The play-off places at either end of the Championship table were uppermost in both these sides’ minds going into this game and a majestic first-half strike by Joe Cardle was enough to ensure it was Dunfermline whose hopes of being in the mix for the head to heads for promotion that were reinforced.
It was hard not to feel some sympathy for the hosts, who put in a real shift to get something out of the game but a chronic inability to find the back of the net – Stevie Aitken’s men have scored a meagre 15 league goals so far this campaign – cost them dearly yet again and they face a fight to avoid the relegation play-off spot.
After a late autumn slump in which they went seven games without a win, Allan Johnston’s side appear to be back on track having collected a maximum return from their last three fixtures. “It’s a good three points,” enthused the Dunfermline manager, “I thought we started really well and we scored a goal worthy of winning any game. But fair credit to Dumbarton, they came back at us in the second half and put us under a lot of pressure – it was good to grind out the result.”
During an opening 45 minutes in which the Fifers held the upper hand in terms of chances it took one moment of genuine class by Cardle to separate the sides.
Whereas much of the constructive play by both sets of players was undone by over-ambitious final balls, the experienced winger took matters into his own hands, collecting a through ball from Dean Shiels and then executing a fine shot on the turn which looped over Sons goalkeeper Scott Gallagher and into the net.
The hosts, as has been typical of their campaign to date, generally held their own but their Achilles heel, a lack of decisive finishing, surfaced yet again after a telling cross from Liam Dick was headed wide of the target by David Wilson from only six yards out.
Dumbarton manager Stevie Aitken sought to improve his side’s attacking options by bringing on Christian Nade at the interval and the much-travelled Frenchman certainly brought a presence to the Sons front line that had previously been lacking.
It nearly paid dividends as the veteran striker got on the end of a Tom Walsh cross, but his powerful header lacked the accuracy to trouble Lee Robinson in the visitors’ goal.
With both sides compressing the midfield it became something of a battle of attrition with little in the way of subtlety on display.
The tide of possession turned the home side’s way but although they worked tirelessly the better chances still materialised at the other end. Cardle sent over a swinging cross that landed at the feet of Shiels, who showed no sign of being affected by the abuse he received during his side’s game with Falkirk in midweek, and was unlucky on this occasion to see his shot deflected just over the crossbar by an outstretched opponent’s leg.
Jean Yves M’Voto also went close with a header and an Andy Ryan shot skimmed the post for the visitors, but as the game entered its closing stages they became visibly nervous as they sought to hold on to their narrow advantage.
Nade found himself in the clear for once but could only hit a curling shot tamely towards Robinson and full-back David Smith was unable to make anything of two late openings for the part-timers.
“It was a cheap goal for us to concede and we weren’t up to our usual standards in the first half,” reflected Aitken. “We dug in deep in the second half to try to get an equaliser but it just wasn’t to be. It was all one-way traffic – we just couldn’t find that goal.”