campbell, chiefly remembered from his time at East End Park for his ability with a dead-ball and for being erroneously suspended in the run up to the 2006 League Cup final, took the kick and incredibly bent the ball into the net at the near post. 1-0 Forfar.
Dunfermline’s day was soon to get worse as within 5 minutes Wallace was on the deck, and this time he was hurt – his shoulder had taken another knock and he was replaced by Dargo. The substitute was soon on the ball and his heavy first touch drew a foul 24 yards from goal. Ideal Stephen Husband territory one might have thought, but the midfielder crashed his shot off the wall, and when the ball was returned to him he stepped inside and dragged a left-footed shot wide. However, a minute later, the Pars had a golden chance to get back in the tie: a Young punt up the park was flicked on to Smith and he took the ball past the keeper before being upended by McCulloch. A penalty, and a red card. The former Par had played a brief part in that 5-2 win at Stark’s (being hooked early) but there was no thought at this stage that his similarly fleeting appearance would be in a game that would also go down in Pars folk-lore as he took an absolute age to trudge off towards the tunnel. Husband hasn’t been the most convincing from the spot this season, despite several successes, and this time, after respotting the ball, he placed his kick wide of the keeper’s right hand post.
The visitors were no shrinking violets in the tackle – Templeman was booked for being late on Falkingham, and not long after first Geggan and then Smith were flattened by the corner flag. Millen chipped the free-kick in, it came of a defender’s head and with the ball seemingly over the goal-line keeper Hill clawed the ball away and no goal was given.
Forfar continued to ride their luck, Smith being denied by a point blank save on the half-hour before the Pars nearly conceded a second – a poor Husband pass being intercepted by Swankie who took the ball outside Potter before forcing Hrivnak into saving at his near post.
However, the Pars finally got a goal back – Hrivnak playing the ball out from the back to Falkingham, he freed Smith who hit the bye-line and somehow Dunlop turned Allan’s cross past his own keeper. 1-1 , and game on.
Having got one, the pressure was lifted a tad, and the Pars should really have scored again – first Bolochoweckyj missed a diagonal ball only for Hill to save well from Dargo, and then right on half-time the keeper again came to Forfar’s rescue, grabbing the ball off Thomson’s toe as the converted striker tried to take the ball round him and give himself an open goal.
However, the Pars still trailed by 2 goals on aggregate at the break, but there was the feeling that the pendulum had swung in their direction.
Half time: Pars 1 Loons 1 (2-4 on aggregate).
The Pars were out early for the second half, but understandably were kept waiting by Forfar, who had no need to play ball. Once play got under way, both teams’ tactics seemed to have changed. Forfar were content to sit back and hit on the break or from set-pieces, whereas the Pars were trying to get the ball wide. To this end Husband was seeing a lot of the ball, collecting it just in front of Potter and Young and either trying to spread it left to Whittle and Dargo, or right to Millen and Smith, but his touch was poor and it was the visitors who nearly scored the next goal, Malin sending in a free-kick which appeared to rebound of the post, Hrivnak and Swankie in quick succession.
That was close, but the next key moment saw Forfar reduced to 9 men – it looked like a 50-50 ball but Dunlop was just second to it after Whittle, and he was a bit reckless. Nevertheless, it was a surprise to see another red card, although perhaps since it was Stevie O’Reilly refereeing, not so much.
That gave the Pars a huge advantage, but they were still trailed by two goals which was what mattered (and older fans may recall the humiliation of losing 3-0 to 9 man Dumbarton in the early 80s). Dargo got the ball in a dangerous area a couple of times, the first time he fed Husband who completely missed his kick, the second time he hit straight at the keeper. However with half an hour to play, the Pars got one back. Geggan chased the ball down in the middle of the park, the ball broke to Smith and he surged forward before slipping in Thomson and his cross shot found the far corner. 2-1 (and 3-4).
The Pars have been vulnerable to conceding soon after scoring themselves, and only a well-timed Potter tackle stopped Sellars making an immediate impact as substitute soon after. It was mostly the Pars however, with Templeman dropping back to centre-half, and first Dargo, with a weak shot, and then Geggan tried to find the equaliser. The Pars had free-kicks aplenty, but not in dangerous areas, Millen launching ball after ball into the Forfar box to no great effect, other than to leave the home team vulnerable as they threw men forward. With 15 minutes left, that was almost to prove the Pars’ undoing as Forfar broke through Swankie and he knew he had the beating of Potter for pace, but Hrivnak saved well, and then again when the ball broke back to the Forfar forward.
We were now into the last 10 minutes and the Pars got another big break – Dargo’s flick in the box hitting a hand, and once more Mr O’Reilly awarded a spot kick. This time Millen took responsibility after the inevitable delay, and with John Potter barely able to look, his young team mate beat Hill to his left. All square, and there was more drama to come as Iain Campbell, booked for his reaction to the award of the kick, wouldn’t let it lie and was given a second yellow, nearly coming to blows with his skipper in the process.