Dunfermline Athletic

Stirling Albion 1-1 Dunfermline

Author: Stuart Holland Date: Wednesday, 16th Mar 2011

On the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, Pars weren`t at the races, with Stirling`s rearguard action denying Dunfermline.

While the men in black and white had most of the ball, more chances and several decent attempts, this was a day when the favourites gave the bookies a hand by dropping what could yet prove to be a vital two points in the championship race.

With the early start, many fans would have missed the team news. Stirling were without the suspended Buist, but Stirling made Stirling`s bench despite carrying a knock (and that`s not a typo!). The visitors decided on an ambitious 4-1-3-2 formation with the same back four as Saturday, Gary Mason in the holding positon and Steven McDougall in the centre. Cardle and the recalled Graham played on the wings, with Hardie missing due to his heavy cold. Kirk and Trialist Graham Bayne reunited in the striking roles. Alex Burke stayed in the squad with a place on the bench alongside Buchanan, Clarke, Thomson and Paterson.

With this game starting before the Raith v Cowdenbeath game, Dunfermline looked to make an early statement of intent. The pitch looked in good condition, and the Pars built up nicely in front of a large travelling support. McCann and Cardle looked to link up early on but there were no takers for the first cross of the night. The referee also seemed bemused by the early start, looking at the wrong touchline for his linesman when an offside was signalled. He had to be on the ball a few minutes later though, as the first goal needed to be noted in his little black book. That it came so soon or that it was a Pars goal was no real shock. Graham`s cross was too deep but fell to Cardle. He manoeuvred the ball onto his right foot and drilled the ball into the box. Whether it was a shot or a cross is only something he will ever know, but Andy KIRK was waiting to pounce in true predator style to net from close range. Only four minutes had been played and the Pars were already looking good.

McCann was getting acres of space on the Pars left and a storming run from the captain set up the next chance. Despite outrunning the full-back though, Aussie`s
cross was poor and the chance was gone. Pars were still dominating possession but Stirling did have a few flurries forward themselves. Doyle did well to put in a low cross that was blocked while McHale had the first shot of the night for the home side, but his volley was off the side of his boot rather than the instep and the ball looped and spun to safety.

From that attack, Dunfermline countered. Chris Smith pinged a long ball forward for Joe Cardle to run on to but the ball was just too long. Perhaps on the muddy fields of the Falkirk Stadium it would have held up, but not tonight. The left side was still proving to be the avenue most likely to provide and again Cardle went past his man before laying it back to McCann. With no real right foot, the full-back`s cross was delayed and the Stirling back line were able to regroup and clear the ball to safety.

McDougall had seen plenty of the ball in a new central role and he was the next man to have a go. His rasping shot from the edge of the box looked goal-bound, but the Albion `keeper Christie managed to throw out a hand to divert the ball for a corner despite being on his way to ground. More threats were to come from the Pars and after a few miscued headers Kirk found himself near the bye line with the ball. He fired the ball low across goal but Bayne couldn`t get a good connection on the ball and it looped over for a goal kick.

Calum Woods was also looking to get in on the act, and after staying forward for a set piece, the right-back was picked out by a nice Davie Graham chip. The Liverpudlian could only divert the ball over though, despite stretching every muscle in his neck.

Stirling looked to get back into the game but Jim McIntyre had clearly instructed his players to press high up the pitch and the forward four made sure that Allison and Corrigan never had time to start a move. All too often the Albion men ran out of ideas, and the Pars won the ball back. From one piece of good pressure, a ball was chipped into the box. The Pars fans in the away stand rose to acclaim another goal from Kirk but somehow the Ulsterman`s header ended up just the wrong side of the post. Stirling weren`t giving up though, and after a nice run Brighton managed to fire in a shot that thankfully went well over the bar.

It was a warning to the visiting defence though, and one that should have set alarm bells ringing. This seemed to upset the Pars` rhythm and more and more passes became over-hit or wide of the target. The Pars fans were also a little frustrated, especially when referee Conroy waved away appeals for a handball. In truth there didn`t look to be much in it, but when the referee then appeared to miss another handball in the attacking third, the fans became more vocal in their condemnation of the ref`s abilities.

With both teams looking to get the vital second goal in the game, the match became more scrappy. The Pars defence didn`t look to clever at times but Stirling were offering so little as an attacking force that they perhaps felt they were able to get away with it. Slack tackling and poor positioning often get punished though, and it happened again here.

The chance seemed to have gone when the ball broke to the edge of the box, but Borris was given far too much time and space to turn before he managed to find the corner via the post. It really was poor from Dunfermline and after all the early possession must have same as a sucker punch. It galvanized Stirling though, and they started to look more confident on the ball. The right-back, Doyle, was managing to get forward more and McCann was lucky not to give
away a foul when hanging onto his arm. From the back-foot, Dunfermline sprung a counter-attack with three quick passes releasing Graham but the ball was cleared for yet another corner.

Stirling also had more of an attacking threat as the half wore on. Welsh in particular showed good skill to run along the edge of the box, but after clearing a few half-hearted challenges he shot over the bar. Their attacking edge was soon to be lost though, after an innoculous looking tangle in the middle of the park ended up with Michael Doyle being shown the red card. What started as a coming together in
the centre circle ended up with Cardle on the ground olding his ankle.

Although the Stirling man had a little flick at the ex-Airdrie winger, it looked a harsh decision and Joe was perhaps fortunate to escape without a booking for his part in the incident. It proved to be the last meaningful action in the first half as Stirling reorganised and the Pars tried to find a way through their defences.

Half time: Stirling 1, Dunfermline 1

Jocky Scott kept his former team waiting at the start of the second half, with the Pars out a good three minutes or so before their hosts. Stirling got the half under way but it was clear that the Pars were looking for a quick goal to the second half to match their flying start to the first 45. Cardle was getting the predictable boos from the home fans but managed to wriggle clear to put a ball into the box but there were no takers. McCann wasn`t getting as much room though, and the Pars players seemed to get frustrated by the lack of space. Passes started going astray and players found themselves unable to control simple balls. Graham and Woods in particular were forced to put their hands up after poor touches.

As if to force home the point, Kirk and McDougall got in each others way when going forward, losing momentum. Both were still trying to get forward though, with McDougall managing to fire in a shot that was blocked and Kirk sniffing out opportunities from knock downs and flick-ons. One scrap in particular should have yielded a Pars goal, but after Cardle`s free-kick was only partially cleared, no one in black and white was able to apply the final touch. A corner was the result of that attack but as was too often the case, the set play led to nothing.

It was clear that something had to be done, and the manager made a change. Bayne, who had struggled to have an impact on the game, went off with Pat Clarke coming on to try
and get on the end of something.

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