There are remarkable turnarounds and then there is Dunfermline’s transformation from hovering on the brink of a relegation struggle to promotion play-off contenders in the space of three weeks. Four wins – and four clean sheets – on the trot and suddenly it’s all come good for Stevie Crawford’s side. It’s a case study in fine margins as well as the fierce competitiveness of the Championship from top to bottom.
Ryan Blair’s second-half strike was the difference between the two teams, but if everything radiates with the feelgood factor at East End Park right now, Queen of the South represent the flipside of the fairytale. In roughly the same time frame they’ve fallen through the floor – it wasn’t so long ago they were putting four past Ross County, now they’re looking anxiously over their shoulders at the teams beneath them in the league basement. This reverse was their sixth straight defeat.
Little wonder then it was polar opposites when it came to either camp’s view of this edgy and slow burner of an encounter. All the contentment naturally lay with the hosts. “The boys have got something about them right now, there’s a belief that they’re not going to concede any goals,” reflected Crawford.
“If you had said a couple of weeks ago that we were going to go four games unbeaten against the opposition we were coming up against, we’d have bitten your hand off. Today, the energy and the commitment they’ve put into it was an absolute credit to themselves. I made a point of saying that we could get into the play-off spots before the game, so they played with a bit of pressure on them, but they can have a good weekend now.”
For all the significance of the outcome, this was not a 90 minutes that will live in the memory for long. Blowy conditions mixed with squally showers didn’t help, but right from the start this was a contest between two sides who appeared absolutely bursting with commitment and almost bereft of inspiration. The visitors did show a degree of adventure which belied their recent wretched run of results but they scarcely mustered a shot on target.
Credit has to go to Dunfermline’s new-found defensive solidity for their part in keeping Queens at bay but at the other end of the field they were not exactly peppering Alan Martin’s goal with pot shots either. Kallum Higginbotham did make a dangerous-looking first time connection in the six-yard box but his volley was straight at the Queen’s goalkeeper. Blair then came as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock before the interval with a majestically struck free kick which tested Martin’s reflexes and agility to the full.
After the break however there was a notable change of gear from the Fifers and they turned up the pressure on the visitors, whose brittle defensive cohesion began to splinter. Clearances became more desperate and unconvincing, but eventually their concentration fatally lapsed. Blair had far too much time and space to manoeuvre himself into position and he picked out the far corner of the net with a low angled shot to give the hosts a hard-earned breakthrough.
It would have been easy for the Queens players to gone down with that sinking feeling, but to give them their due they had their best spell of the game as they made a genuine push to secure an equaliser. Lynton Dykes saw a shot cleared off the line, Andrew Stirling shot over with a clear view of goal and then in the dying moments Kyle Jacobs’ header was grasped by the grateful Ryan Scully just as it seemed it would creep over the line.
“It’s very fine margins just now – we’ve lost our last four games by one goal,” observed Queens’ manager Gary Naysmith. “We’re in a little bit of sticky situation right now, but as long as the players keep together like that, I’m sure we’ll be fine.”