IT WASN’T emphatic and the home side will argue it probably wasn’t even deserved, but as Aberdeen can testify after the start to their league campaign, you have to score goals to win games.
Dunfermline 0 Aberdeen 1 (Vernon 90)
Dunfermline had threatened to do so throughout the match without following through on that promise, and, with the game into the final minute of the three minutes of stoppage time, Scott Vernon popped up to see Aberdeen through to the next round by the skin of their teeth.
Knock-out competitions have rarely been kind to the Pittodrie club in recent years and lower league opposition have become au fait with inflicting the damage. Last season, East Fife cast them adrift in the Scottish Communities League Cup, and, in facing another Fife team, everyone knew the prospect of another upset was a very real one.
The East End Park side have been forced to regroup after a testing and ultimately unsuccessful season in the SPL. The uncertainty over where they would begin this campaign, due to Rangers’ plight, was a massive hindrance, but, back in the second tier, their fortunes have improved. They are playing with more freedom and the self-belief, eroded by so many defeats last term, has been bolstered, in the stands and on the pitch. It all combined to ensure they would not be willing to offer Craig Brown’s men easy passage.
The Pars welcomed Josh Falkingham back into the starting line-up. A bundle of energy and invention, he was a source of
irritation to the visitors as he patrolled across the width of the pitch, competing well, while also making darting runs just behind the main strikeforce of Ryan Wallace and Andy Barrowman, themselves proving a handful for the SPL rearguard.
In fact, the travelling defence were having a pretty uncomfortable evening as the pace, movement and desire of Jim Jefferies’ men saw them piecing together some telling attacks in the opening stages, their width and willingness to work the ball across the park at a decent tempo catching their loftier rivals on several occasions.
Every now and then they were saved by the assistant referee’s flag, but the real truth is that had Dunfermline been more clinical, even a tad luckier, they could have had a comforting advantage by halftime, having commanded most of the chances and a massive say in proceedings.
Chopping and changing line-ups has proved costly to a few managers in this tournament already. Despite that, and despite a decent result and three goals in the league on Saturday, Craig Brown opted to make five switches.
His men looked unsettled by the spirited start by their hosts and the attacking verve, with Joe Cardle, in particular, a player intent on finding a way through to goal, whenever he took possession. Yet the first opportunity had fallen to Aberdeen and had they taken that, things could have been different, but Niall McGinn’s effort, in the opening few minutes, was blocked by Callum Morris. It was the last time they would worry Paul Gallacher for a long time.
At the other end, Jamie Langfield was the more anxious, and, just seconds after that McGinn chance, Dunfermline almost reaped the reward of a quick break. Andy Geggan played the ball in and Barrowman dummied, leaving Stephen Husband to have the final shot, but he couldn’t find the net.
Andy Considine then had to make a crucial tackle on Falkingham to deny the wee midfielder. But Dunfermline remained focused on finding a way through. In the 12th minute, Cardle forced a jittery clearance from Mark Reynolds, his header squeaking just wide and into the side-
netting of his own goal.
In the 22nd minute, as Dunfermline pressed forward yet again, Wallace pounced on a loose ball in the box, but his shot on the turn zipped across the face of Langfield’s goal and just wide of the far post.
Varying their approach, Dunfermline then tried a long ball over the top, but bursting into the space between Considine and Langfield, Barrowman just failed to get a toe to the ball as the goalkeeper gathered.
Aberdeen were not completely tethered in their own half, but when Gavin Rae had an attempt it was insipid. The veteran was far more decisive when he clattered Falkingham right on the edge of the Aberdeen box. The yellow card summed up Aberdeen’s frustration.
But for all Dunfermline’s liveliness, they couldn’t find the net as Barrowman was denied by the post.
McGinn had the chance to steal the lead before the interval, but while his pace took him through one on one with Gallacher, his finishing was wild.
McGinn and Hayes tried to link up just into the second half, but, as has been the case for much of the season, finishing was not a strong point.
Cardle then curled a lovely strike, but it was inches wide of Langfield’s post.
The goalkeeper had to play a more critical role when the same player tried another wicked strike from distance, leaping to get a touch to it and divert it away from his net.
Brown was now juggling his personnel in the hope that could spark an improvement in
The experienced Russell Anderson and Stephen Hughes helped, and Scott Vernon provided a greater goal threat as they tried to rob Dunfermline of a victory they had certainly staked a greater claim to.
In the end, they did what they needed to and, as extra-time threatened, Rae played in McGinn and his ball from the byeline allowed Vernon to grab the close-range winner.
Dunfermline: Gallacher, McMillan, Dowie, Morris, Jordan, Cardle, Geggan (Kirk 87), Husband, Falkingham (Thomson 80), Barrowman, Wallace. Subs not used: Hrivnak, Whittle, Potter.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Magennis (Anderson 67), Reynolds, Considine, Robertson (Hughes 75), Osbourne, Rae, Clark, McGinn, Hayes (Vernon 61), Smith. Subs Not Used: Jason Brown, Jack.