St Johnstone 3 Dunfermline Athletic 1Author: Alistair Campbell Date: Saturday, 25th Feb 2012
Time is beginning to run out for the Pars as they go down with barely a whimper to St Johnstone. Trailing to two goals in two minutes (one to each Davidson) after a first half in which they offered precisely no attacking threat, Paul Burns pulled a goal back, only for Croft to put the result beyond doubt.
This is probably my favourite of the regular away days – a decent run up the M90 to a nice compact ground in pleasant surroundings, and one where we have enjoyed a fair bit of success of recent times. Beforehand, there was certainly optimism that a victory was possible, although this was tempered by continuing unavailability of key players.
So much for the transfer window signings – the only one who made the squad was Kyle Hutton who was dropped to the bench, along with Paul Burns. The expected absence of Kevin Rutkiewicz after the injury picked up in midweek meant that the relatively untried central defensive partnership of McCann and Keddie would continue, Dowie and Boyle being the full-backs, and Smith of course in goals. Gary Mason came back into the team, alongside Ryan Thomson, and Martin Hardie started at centre-forward, with Buchanan, Graham and Cardle also retaining their places. The bench had more of an attacking feel to it, albeit out of necessity with Kirk, McDougall and Willis there as well as Burns, Hutton and youngsters Young and Goodfellow.
Saints, on the other hand, had recently replaced the error-prone Peter Enckelman with Alan Mannus, but otherwise were on regular lines with only recent arrival Lee Croft, who was playing on the right of midfield, a relatively unfamiliar face.
Saints kicked off attacking the empty north stand, the Pars’ support being squeezed into the Main stand, and Keddie’s miscontrol and subsequent miskick nearly conceded an early corner. As it was, the Pars struggled to deal with the shy, Boyle’s header only half-clearing and Graham was too slow to complete the initial defence, but trouble was averted.
Saints continued their bright start in 5 minutes, with Craig nipping down the left, but Thomson got back to help McCann clear. Some of their problems were of their own creation, Keddie hitting an attempted clearance off Croft, but so far Smith hadn’t been called into action. Hardie was also winning things in the air, which at least gave the Pars a plan, and when Morris went off injured after 10 minutes there was room for some cautious, if ultimately unjustified optimism.
However, Chris Millar’s arrival in the fray didn’t disturb the home team’s rhythm, and Smith was forced into a double save in 15 minutes - his first from Croft’s shot from the edge of the box wasn’t the best as he diverted the ball straight out to Sandaza, but his second, clawing the ball away from behind him, was top-notch. Less good though was his failure a little later to deal with Craig’s inswinging free kick from the Saints’ right-touchline, missing the ball under pressure from Sheridan, and being rescued by the post.
Just as in midweek the Pars’ goal had survived the first half hour just about intact; this time they were hit by a double disaster.
In 33 minutes the defence didn’t clear its lines and when the ball bounced off Keddie Murray Davidson was first to react and steered the loose ball into the left hand corner of the goal from 16 yards. 1-0 Saints.
Two minutes later, it was two in a similar fashion. Sandaza held the ball up and this time it was the other Davidson, Callum, who left Graham trailing in his wake and arrived to slot the ball in the other corner. Two nil, and Graham was hooked, being replaced by Burns.
There was little improvement before the break – it was almost as if they had forgotten how to play football, with not even one attempt at goal, things had to change, and fast.
Half time: Saints 2 Pars 0
Willis got the call during the interval, with Boyle being the unlucky one to be told to get changed as Macca made another switch, moving McCann to left back, Dowie to centre-back and Burns back to right back. Although this didn’t immediately improve the Pars` ability either to control the ball or make simple passes, they did finally create a half-chance, Hardie getting his head on a Smith clearance and Thomson getting the loose ball to Willis, but his shot was well off target. This was the cue for the third substitution to be made, as early as the 55th minute, with Kirk replacing Buchanan in another straight swap.