Championship football remains within tantalising touching distance for both Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline after they fought out a 1-1 draw in last night’s play-off final first leg.
Scorers: Cowdenbeath - O’Brien (83); Dunfermline - Geggan (77)
Blue Brazil defender Thomas O’Brien headed home an 83rd minute leveller to nullify the goal that Pars captain Andy Geggan had scored just six minutes earlier.
It was an exciting end to a tie that drew a large crowd but offered little in the way of entertainment for large spells.
The focus now turns to Sunday’s second leg at East End Park where it will be winner takes all.
Following their respective successes against Ayr United and Stranraer at the semi-final stage, neither Cowdenbeath nor Dunfermline made any alterations to their starting line-ups.
More than 2,500 Pars fans crammed into the ground for the latest instalment of Fife’s oldest derby and the visiting players showed their support for team-mate Jordan Moore, who is fighting skin cancer, during the warm-up by wearing T-shirts with the on-loan Dundee United striker’s name emblazoned on them.
If the recent form guide was anything to go by, Dunfermline should have made the short journey along the A92 in confident mood, the East End Park Park outfit having won ten of the clubs’ last 11 meetings – including last July’s League Cup tie.
An uneven pitch meant this tie was never going to be for the purists but Cowdenbeath tried to make the most of their height advantage by getting the ball into the area at every opportunity.
The long throw of on-loan Kilmarnock defender Rory McKeown was one such weapon in the hosts’ armoury. Dunfermline goalkeeper Ryan Scully could only punch the ball into the ruck of bodies that occupied his box from a throw after seven minutes, but Cowdenbeath captain John Armstrong scuffed his half volley.
The stakes were high as both teams looked to lay the foundations for their participation in next season’s Championship.
Pars manager Jim Jefferies earned a talking-to from referee Stephen Finnie in the tenth minute after the experienced coach made his views clear on the official’s decision to have a word in Josh Falkingham’s ear over a robust aerial challenge.
Chances were at a premium during a tense start and Cowdenbeath defender Darren Brownlie headed over a McKeown corner when he should have at least found the target.
There was little for the sizeable travelling support to get excited about during the opening half-hour as their team struggled to adapt to the surface.
After 34 minutes, a deep Ryan Williamson cross found Ryan Thomson but the forward, under pressure from goalkeeper Thomas Flynn, headed wide from close range.
Pars midfielder Falkingham was then bailed out by team-mate Danny Grainger after his attempted passback was cut out by Greg Stewart. The left-back read the danger and forced the forward into a foul.
At the other end, Dunfermline striker Faissal El Bakhtaoui was found in the box by Geggan moments later but the French-Moroccan lashed his effort wide from a tight angle.
Cowdenbeath should have gone in at the break ahead after Kane Hemmings raced clear of Alex Whittle following Armstrong’s clearance from a Pars corner, but Scully spread himself to repel the Scotland PFA Championship Player of the Year’s effort.
Kerr Young became the fourth player to be booked in the game when he tripped Hemmings seconds after the restart, but McKeown could only find the side-netting with the free-kick.
With Dunfermline needing extra time on Saturday to see off Stranraer, it was no surprise to see Jefferies turn to the bench in the second half to add fresh legs to his side, with Allan Smith and Ross Forbes both coming on.
The game became more stretched in the second half as both sides chased that elusive opening goal, but the quality of football on show remained poor.
That breakthrough finally came in the 77th minute and it was no surprise it was from a deal-ball situation.
Grainger’s long throw made its way to the back post and Geggan rose high to force a header home and send the away support into raptures.
But that lead lasted just six minutes and, from another McKeown long-throw, O’Brien was afforded space to head in from close range.
Cowdenbeath: Flynn, Brownlie, Armstrong, Wedderburn, Brett, Robertson, O’Brien, Milne, McKeown, Hemmings, G Stewart. Subs not used: Adamson, Stevenson, Morton, Gold, Usai, Miller, Kane.
Dunfermline: Scully, Martin, Young, Grainger, Williamson, Geggan, Husband (Forbes 63), Falkingham, Whittle, El Bakhtaoui (Smith 59), Thomson (Morris 82). Subs not used: Page, Byrne, Goodfellow, Millen.