Dundee United moved to within two points of Championship leaders Ross County as Dunfermline saw their impressive recent form come to an abrupt halt at East End Park.
Robbie Neilson’s side registered a richly-merited 1-0 triumph courtesy of Peter Pawlett’s first-half strike and should have claimed a more handsome margin of victory, with Pars goalkeeper Ryan Scully the hosts’ standout performer.
County may still be basking in the glow of lifting their first piece of silverware this term, but United appear determined to ensure their pursuit of a second trophy is considerably more fraught.
We may yet see a title race in the Championship, albeit the Highlanders will draw ample comfort from their two matches in hand.
Dunfermline, meanwhile, remain just outside the play-off positions as their miserable record against United persisted. The Fifers have now won just one of their last 19 fixtures against the Tannadice outfit. Officially a “hoodoo”.
The Pars were unchanged from their 1-0 triumph against Alloa in their most recent Championship outing – albeit 17 days earlier. Despite the unscheduled hiatus, Stevie Crawford’s charges did start brightly, with Louis Longridge stinging the palms of Ben Siegrist. However, that would be as good as it got for the hosts.
Pavol Safranko was leading the line for the Tannadice outfit just 48 hours after featuring for Slovakia in the Euro 2020 qualifying defeat against Wales, and the towering striker soon justified his inclusion.
Safranko rose highest to nod a hopeful long pass into the path of Pawlett, who showed electric pace to hare past Danny Devine before slotting a clinical near-post finish past Scully.
It was a second goal for the ex-Aberdeen winger since joining United in January and thwarted Scully’s bid to equal a Pars club record of six consecutive shutouts, jointly held by Sean Murdoch (2015-16) and Ian Westwater (1985-86). Emboldened by their advantage, Neilson’s side turned the screw. A goal-line block was required from James Craigen after Safranko rose highest to meet a Paul McMullan corner-kick. Pawlett, causing havoc in the pocket of space behind Safranko, then forced a magnificent finger-tip save from Scully after unleashing a fizzing low drive from the edge of the box. Although his sequence of clean sheets may have been a thing of the past, the Pars custodian was enjoying an inspired evening, parrying a Calum Butcher header clear before recovering admirably to block Safranko’s subsequent overhead kick.
By the time Scully made another sharp block to deny Paul McMullan and Safranko headed another inviting opportunity inches wide, the hosts were simply praying for the respite of the half-time interval.
However, the second period followed a similar pattern to the previous 45 minutes, with United the more threatening proposition and Safranko, in particular, irrepressible in attack. He rattled the crossbar with a thundering header following a super Pawlett corner. There was little doubt that the 24-year-old deserved to add to his tally of 11 goals for the campaign, but his failure to do so did not prove costly as United held firm for the points.
Dunfermline launched a late barrage of long balls into the box, even throwing Scully forward for a final hurrah, but did not manage to craft a clear opportunity, slipping to defeat and remaining in fifth spot.