SPFL League One: DUNFERMLINE 1 STENHOUSEMUIR 0 : 19/12/15
The Saturday before Christmas brought Stenhousemuir to East End Park and Pars fans returning for Christmas in West Fife were happy to be present to see if the team they have followed from afar could confirm that top of the table position. Guaranteed to be top of the league at Christmas (barring extraordinary scorelines) it would be so much better is the three point advantage over Ayr could be assured with a win over Brown Ferguson's team.
The successful appeal over Joe Cardle's red card at Ayr the previous week meant that Allan Johnston had the 28 year old available but Lewis Martin was injured so Andy Geggan came in at right back and the manager stuck with the previous week's match winner, David Hopkirk meaning Cardle found himself on the bench for the first time since returning to the club.
Brown Ferguson, the Stenhousemuir manager, made one change to his starting eleven Harry Monaghan coming in for Colin McMenamin as his club set out to win their first league match at East End Park since October 1954.
The visitors kicked off through Monaghan and Jason Scotland attacking the goal in front of the McCathie Stand. The Pars were unfortunate not to be awarded a corner within 40 seconds but the match officials thought otherwise and the first real scare came from a misguided clearance across his own penalty box by Ross Meechan. Then Faissal El Bakhtaoui launched in the Pars first attempt on goal but the ball soared over the crossbar.
Stenhousemuir threatened in ninth minute when Mark Gilhaney and Jon Robertson took advantasge of a Ben Richards-Everton header and made ground down the right but the big centre half covered back to head the cross away. Scotland burst through a minute later but well policed by the Pars central defenders, his shot evoked jeers as it feebly went well wide right. That was the big man's last involvement as he limped as despite the physio's attentions to be replaced by Colin McMenamin in 13th minute.
On the quarter hour Michael Paton looked to take advantasge of Jim Paterson with a slick ball to Hopkirk but his cross from the right was ideally placed but no one had taken up the position that he had temporarily vacated. Two minutes later Geggan went forward and released a shot from 25 yards out that narrowly cleared the far post.
Michael Moffat received the ball in from Jason Talbot in 21 minutes, controlled and turned Stuart Malcolm before drilling his shot from 18 yards straight into the hands of keeper Matty Gould.
Dunfermline were now enjoying the bulk of the possession but despite all their passing they were experiencing difficulty in penetrating the Stenhousemuir defences. The visitors forced a corner in 29 minutes when Kieran Millar taunted Marc McAusland but when the setpiece came in from the left Richards-Everton rose to nod away with ease.
The Pars were awarded a direct free kick 28 yards out when Shaun Byrne was tripped by Millar and when Falkingham stepped up to thump the ball it flew just inches wider of the right goalpost. Nine minutes from the interval Gilhaney was allowed to break into the Dunfermline box from the left and his shot was dragged only narrowly wide of the right goalpost.
Another chance came the Warriors way in 39th minute and it was Meechan who was up on the edge of the six yard box to direct a cross on target but Murdoch made a fine save. Joe Cardle replaced Michael Moffat two minutes later in the home side's first substitution of the game but that was not to alter anything before the half came to an end.
Half time: Dunfermline 0 Stenhousemuir 0
Shaun Rooney came on in place of Marc McAusland before the second half kicked off. Andy Geggan moved to centre back and the formation looked like 4-2-3-1 as the home side to improve on their first half that was bereft of corners and scored just 42% possession.
Cardle's delivery in 50 minutes looked perfect for El Bakhtaoui but as he rose to head home just six yards out a defender deflected the ball away right for a corner. Geggan attacking the Paton cross but Stenny cleared.
Next there were strong appeals from the McCathie Stand who had a good view of Hopkirk's drive from the edge of the box that would have appeared to have been stopped by Stuart Malcolm's hand. No penalty and Cardle tried another cross that El Bakhtaoui just failed to convert from yet another leaping header.
El Bakhtaoui won a free kick 26 yards out on the hour after being sandwiched by a number of opponents but when the effort was launched at goal by the Pars no.10 it just cleared the bar. Malcolm made a very timely tackle to prevent Hopkirk going through on goal as the Pars at last looked likely to find an opener.
Hopkirk tried a run up the right but his cross was easily cut out due to lack of men in the box. Ryan Wallace was then the next substitute taking the place of Michael Paton in 66 minutes. It was Wallace's strong run that set up Cardle for the next cross and this time it was Hopkirk who headed narrowly wide right.
Next there was a big chance from a Rooney cross but El Bakhtaoui did not take the gamble to slide in when the defender failed to take out the cross and the chance materialised. The home crowd roared on their team trying to suck the ball into the net at the McCathie Stand end.
A Stenhousemuir free kick in 73 minutes some 28 yards out was wastefully belted into the Pars wall by Marenghi. Then in 76 minutes a tremendous counterattack from the Warriors with Gilhaney delivering a great ball in from the left right into the Pars six yard box where Millar made Murdoch pull off a fine save at point blank range.
Malcolm and El Bakhtaoui were next to be lectured by the referee but the visitors were losing their cool and when play resumed Hopkirk's low cross from the left travelled through the box for ROONEY to drive the ball low into the bottom left. 1-0
Stenny almost snatched an equaliser just three minutes later, Millar shoving Hopkirk off the ball before firing an on target shot that Murdoch was at full stretch to save at his right hand post. In 83 minutes Rooney was denied a second as keeper Gould beat away his close range effort.
A Wallace shot was deflected left for a Pars corner two minutes later and while it kept play well up the field Stenhousemuir absobed all that came at them. El Bakhtaoui had the luxury of hitting the sidenetting with a 92nds minute chance and Murdoch saved from Gilhaney.
In the end three more points for the league leaders and with Ayr United losing 3-0 at Peterhead the gap at the top increases to six points although Ian McCall's side has a game in hand (away to Cowdenbeath on 29/12/15). Top of the league for Christmas, just an ideal Christmas present for Pars fans everywhere.
DUNFERMLINE: Sean Murdoch; Andy Geggan (c), Marc McAusland (Shaun Rooney HT), Ben Richards-Everton, Jason Talbot; Michael Paton (Ryan Wallace 66), Shaun Byrne, Josh Falkingham, David Hopkirk, Michael Moffat (Joe Cardle 41), Faissal El Bakhtaoui.
SUBS NOT USED: Lewis Spence, Rhys McCabe, Mickael Antoine-Curier, David Hutton (GK).
SCORERS: Rooney (78)
YELLOW CARD: Falkingham (54)
STENHOUSEMUIR: Matthew Gould; Jamie McCormack, Stuart Malcolm, Ross Meechan, Jim Paterson; Mark Gilhaney, Kieran Millar, Jon Robertson (Alan Cook 83); Anthony Marenghi (Lewis Small 83), Harry Monaghan, Jason Scotland (Colin McMenamin 13)
SUBS NOT USED: Carlos Mazan-Martinez, Euan Murray, Stephen Stirling, Jamie Barclay (GK).
YELLOW CARD: McCormack (74)
REFEREE: George Salmond
WEATHER: Breezy 14C
NEXT MATCH: Ladbrokes League One: (away) v Forfar Athletic, Saturday 26th December 2015, kick off 3.00pm at Station Park
Ladbrokes Championship: v Brechin City, Saturday 23rd December 2017, kick off 3.00pm