SPL v Rangers
DUNFERMLINE 2 RANGERS 3 Date: 16/05/04
Fixture: BOS SPL Premier League
Attendance: 6798, Kick Off: 15:00
Referee: Alan Freeland, Weather: Warm 21C Sunny
Two goals from Gary Dempsey were not enough to see the Pars off to Hampden with a win. Down to ten men after Mols saw red in the 31st minute, goals from Ricksen and Burke put the Gers 2-1 up at the interval and the ten men went 3-1 up from the penalty spot in the 63rd minute. Dempsey’s second gave the Cup Finalists hope but they didn’t really create enough to bring about a third.
Jimmy Calderwood made two changes from the side defeated at Tannadice in midweek. Richie Byrne replaced Andy Tod and Craig Brewster was back to take the place of the injured Noel Hunt. The Pars kicked off playing towards the travelling support in the sun kissed East Stand and they looked lively with a Crawford – Brewster combination almost putting Dempsey through with a neat heeled flick. Khizanishvili’s challenge on Crawford in the second minute was the first of numerous penalty claims of the match.
It was Rangers who produced the first shot at goal however with Chris Burke hitting high and wide in the following minute. In the 7th minute Burke ran on to a long through ball but Stillie easily clutched the youngsters shot. Having been pinned back the Pars then developed a fine movement out of defence with Skerla picking out Crawford whose quick one two with his striking partner almost gave him the first Pars chance. Alas he was forced wide right but the Fifers then forced the first corner of the match after 12 minutes. Nicholson’s ball in from the right was missed by Bullen but Dempsey latched on to the clearance and drove in from 25 yards but the ball went straight to McGregor.
Dempsey had another crack at the target on 18 minutes but he was wide right before the young Irishman set up Crawford with a chance that he sliced wide right. It was a good opportunity from close range but it was not to be.
Things continued to go Dunfermline’s way and when Hutton handled the ball inside the D at the top of the Rangers penalty box a free kick was awarded that the Pars lined up to take a few yards further back. Apparently referee Alan Freeland asked Dunfermline if they were going to take a quick one and while he seemed to divert his and the Rangers players attention to retreating the wall, Gary DEMPSEY lifted the ball over the wall and into the net at the left post. One nil after 27 minutes.
There was a four man protest as the referee was surrounded ten yards into the Pars half that only earned Michael Mols a yellow card. The Dutchman was clearly riled and in the next movement he elbowed Richie Byrne. The referee consulted his Assistant on the far side but took no further action. Dunfermline switched the play to the other end and from a Rangers throw in deep inside their own half the ball was won off Mols by Skerla. His pass to Dempsey brought Mols thundering in to leave Freeland little option to show another yellow card to the incensed Rangers captain with 31 minutes gone.
Things got tougher and Ricksen escaped yellow with another crunch on Dempsey. Dunfermline’s first chance to exploit the extra man advantage came when Brewster put Crawford through but the offside flag was rightly up. It was then Rangers who caught Dunfermline out as they seemed to go to sleep.
In the 42nd minute Stephen Hughes fed the ball to RICKSEN whose shot from 25 yards gave Stillie little chance. One minute into added time at the end of the first half Chris BURKE lifted a neat ball over Stillie and into the net to give the ten men the lead at the interval.
Dunfermline tried hard in the second half to recover the match. Labonte’s pass to Brewster let the big man in for a shot from 30 yards but even though the shot took a deflection off Hutton McGregor easily dealt with it. Twenty one players were inside the Rangers half on many occasions as the Pars turned up the pressure but all that came of it was an effort that the Rangers keeper held from Dempsey.
Comedy was added in the 57th minute when Khizanishivili picked up the ball as Crawford appealled to the referee. Having been awarded the free kick just inside their own half Brewster took a quick one to Crawford and his pass to Nicholson served up another chance but the keeper held again.
Labonte who was having an excellent match in the centre of the back three played yet another good pass to pick out Crawford. His exchange with Brewster might have got the equaliser but the ball just would drop quick enough for him and forced to shoot skied the ball over the bar. Two minutes later Nicholson’s tackle on Ross McCormack as he made his way along the left goaline resulted in a penalty and McCORMACK himself took the spot kick sending Stillie the wrong way and the Pars two behind.
Alex McLeish immediately subbed his goalscorer bringing on Peter Lovenkrands in his place. Dunfermline eventually got a decision out of Alan Freeland in the 65th minute however when Hutton pulled over Crawford on the left angle of the penalty box some 20 yards out. Gary DEMPSEY took the free kick aiming it for the far post. The ball took one bounce and no one got a touch on it as it slipped in at the far post.
Jimmy Calderwood introduced Andy Tod and Sean Kilgannon in a double substitution for Derek Young and Richie Byrne. Tody went up front and Kilgannon was pushed up on the right in an attempt to get the goal back. Tod headed Crawford 72nd minute cross on to the hand of Vanoli but no penalty was the referee’s decision.
Pars pushed hard for the elusive equaliser. Tod headed wide but was offside anyway. Kilgannon tried a blast that the keeper held and then Tod headed a Nicholson ball from the right at the keeper. Brew had a go after Lee Bullen let Crawford’s pass run through him, but that was over the top.
Six minutes from time there was yet another good appeal for a penalty when Kilgannon played the ball on to Hughes hand. The far side linesman again had a good view but no flag and no penalty. Pat Clarke came on for Brewster and in the 91st minute his pass to Crawford was played into the centre of the penalty box for Dempsey. A hat trick was not to be however as the keeper pulled off a remarkable save to give the Gers the three points.
It was a tough game, certainly not a friendly end of season affair. The motivation was there to defeat Rangers twice at East End in a season especially when the high squad numbers turned out for the Ibrox men but the ten men got the better of the battling Fifers. Jimmy Calderwood is now without Scott Thomson, Scott Wilson and Noel Hunt for the Cup Final. Greg Shields is cup tied but Darren Young is expected back in training on Tuesday and David Grondin might recover to be included for the next big one at Hampden next Saturday.
Gary Dempsey showed tremendous determination and should have secured his starting place. Aaron Labonte did very little wrong and in the absence of the experienced defenders no one should be surprised if the 20 year old Englishman makes his 25th Pars appearance in the Final.
Players came back out to thank the fans for their support