Penalties are proving mightily significant as Dunfermline struggle for survival on and off the park. It was an SFL one that ensured they would see out the season battling against relegation, but it was another from Stephen Husband against Cowdenbeath yesterday that may just have ensured they at least win their on-field fight.
Scorer: Dunfermline Athletic - Husband 67
A crucial three points lifts the Pars above their local rivals on goal difference and leaves them requiring wins in their remaining two games of a troubled campaign to secure their First Division survival.
“The key before the game was if we could win, we’ve got the better goal difference, so it will be in our hands,” said manager Jim Jefferies. “It’s not done and dusted, it will be the team that does better in the last two games. We’ll be trying to win them both.”
The last time these Fife foes came together, only Cowdenbeath had the threat of relegation hanging over them, while Dunfermline were still dreaming of keeping themselves in the promotion race.
However, these are changed days at East End Park. Financial difficulties had already knocked the stuffing out of the team on the pitch but administration has left the Pars with an even more fundamental battle on their hands. The SFL’s decision to dock them 15 points turned this encounter into a relegation dogfight that started with Cowdenbeath three points to the good.
Dropping down to the Second Division could prove catastrophic in administrator Bryan Jackson’s attempts to avoid liquidation, but kick-off came amidst the kind of passion that will be required to pull Dunfermline through, even if the official attendance of 4,879 fell short of the 5,000 figure the administrators had called for.
Arguably just as important as this victory to the stricken club was the response of the fans who rallied round their favourites in their hour of need and provided the kind of spirited and fervent backing – as well as finances – that will be needed on and off the park in the coming weeks. “The crowd were fantastic again,” added Jefferies. “The atmosphere they created was like a 12th man for us.”
Multiple job losses and injuries have left Jefferies with a team with an average age of just 21 being relied upon to secure First Division safety.
Yet, spurred on here by the redoubtable performances of defender Calum Morris, goal-scorer Husband and fellow midfielder Josh Falkingham, Dunfermline deserved the slice of luck they got with the penalty that led to the crucial goal.
“We’ve got to the position now where this was a massive game, for obvious reasons,” said Jefferies. “All you can ask with a young team like this is they give their all and give it their best shot, and they did that. This has been a big ask for these young boys and they deserve a lot of credit.”
A fourth-minute goalmouth scramble as frenetic and passionate as the crowd in the stands finished with auxiliary striker Ryan Thomson poking the loose ball over the line from close range – only to be denied by the flag of the stand-side linesman, who failed to spot a Cowdenbeath defender on the line.
Husband, back after suspension, whistled a free-kick just wide four minutes later and Thomson brought out a fantastic save from Cowdenbeath keeper Thomas Flynn, who began the second half by denying Alan Smith in a one-on-one tussle. The Blue Brazil were not without their moments, but the goal Dunfermline so desperately needed finally came in the 67th minute.
Substitute Kyle Miller was caught cold just three minutes after replacing player-manager Colin Cameron and needlessly tripped Smith in the area to allow Husband to gleefully drill in from the spot for a crucial three points.
“I like that type of pressure,” insisted Husband afterwards. “It’s only ours to throw away now, but we’ve still got two cup finals.”
Cowdenbeath are now under immense pressure of their own after dropping into the relegation play-off spot but manager Cameron insisted his side merited more.
“I don’t think either team deserved to win it,” he said. “It was a battle and it’s ended up coming down to a mistake from us that’s cost us the points.”