The standing ovation afforded to Kallum Higginbotham in the closing stages of this top-of-the-table encounter succinctly summed up Dunfermline’s victory. It was comprehensive, it was raucous and it was richly deserved.
The Pars had relinquished their place at the summit of the Championship seven days previously, with St Mirren assuming top spot, but wasted no time in turning the tables again. Higginbotham was at the heart of their success, with a hand in all three strikes, to take Allan Johnston’s side’s tally to an incredible 24 goals in just six home matches.
Declan McManus swept in the opener in the 20th minute and, after near constant pressure, the lead was doubled on the stroke of half-time when substitute David Hopkirk curled in a superb second. When captain Callum Morris stabbed in a third ten minutes after half-time there was no way back for the visitors, whose misery was compounded with late red cards for defenders Adam Eckersley and Gregor Buchanan.
“The sign of a great team is how you bounce back,” said Higginbotham. “We bounced back really well from the Rangers defeat [in the Betfred Cup] and we’ve done it again after what happened at Morton with a superb performance against the league leaders.
“It puts us back on top but we’re not going to get carried away. It’s all about getting consistency, which will hopefully see us pull away from the rest of the teams.”
Higginbotham and his team-mates may be keen to keep their feet on the ground but the way the Dunfermline supporters greeted this victory betrayed their growing belief that this could be their season. Falkirk and Inverness Caley Thistle may have begun the campaign more fancied for the title but have already been swatted aside at East End Park. It is early in the season but now St Mirren’s mounting confidence has been dented.
When Higginbotham determinedly headed on a diagonal pass from Nat Wedderburn, McManus reacted smartly to tame the ball with his chest and spear in a calm finish to earn the Pars the breakthrough. Hopkirk, a replacement for on-form Joe Cardle, who hobbled off worryingly with a hamstring injury, should have added a second on the break but did double Dunfermline’s advantage with seconds remaining in the half.
Ryan Williamson, who menaced St Mirren throughout the 90 minutes with his exhilarating attacking from full-back, again cantered forward and brilliantly picked out Hopkirk, who curled in a superb shot from the edge of the area.
St Mirren could have spread nerves in the home ranks had they scored next but, instead, continued to be the architects of their downfall. Ian McShane swiped at, and missed, Higginbotham’s low corner in the 56th minute and Morris gleefully arrived behind him to poke past Craig Samson.
“Hopefully we can all keep playing like that because, to a man, we were fantastic,” added Higginbotham. “We implemented what we wanted to do in pre-season and that’s fast, attacking football – let the opposition come on to us and then break quickly.
“It’s worked so far and hopefully it will keep working for the rest of the season. If feels amazing to be top of the league. With the size of this club it should be in the Premiership. We’ve been working our way back up and, with the squad we’ve got, hopefully we can have a real push this year and get the club back to where it belongs.”
St Mirren arrived in Fife on the back of five straight wins and seeking to remain top of the table, but were a distant second best. But skipper Stephen McGinn, pictured, insists they can quickly shake off the disappointment.
“The way we play, we win games comfortably – and we’ve lost a few games heavily,” he said. “We move on. Our home form’s very good and we’ve got three home games on the bounce now to look forward to.”