SPL v Celtic

DUNFERMLINE 1 CELTIC 4 Date: 03/05/03

Fixture: BOS SPL Premier League

Attendance: 8923, Kick Off: 15:00

Referee: Alan Freeland, Weather: Changeable with heavy showers at times

UEFA Cup finalists versus the finalists of the equally prestigious Fife Cup could hardly be billed as a clash of the titans but it was Dunfermline`s biggest chance to make amends for their recent dip in form. However, if the Pars were to shake off their double hoodoo of Old Firm humiliations and post-split slumps, it would take something extra special today with the injuries piling up to the point where youngsters Sean Murdoch, Scott McNicol and Ian Campbell all took their place on the bench.

It took only five minutes for the visitors to threaten through Ulrik Laursen, but were denied by a brave Ruitenbeek stop. Dunfermline`s response was swift and no sooner had the spectators regained their breath than Broto was in action to parry away a fearsome drive from Nicholson.

The reply marked the opening of a promising, albeit brief, spell of pressure for the Pars. When Lee Bullen returned a Kilgannon cross back across goal Broto once more had to react quickly to pull off an excellent save from Walker`s header. Moments later Jason Dair tried his hand, sending a deflected effort across the Celtic goalmouth but found no takers at the end of it.

As has been witnessed so often against the Old Firm, fate stepped up to administer a swift slap in the face and the Pars were left lamenting their earlier lack of goalmouth success. Petrov ran unhindered down the right wing and whipped the ball across the six-yard box. Henrik LARSSON escaped Dair for just long enough to steer the ball in at Ruitenbeek`s right hand post, leaving the Pars with a real uphill battle.

An uphill battle became a mountain to climb just seven minutes later. A questionable free kick courtesy of referee Alan Freeland was battered into the Pars box and held up by Larsson. The Swede laid the ball on a plate for PETROV, who poked the ball into the bottom corner with ease.

Only a further three minutes elapsed before a poor scoreline became a humiliating one. Agathe latched onto a ball from Sean Maloney and picked out the unmarked PETROV, who notched his second of the game with a header from close range.

With the game being beyond Dunfermline`s grasp with still quarter of an hour of the first half to go, it now seemed a question of how many Celtic would score. The fourth nearly followed minutes later.

Out at the corner flag, Balde won the visitors a free kick as he was fired through the air like a clown from a circus cannon - presumably the lightweight centre half could do nothing to match the full force of the gigantic Jason Dair slamming into him - and Marco Ruitenbeek had to be alert to make a good save at the near post.

By now it was obvious that luck was not smiling on Dunfermline so it probably should have come as no surprise that their first chance of the second half, a long-range effort from Crawford, was deflected wide of the mark by his own colleague Brewster.

At the other end, Sean Maloney`s attempt to remove Lee Bullen`s shirt went ignored by the man in black and Celtic were awarded a free kick from the ensuing tangle. The youngster made a speedy recovery and elected to take the free kick, but sent the ball comfortably over Ruitenbeek`s crossbar.

Dunfermline did not show any signs of getting back into the game and their hopes were buried even further just before the hour mark. Any Scottish referee will tell you that there`s only one outcome when Henrik Larsson goes to ground in the box, so Freeland must take some credit following Barry Nicholson`s challenge for delaying a few seconds in order to make it look like the decision required some thought. Alan THOMSON`s penalty gave Ruitenbeek little chance, as the ball was sent low into the corner.

Sean Maloney should have made it five when he received a Larsson pass inside the box but his low shot was held well by Ruitenbeek.

As much as the game had escaped Dunfermline, they still managed to muster a little bit of effort in search of a consolation and finished the last fifteen minutes showing some signs of improvement. Indeed, following a perfectly placed Kilgannon cross it took the save of the match from Broto to deny Crawford a rare headed goal.

Crawford had another effort from the edge of the box when a cynical (though apparently not bookable) foul by Laursen sent Hunt sprawling across the turf.

A consolation goal did appear eventually, ten minutes from time. Substitute Scott MacNICOL, deserving of his chance after racking up several good performances in the SPL Youth 21 league this season, created space for himself just inside the Celtic box and let fly with a powerful effort that rattled Broto`s crossbar.

The ball appeared to drop down somewhere near the line but while the home support expected the worst they soon returned to their feet in celebration again as the assistant referee went racing up the line to signal the goal.

Unfortunately the goal was too little too late. Dunfermline`s newly unveiled home kit, being modelled by the team today, seems designed to bring to mind the glory days of the sixties. Unfortunately there was no sign today of a performance commensurate with the memories the strip invokes.