THERE are tasks you wouldn’t think should be entrusted to an 18-year-old who hadn’t played a senior game of football until three months ago.
Say, for instance, the taking of an 83rd-minute penalty on which it could be claimed might rest the future survival of your administration-stricken football club.
That is the position Dunfermline full-back Ross Millen found himself in at the conclusion of a quite extraordinary First Division play-off semi-final second leg against Forfar.
To the watcher, it seemed as if all sorts of head-messers must have been slewing round his mind as he stepped up to take the kick. Conversion was required to tie the scores on aggregate at 4-4, and make it 3-1 for Jim Jefferies’ side on the day. A miss and the prospect of opponents then reduced to nine men – as they had been since the 64th minute – holding out despite a battering would have become very real. In that scenario there were many – overly-dramatically it must be said – venturing that demotion to the Second Division would cost jobs and livelihoods and potentially leave the Fife club unattractive to any would-be buyers.
Yet, that Millen was very much the right man, nay boy for the responsibility that came his way because Stephen Husband had missed a penalty for the home side in a frantic opening spell, was demonstrated by his response afterwards to whether he had thought about what it might have meant if he had missed it. “I wouldn’t have missed it,” the teenage son of fine Scottish football servant Andy Millen instantly retorted, the kick buried imperiously into the left-hand corner of Darren Hill’s net. “There was no pressure on me, after Hubie missed the first one, I said just gie me the ball and I’ll take it.”
It wasn’t decided beforehand this was the spot-kick taking order. Millen, with nerves of steel, claimed the honour and in so doing decided the tie, effectively. Seconds later Iain Campbell, who had scored directly from a corner in the opening minutes to put his team 4-1 up in the tie following the previous Wednesday’s win in Angus, became the third player from his team to see red. Referee Stevie O’Reilly could take no more of his vituperations over the penalty award, which seemed horribly harsh in being the product of a Craig Dargo flick that struck the arm of Willie Robertson, which was at his side, from close range.
Forfar manager Dick Campbell was not begrudging of his old club’s win but was begrudging of O’Reilly’s part in proceedings, which included sending him to the stand after he lost it with the Dunfermline bench for their uproar over an Alan Dunlop tackle, that led to the visitors second red card. Yet, the niggly, clumsy nature of his players’ challenges – Dunlop deserving to go as did Mark McCulloch, Campbell acknowledged, for downing Dargo in the box 15 minutes in – did for his team.
The 6-1 scoreline was harsh on Campbell’s side, though. After clinging on to as nine part-timers to lose only one goal – a Ryan Thomson strike after 71 minutes – before Millen’s penalty their resistance was broken in extra-time by pot shots from outside and around the box that allowed Alan Smith to put Dunfermline on course for a play-off final against Alloa and allowed Husband to bag a couple.
For Millen, the old adage about it not being over till it’s over was called to mind by their resurrecting of the tie – which Jefferies acknowledged came with the help of self-inflicted Forfar wounds. “Even after they scored, there was another 85 minutes to go,” he said. “We may have seemed up against it [then and after the first leg] but we have been up against it often in the second half of the season and kept our heads up.
“These games are over two 90 minutes and what we have to do now is go to Alloa [on Wednesday] and do better than we did in the first game with Forfar. What we will take from this is confidence and it will get the team spirit up a bit, but it is back to zero-zero. No job has been done.” But, against all the odds, Dunfermline and their young team still have a chance of doing their job and passing on responsibility to the administrators and backers to do theirs.