SPL v Motherwell
MOTHERWELL 1 DUNFERMLINE 0 Date: 15/04/04
Fixture: BOS SPL Premier League
Attendance: 3920, Kick Off: 19:45
Referee: Calum Murray, Weather: Dry first half, pouring second, 11ºC
The Pars crashed to a one goal defeat as Terry Butcher’s side celebrated a remarkable turnaround from12th place in last season’s SPL to Top Six this term.
Jimmy Calderwood rested some of his key players for this their second SPL match in three days, although the gaffer himself was missing on family business in Holland and it was Jimmy Nicholl in charge. This match was re-arranged because of the Pars Semi Final appearance but had to be played before the weekend since Well still had the chance of finishing in the top six. There were four changes to the Fifers team that drew with Hibs on Tuesday. Crawford, Brewster and Darren Young were placed in reserve on the bench as starts were given to Billy Mehmet, Aaron Labonte and Gary Mason. Andy Tod came in for the injured Scott Wilson.
The Fir Park pitch looked very thin on grass and there were large sand deserts in the west goalmouth and in the north east corner. The home side kicked off towards the 250 or so travelling supporters. First hope came in the fourth minute when Mehmet beat off Corrigan’s challenge and directed a ball to Derek Young. A break was on but the defence intercepted.
Greg Shields supplied Billy Mehmet with a shooting chance a minute later but his weak effort was diverted wide for a corner on the right. Andy Tod was up for Barry Nicholson’s delivery but his knock down fell to no one.
Then on nine minutes everything started to go pear shaped for the Pars. Steven Craig got round Andrius Skerla way out on the left. His ball in seemed to be into Jason Dair’s path but as the former Par turned he fell over Andy Tod. Referee Calum Murray pointed to the penalty spot and Motherwell captain Derek Adams made no mistake with a low drive into the left as he sent Derek Stillie the wrong way.
From the restart Dunfermline went straight for goal and almost succeeded as a Shields cross bounced through the ‘Well defence and Gary Dempsey leapt to get a header on target that Marshall saved with a good reaction. Lee Bullen went down in the sandy patch in front of the main stand in a tackle that earned Keith Lasley a yellow card. So with only 13 minutes on the clock Bully was stretchered off with a sore ankle and Richie Byrne came on as substitute.
From the free kick Dempsey’s low curling ball almost caught Marshall out. Further danger threatened Stillie’s goal when Mason’s pass to Byrne was stolen by Lasley but as he picked out Burns the final effort merely went along the byeline into Derek Stillie’s hands.
Good strong passing and control between Byrne and Mehmet put in Dempsey for another crack at goal in the 24th minute. Marshall parried the shot to his left and Stephen Craigan rushed in to clear. Five minutes later Shields delayed too long as the ball was lifted into his penalty box and Dair lobbed in a shot that beat the keeper but it was Skerla to the rescue as he headed it over his own crossbar from immediately under it.
Dempsey was having a great game and seemed to be involved all over the park/sand. The Irishman was in the midst of a move from Shields that ended with a square pass to Derek Young whose left footed shot on target from 25 yards out went straight to the well positioned Marshall.
The Pars were extremely unlucky in the 45th minute when Dempsey’s free kick in from the left passed through Marshall’s hands and out between Young and Tod for a corner. In the third of the added minutes at the end of the first half Andrius Skerl;a again cleared off the line when Phil O’Donnell’s header looked near certain to double ‘Well’s advantage.
The heavens opened at half time and with puddles forming on the already tricky surface there might have been fixture complications had the rain not relented early into the second half. It was the 54th minute before anything of note happened – a long throw in from Dempsey was aided on by Young to Shields who headed wide from the edge of the six yard box. Nothing developed either out of a long ball into the box that Tod nodded on to Young.
Motherwell were subdued as well until in the 61st minute Alex Burns took control down the left and sent in a pass that Dair with plenty of time, hit high and wide. It was a great chance and the defence was marked absent. Jimmy Nicholl and his assistant Sandy Clark then decided to play their trump cards. A double substitution bringing on Brewster and Crawford for Tod and Mehmet.
The trick was almost pulled off with immediate effect. Mason’s pass to Brew was quickly with Young and his square pass back to the veteran striker whose shot from the edge of the box appeared to be deflected passed the post by the pitch! It might just have been the way it bounced but it was surprising that it was a goal kick that followed.
There was a sense of anticipation amongst both sets of supporters that the Crawford – Brewster combination was going to turn things around. The Pars were certainly doing the pushing; Young and Brewster got the ball out wide to Nicholson on the right. His cross came back to him before his return was put behind for a corner on the far side. Skerla got a headed in from Dempsey’s corner but it was blocked out.
With the Pars looking more like 2-4-4 the defence had to be alert. Stillie tipped away a 68th minute cross after Craig and Dair had got the ball into the danger area. Then it was Dunfermline’s turn to counterattack with Young speeding down the right to have his first cross blocked by Corrigan and then get it back to shoot over the crossbar.
At the other end ‘Well had another good chance courtesy of a wayward Pars pass that let Craig race down the right. The Motherwell man was in the centre to head wide from Adams return from the left. Things got pretty heated after Richie Byrne was yellow carded for a mistimed tackle midway into his own half. Hammell delivered a great ball into the centre and Alex Burns backheaded from the 18 yard line an effort that went narrowly wide of the left post.
It became more hit and rush for DA as the clock ran down. They could find no way through Motherwell’s resolute defence and lived dangerously as Labonte appeared to handle in his own penalty box.
Crawford and Brewster tried to carve out opportunities and Brewster took a 1-2 before firing over the top with a left footed shot from 25 yards. Jimmy Nic was getting agitated with the home teams apparent timewasting, no doubt concerned about how he was going to explain this result to the boss on his return. He was lucky it wasn’t more though because on 88 minutes Burns got stuck in the sand on the left and was forced to play infield to Adams who was close with a shot from just outside the box.
In the two added minutes at the end Nicholson shot in a free kick that was deflected wide from six yards. Brewster took the corner to Shields who picked out Young. The former Don clhipped a shot to the near post but Marshall held the ball and the match was lost.
Terry Butcher and the ‘Well supporters were elated at the end; the boss admitted that "they rode their luck" and that they "need a new pitch urgently" but conceded that he had never dreamt that the top six was a possibility. If they continue to collect points then the Pars had better watch out!