DUNFERMLINE must play the role of comeback kings once more if they are to retain their First Division status.
Scorers: Tiffoney 27, Elliot 45, Moon 90
Referee: S McLean
Jim Jefferies’ team again have it all to do after first-half goals by Jonathan Tiffoney and Calum Elliot, supplemented by a late strike by Kevin Moon, handed Alloa the initiative in this enjoyable play-off final tie played in the shadow of the Ochils.
Once again Dunfermline have given themselves a mountain to climb, and while they scaled it last week against Forfar Athletic, the performance by Alloa last night, shot through as it was with determination and vigour, did not contain much on which to base the hope that they will easily surrender this advantage. It might have been a yet more emphatic lead had Dunfermline goalkeeper Michal Hrivnak not helped make up for a shaky first-half performance by saving Elliot’s 87th minute penalty. Kevin Moon added a third goal in the 90th minute, and it could well have sealed the tie for Paul Hartley’s side.
A ten-minute delay to kick-off, fans queueing down the street and intermittent squalls of rain amid the late evening sunshine helped lend this fixture an even more portentous feel. Those neutrals who had foregone watching the Europa Cup final on television were treated to a lively encounter, and included in the ingredients was a nervy performance by Hrivnak. He looked to be culpable for both of Alloa’s first-half goals, although Tiffoney and Elliot need to be applauded for trying their luck with two speculative efforts.
Alloa will be acutely aware of Dunfermline’s form for overturning first-leg reversals, although this could be a bridge too far for Jefferies’ inexperienced side, who managed to recover from a 3-1 deficit last week against Forfar Athletic.
Never mind Chelsea against Benfica, the television cameras were here too – for BBC Alba, as the hosts were given the live television treatment for the first ever time. Forget the Amsterdam ArenA, welcome to the Alloa ArenA.
The home team certainly seemed the more motivated in the early stages, although when they did go ahead, it was against the run of play. But no-one could take anything away from the quality of build-up. Patient play down the left by Elliot and Meggatt saw the ball transferred into midfield, where Graeme Holmes elected to spread the play wide to the right. When Jonathan Tiffoney picked up the ball, few expected him to shoot. Dunfermline ’keeper Hrivnak certainly looked surprised when his right-footed effort skipped by him into the net. It was true that the ball had bounced awkwardly in front of the ’keeper, but the number of times he shook his head in the minutes afterwards suggested that he knew he was at fault.
Dunfermline have turned going behind into an art form in these play-off encounters – this was the third time in seven days that they had conceded the first goal, although in the first two instances it did not prove ruinous to their hopes. With such a young team, however, Jefferies knows he cannot count on their ability to respond to setbacks on a consistent basis, and so he was as horrified as any Dunfermline supporter when the visitors slipped further behind in first-half injury time.
It was especially wounding to have to accept that Dunfermline lost a goal after one of their own attacks. When it broke down Alloa were quick to take advantage, with Kevin Cawley responding to the shouts of his team-mates to play a reverse ball inside to McCord, who was allowed to run for some distance towards the box. Holmes had made an intelligent run into the box, and McCord appeared to take the wrong option when feeding the ball to Elliot on the left. However, the former Hearts striker didn’t think twice as he swung his boot at the ball and saw his shot arc over the ’keeper, who, sadly, once again looked very unimpressive.
There was a renewed purpose about Dunfermline in the opening minutes of the second half, but again they looked susceptible to Alloa breakaways, and they almost conceded again soon after the interval when Cawley was allowed to advance on goal. His effort was not as powerful as he would have liked, and finally Hrivnak got his hands to the ball, having let Alloa’s only other two shots go past him into the net.
The home side should have sealed the game, and possibly the tie, after 55 minutes, but Tiffoney’s cross from the right had no takers, when all it needed was a touch to turn the intelligent pass into a goal. John Potter’s clumsy challenge on Elliot handed the striker the chance to give Alloa a three-goal lead, but his penalty was well saved by Hrivnak, who dived to his right.
But Moon’s late strike, placed into the corner of the goal from a tight angle, meant the referee’s full-time whistle could barely be heard amid the cheers of the home supporters.
Alloa Athletic: Bain, Tiffoney (Docherty 71), Doyle, Gordon, Meggatt, Moon, McCord (Young 60), Simmons, Holmes, Elliot,Cawley. Subs Not Used: McDowall, Grehan, Ferns.
Dunfermline: Hrivnak, Millen, Young, Potter, Whittle, Byrne, Husband, Falkingham, Thomson, Smith (El Bakhtaoui 82), Dargo (Drummond 63). Subs Not Used: Goodfellow, Martin, Spence