This was a tailor made example of a “classic” cup game. A thrilling match played at high tempo by two teams hungry for victory and no fear of tomorrow’s consequences. The kind of action packed, non-stop, thrill-ride that makes fans and neutrals alike take resentful glances at the clock as time ticks away because they don’t want the action to stop. Or, at least, not without a winning goal.
The only thing lacking was a victor to be crowned at the conclusion. Instead, these two sides will have to do it all over against in Dingwall on Tuesday. But that is by no means a bad thing.
The opening three minutes laid down a marker for the rest of the match. Unfortunately for the hosts, Alex Schalk showed ruthless precision to fire in at the near post after being slipped through on the left of the box by strike-partner Brian Graham.
Had Dunfermline been a more fragile side they may have folded at this point. However, leading League One by a nine-point margin has given Johnston’s side great confidence, and they roared forward in attack undaunted by their one-goal deficit to a team two divisions above.
Shaun Rooney’s low ball across the box was missed by Michael Moffat when any contact would have brought a swift equaliser. This acted as a prelude to the constant wave of Dunfermline attacks the hosts would unleash prior to their equaliser.
After Moffat and Michael Paton both went close, Joe Cardle released top scorer Faissal El Bakhtaoui down the left with a perfectly weighted, outside-of-the-foot pass. The striker beat three Ross County defenders, including resisting a tug of the shirt, before dispatching the ball high into the net. The architects of the goal then combined again three minutes later but Cardle sliced his effort wide of goal.
There then occurred a moment of controversy that would go a long way to ensuring the visitors remained in the hat for the next round. While both players jogged back following a Dunfermline attack, Graham yanked Dunfermline’s Jason Talbot down to the ground. The left back was hurt by the challenge, lying in a heap on the deck, but more importantly it left his side short in defence while County launched a counter from which they won a penalty. Debutant Brad McKay guilty of a rash challenge on Schalk. To add insult to injury, Graham took and scored the spot-kick.
“I’m not entirely sure what happened,” said Talbot after the match. “One minute I’m going to press and the next minute I’m on the deck. Then I stand up and they’ve got a penalty. I just felt a clothesline, basically.”
Ben Richards-Everton went close to restoring parity before Martin Woods finished a pulsating first half action by sending a shot just wide of goal.
There was to be no let up in the second period as El Bakhtaoui cracked the post within 60 seconds. Alan Muir then felt the wrath of the home support after blowing up for an innocuous foul against Moffat, when he would have been through, before waving away a penalty appeal when the ball was deflected out of play off the arm of Marcus Fraser. However, the jeers soon turned to jeers when McKay atoned for his earlier error to head home the resulting corner.
From this point it was anyone’s game with each side having numerous chances to win. Andrew Davies had a header cleared off the line by Josh Falkingham before Cardle had a shot tipped around the post by Scott Fox. The ‘keeper then saved again, though this time more fortuitously, when Paton smashed the ball right at him from six yards. Michael Gardyne then failed to take advantage of two similar opportunities after being released on the left, putting one just wide of the post and another high over the bar.
With Dunfermline tiring and time ticking down, it seemed that would be it. Then El Bakhtaoui fought through a challenge and struck for goal 25 yards out. The shot seemed destined for the net until Fox produced a miraculous save to tip it on to the crossbar, before springing up and pushing rebound away with Richards-Everton ready to pounce. The ‘keeper may have denied a winner, but his heroics were in-keeping with the overall quality of the contest.