JIM Jefferies spent the match in the stand, serving a one-match ban.
Scorers: Dunfermline Athletic: Wallace (13); Airdrie United: Donnelly (4), (59); Di Giacamo (pen 82)
Given the decisions made at crucial moments in this match, he did well not to unleash the kind of attack on referee Euan Norris that could have led to a prolonged exile.
In the end it was his players who copped the flak after they turned a display that cost them top billing in the First Division and left neutral observers wondering how they had managed to scale such heights.
“They deserved some harsh words because it was a shocking performance,” said the East End Park gaffer, “and that was right from the start. When you see the defending at the first goal, we had a chance to clear it and didn’t, so we didn’t deserve anything, but having said that, at 2-1 I saw the biggest stonewall penalty I have seen in a long time and I was in shock – I couldn’t believe he didn’t give it.
The penalty shout came when they were 2-1 down and Marc Warren brought down Jordan McMillan in the area. Getting a goal then may have swung momentum in their favour but, instead, the referee ignored all the appeals.
Airdrie boss Jim Boyle, to his credit, did not dispute the legitimacy of that claim, but argued that it possibly cancelled out what he considered was another refereeing blunder when Norris had ignored what seemed an obvious trip on Chris O’Neil, in the 13th minute, in the build-up to Dunfermline’s only goal of the game. Alex Whittle got away with it and delivered the ball in for Ryan Wallace to restore parity.
“I was looking at it as well and it could have been, but what I would say is that I can’t get my head round their goal, I think he tripped our boy, but we got the result.”
It was a vital one as well. With First Division survival at stake, the club have upped the number of training nights to three and it paid off. With Dumbarton racking up another win, it was crucial to get all three points to keep them at arms length.
“I thought we were excellent and we took the game to them. We got what we deserved,” added Boyle.
While Airdrie have raised the ante, Dunfermline simply underperformed. “The urgency and the decision-making with some of our passing wasn’t there,” bemoaned Jefferies. “It was a bad day for us. In this league, when you’re up the top, you are never going to have an easy game because you are there to be shot at and Airdrie came and worked extremely hard. We put in a bad performance and they cashed in.”
In a league where so much is still being contested, this pair undoubtedly have very different ambitions. With 22 points between them at the start of the day, the surprise was that it was Airdrie who opened the scoring.
Despite their place at the top of the First Division, the home defence was looking far from confident and their guests were able to capitalise. With the kind of time in the box which understandably infuriated the Dunfermline manager, Ryan Donnelly was able to calmly find the net.
It was a shock for the home contingent, who had not suffered a loss to Airdrie at East End Park in seven years and who were firm favourites, going into the game on the back of two wins, whereas Airdrie had been struggling for points, let alone a win, the last one of those coming 12 games back, against fellow strugglers Dumbarton, in October.
That opening goal coincided with the fourth-minute applause in honour of Dunfermline record appearance holder Norrie McCathie, who died 17 years ago and memories of their former legend must simply have underlined the frailties of the men who are now charged with keeping things resolute at the back.
The defence was again second best when Airdrie swatted aside thoughts of Dunfermline overhauling them. Unfazed by the 13th-minute equaliser, they came back out for the second half still focused on victory and in the 59th minute they showed some good skill in a well-worked move which saw Billy McLaren play the ball through to Donnelly for his second clinical left-footed finish of the game.
The results was sewn up after Norris, having ignored Dunfermline’s penalty shouts at one end, presented substitute Paul Di Giacamo with a shot from the spot after Calum Morris pulled down Jamie Bain. Di Giacamo made no mistake.
Dunfermline Athletic: Gallacher, McMillan, Dowie, Morris, Jordan, Thomson, Husband, Geggan (Cardle 62), Whittle (Dargo 78), Barrowman (Kirk 37), Wallace. Subs not used: Hrivnak, Kane.
Airdrie United: Adam, O’Neil, Gregor Buchanan, Lamie, Warren, Bain (Arthur 89), Liam Watt, Davidson, McLaren, John Boyle (Di Giacomo 60), Donnelly (Barclay 83). Subs not used: Drummond, McKenna.
Referee: E Norris. Attendance: 2,823.