A 2-2 draw, a 4-1 victory for Dunfermline, trumped by a 5-1 triumph for Raith, offered hope that the goal rush would continue in the first leg of the Premiership play-off quarter-final first leg at East End Park. This match, however, ultimately stuck with the script for high-stakes occasions, and while Dunfermline fashioned the better chances, a 0-0 draw means the tie heads to Stark’s Park on an even keel.
That outcome naturally suits Raith better, given that they will have the advantage of their synthetic pitch and the memory of such a mammoth victory over Dunfermline back in March. Stevie Crawford’s Pars will no doubt rue the first half of this match, with Raith keeper Jamie MacDonald making an excellent save to deny Kevin O’Hara in a period they largely dominated.
True chances were scarce in this one, though. A lot of respect was offered up to each opponent. Dunfermline made sure Kai Kennedy, Jamie Gullan and Lewis Vaughan were kept quiet by aggressive defending from Paul Watson and Euan Murray, ably assisted by veteran Steven Whittaker screening them in defensive midfield. Raith’s defence creaked a little more, but they deserve credit in particular in the way that Dom Thomas, Dunfermline’s most enigmatic forward, was put on a short leash. After leaking goals recently, John McGlynn will be pleased with Rovers’ clean sheet.
The reward for the victor of this punishing play-off schedule is a semi-final tie against Dundee. Their manager, James McPake, was in the stand to watch, no doubt delighted to have avoided two energy-sapping matches.
Dunfermline made the brighter start. Whittaker had a couple of long-range efforts before, on 17 minutes, Kevin O’Hara scampered on to a through ball and his shot – destined for the top corner – was brilliantly fingertipped away by MacDonald. Craig Wighton fired narrowly wide a couple of minutes later. The Pars looked the much more confident and threatening, with Celtic loanee Ewan Henderson impressing in midfield, but either MacDonald or the wrong pass at the vital moment thwarted them.
Raith were fairly subdued. Their best effort of the first half came after 37 minutes, when Kennedy’s delicate clip into the penalty box was just too high for Vaughan. They looked a team slightly short of confidence and still reeling from Friday night’s 4-0 hammering by Hearts.
Reinvigorated after half time, the Kirkcaldy outfit started the second period with more zest, but Dunfermline soon restored their authority, with O’Hara going close again and Raith forced into some last-ditch defending to keep parity.
Raith did register their first shot on target just after the hour mark, but Vaughan’s attempt was straight down the throat of Owain Fon Williams. Then it was Watson’s turn to put in the last gasp-heroics, glancing a fine cross by Reghan Tumilty away. Had he not, Gullan would have scored.
The Pars pressed for a winner late on. Kerr Mcinroy’s strike skidded wide of the post and O’Hara fluffed a presentable header. It told the story of this match and while we weren’t treated to thrillers of earlier in the campaign, Saturday’s second leg is delicately poised.