The hosts suffered their third defeat on the spin in all competitions and remain seventh in the Ladbrokes Championship. Worst than the result was the lack of fight from a team many picked as outsiders for the title and who defeated Saturday’s opponents at Tannadice on the opening weekend of the season.
United went ahead in controversial circumstances. Pars striker Faissal El Bakhtaoui battled for possession deep in his own half with Paul Safranko and Callum Booth. The Moroccan felt he had been fouled by the pair, but referee Steven Kirkland awarded the free-kick to the visitors. Fraser Aird crossed for Paul McMullan, two players who drew the wrath of the home crowd for deserting Dunfermline and joining United in each of the past two summers, and he was able to direct his header beyond Lee Robinson.
“I thought it was the other way round, I thought it was a foul on Faissal, so I dunno what the referee has seen there,” said Johnston. “But even still, the free-kick comes in and the smallest guy on the pitch wins a header. That kind of sums up our defending at the moment: giving other teams cheap goals, giving them an edge, and we end up chasing the game.”
There was another hint of controversy less than a minute into the second half when Miles Hippolyte was brought down by United defender Rachid Bouhenna as he looked to race into the penalty area. The official decided it wasn’t an obvious goalscoring opportunity and showed just a yellow card to the centre-back.
Fifteen minutes later the away side doubled their advantage. Capitalising on some slack play at the back, McMullan crossed for Billy King alone at the far post. The winger, who starred in the Championship under Neilson at Hearts in 2014-15, cut inside the last defender and powered his finish into the back of the net.
There was nothing debatable about the penalty given on 75 minutes when Ryan Williamson lunged in on McMullan. The winger took the responsibility himself, but saw the attempt to double his tally fail when the ball struck the outside of Robinson’s left-hand post.
Dunfermline had a golden opportunity to get themselves at least a consolation when, just more than a minute into stoppage time, substitute Andy Ryan broke the offside trap, but keeper Benjamin Siegrist was able to block the shot with his foot.