Dunfermline Athletic 3 - 0 St Mirren: Pars surge to the top
The Pars had relinquished top spot in the Championship with defeat at Morton last weekend, but were offered an instant opportunity to return to the summit with the visit of the team that had supplanted them.
It was a chance they grabbed with both hands as first-half goals from Declan McManus and substitute David Hopkirk, and a strike early in the second period from captain Callum Morris, ensured it was the black and white hordes in the home stands who were celebrating at full-time. Late red cards just a minute apart for Buddies defenders Adam Eckersley and Gregor Buchanan just added to their glee.
The Fifers have now seen off Inverness Caley Thistle, Falkirk and St Mirren at home this season and have scored an average of four goals in their outings at East End Park. It is a recipe for success, at least for the time being.
“The performance was different class, especially after some people maybe questioning the boys’ character after losing from 2-0 ahead against Morton,” said manager Allan Johnston “It was a great response to score three goals against a quality outfit like St Mirren. That speaks volumes about the players.
“You can see how important wins are in this league. It’s still really, really tight, but you can see the quality we’ve got in the team and we just need to keep the momentum going.
“It’s always great to be top of the league at this stage. You would rather be there than not be there, put it that way. We’ve just got to make sure we work as hard as we have been, because you can see the quality we’ve got when we go forward.”
Kick-off was held up for seven minutes to allow a crowd that eventually numbered 6,628 into an expectant East End Park. When the whistle finally went, St Mirren were the first to threaten and Gavin Reilly, who scored just twice in an unhappy loan spell at Dunfermline last season, whistled a chance just past in the second minute.
With Lewis Morgan clearly in the mood on the flank, the visitors would have been content with the opening 15 minutes but thereafter Dunfermline took over.
Their opener came in the 20th minute and owed much to the tenacity of the superb Kallum Higginbotham. Nat Wedderburn speared a diagonal pass from left to right that fell short but Higginbotham rose with determination to nod the ball back to the edge of the area where McManus tamed it with his chest before flashing his shot beyond Craig Samson.
When on-form winger Joe Cardle pulled up with a hamstring injury shortly before the breakthrough, it was undoubtedly a setback for Dunfermline but his replacement, Hopkirk, doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time.
Ryan Williamson pick-pocketed Stelios Demetriou on the right touchline and Dean Shiels and Higginbotham combined to send the full-back sprinting forward. He brilliantly picked out Hopkirk arriving at the edge of the box and the striker curled an exquisite finish beyond Samson.
The game was over as a contest 10 minutes into the second period. Ian McShane miskicked Higginbotham’s low corner and Morris stabbed in from close range.
Eckersley then pulled at substitute Aaron Splaine’s neck to be shown a straight red card and just a minute later Buchanan was shown a second yellow.
“I don’t have any complaints about the result,” said St Mirren manager Jack Ross.
“The red cards are probably more of a concern for me, because we have to maintain our discipline. The players have been criticised for that.”