Dunfermline 2-1 Hearts: Pars end Jambos' unbeaten run to go clear at the top

Dunfermline moved three points clear atop the Championship table as Hearts learned that this season won’t simply be a procession towards promotion.

Dunfermline's Euan Murray scores to make it 2-0 against Hearts.
Dunfermline's Euan Murray scores to make it 2-0 against Hearts.

Dom Thomas and Euan Murray scored the goals to end the Edinburgh club’s 100 per cent record and keep the Fife side unbeaten despite Stephen Kingsley’s late consolation header.

It was a sub-standard Hearts display overall but Dunfermline earned a thoroughly-merited victory with a disciplined and energetic performance.

Visiting defender Mihai Popescu hit the crossbar once in each half, although those in maroon did not create enough until they found themselves 2-0 down.

Rain drizzled down onto the East End Park surface for much of the evening which made for a fast-paced affair between two in-form teams.

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The respective managers, Stevie Crawford and Robbie Neilson, braved the elements looking hungry to put one over on the other. They are, of course, former colleagues having managed Hearts successfully between 2014 and 2016.

They steered the Edinburgh club to the Championship title in record-breaking fashion in 2015 and now find themselves chasing that same accolade again, but this time as rivals.

Dunfermline made an aggressive start, hustling their guests and refusing to let them dictate play. Hearts won a 13th-minute free-kick which Elliott Frear delivered towards Popescu, whose header careered off the crossbar.

Possession was keenly contested, especially in midfield where Steven Whittaker was tasked with shackling the Hearts captain Steven Naismith.

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It was a contest between two experienced and wily pros trying to out-think one another, making for a fascinating subplot to this encounter.

Crawford would have been the happier manager seeing the scoreline blank at the break. He was utterly elated three minutes after the restart when his team moved ahead.

Thomas cut inside from the right for a left-footed shot from 20 yards which deflected off Popescu and soared beyond Craig Gordon into the Hearts net.

The advantage doubled seven minutes later as Thomas turned provider. His inswinging corner was met by centre-back Murray, who beat Gordon to the ball to head home from close range.

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That combination had proven deadly several times for Dunfermline this season as Murray claimed his sixth goal in nine appearances.

Hearts should have reduced the arrears on the hour mark but Liam Boyce’s header from Michael Smith’s clipped cross was straight at the home goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams.

Popescu then struck the bar again, this time from Andy Halliday’s corner. Naismith found himself through on goal on 70 minutes but as Whittaker chased he bizarrely chose a square pass towards substitute Jordan Roberts.

The chance was smothered by Dunfermline but they remained under intense pressure. Hearts threw players forward and left themselves open at the back after switching to a 3-5-2 formation.

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Gordon’s excellent one-handed save stopped Declan McManus’ header on 79 minutes. Finally, at the opposite end, Kingsley glanced home substitute Andy Irving’s corner with six minutes left.

The game became nervy at 2-1, and Turner should have scored Dunfermline’s third after a breakaway, but they held on for a colossal win.

Dunfermline (4-1-4-1): Fon Williams; Mayo, Watson, E Murray, Edwards; Whittaker; Dow, Turner, McInroy, Thomas (F Murray 84); McManus (O’Hara 83).

Unused subs: Gill, Comrie, McCann, Wilson, Bowman.

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Hearts (4-2-3-1): Gordon; M Smith, Halkett, Popescu, Kingsley; Lee (Irving 75), Halliday; Wighton (Roberts 63), Naismith, Frear (Walker 52); Boyce.

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