THERE was a glimmer of light, said Dunfermline manager Jim Jefferies, after watching the ludicrous loss that condemned the troubled Fife club to the First Division play-offs.
Scorers: Dunfermline: Thomson (58); Airdrie United: Coogans (46), McLaren (61)
“Maybe the only man who will be happy will be the administrator with the possibility of a couple of good home gates,” said Jefferies, attempting a grin through gritted teeth.
Maybe. But so bedevilled have the East End Park club appeared these recent months, the portents wouldn’t exactly point to them being able to push past Forfar, who they will travel to face on Wednesday’s semi-final first leg before Saturday, and then either Alloa or Brechin. Jefferies admitted his young team face tough matches, the first on “Astroturf, which is never easy”. “We have spent a bit of time training on it recently, mind, and we are a good passing team.”
What the last couple of weeks have shown, however, is that his team aren’t a good chance-taking side, one of many rueful elements in an agonising period that refuses to come to an end. He cursed the “unbelievable” number of opportunities his team missed against already-relegated Aidrie United; cursed the unfairness of referee Willie Collum’s five-and-a-half added minutes the previous week that allowed Partick Thistle to equalise and deny Dunfermline a safety-securing win, and cursed the Scottish Football League for docking the club an “unfair” 15 points on going into administration that allowed Cowndenbeath to leapfrog them at the foot of the First Division, courtesy of a win over Hamilton that Jefferies magnanimously congratulated them over.
Their efforts wouldn’t have mattered were it not for “15 points hard-earned” being wiped to create an innocent set of victims, in his eyes. “It is always the players who suffer,” he said. “Clubs put them in these situations and the people who run the clubs should have the sanctions against them. I don’t understand why they can’t do that.”
Jefferies and his team – as with the home crowd, who numbered all but a handful of the 4,624 attendance and supported nervously but, admirably, unwaveringly – could not understand how Dunfermline could contrive to lose after laying siege to the visitors’ goal for such long periods. “It was like shooting in at times in the first half: we should have won by four or five and Ryan Wallace himself could have had five goals,” Jefferies bemoaned.
Josh Falkingham hit the upright, Ryan Thomson had an effort off the bar and missed an open goal, and Wallace was twice through on keeper Kenny Arthur without fashioning an end product in a one-sided first period. Then, 52 seconds into the second half, Liam Coogans netted with an angled drive following hesitation in the home side’s penalty box.
Thomson equalised 13 minutes later, after holding off his marker and waiting and waiting before finding the target with a shot Arthur could not block despite contact – only for Billy McLaren to come on in the 60th minute and seconds later let fly from fully 30 yards to bag the winner with his first intervention. “He wasn’t trying to find someone else with a pass,” Jefferies lamented, by way of contrast with his too-many-touches, always-the-wrong-option approach of his team. “He just wanted to put his foot through it and bury it – we never seemed to want to do that.”
This is the course of action he felt Wallace should have taken instead of rounding Arthur and going down as he did in a moment that had the home side squealing for a penalty. Referee Craig Thomson was having none of it, and the only fury that flowed from the stands as the day went belly up was towards the official. Jefferies and his team, six of whom had played in the Youth Cup final loss to Celtic in midweek, were spared, with the fans ending the day with chants of “Dunfermline till I die”.
The club, who may now earn enough in gate receipts over the next fortnight to cover the difficult close season period – by the end the intention is to obtain a Company Voluntary Arrangement – could live or die on their ability to avoid a drop to the Second Division. That task will rest on many young shoulders, on players who have taken a few dunts and must be down following recent events. Jefferies has a job to pick them up. “They will just have to handle it,” he said in response to how they might cope. “They just have to show character. It is not doom and gloom here. We played well enough today.” But, crucially, lost in the process.