SPL v Kilmarnock
KILMARNOCK 1 DUNFERMLINE 1 Date: 16/03/03
Fixture: BOS SPL Premier League
Attendance: , Kick Off: 13:05
Having drawn only three SPL matches all season the Pars have now drawn two in a row. A win was necessary if Dunfermline were to cling on to their hopes of qualifying for next season`s UEFA Cup. Granted most fans would have settled for a draw at Rugby Park before the game but when you are a goal up with ten minutes to play expectations are raised and when Kris Boyd rose to head an equaliser the spirits of the small travelling support sank.
Andrius Skerla and Mark McGarty were ruled out through training ground injuries and Noel Hunt was dropped to the bench. In came Scott Walker, Sean Kilgannon and returning from injury, Lee Bullen. Only Rangers had beaten Killie in the SPL since November and the home side were unchanged from the side that had come back to draw 2-2 at Dens Park the previous Saturday, meaning that their top goalscorer - Boyd - was on the bench for the 14th time this season.
Kilmarnock kicked off towards the away support who were basking in the early Spring sun. The Pars soon demonstrated that they were out to banish memories of an abysmal display against Partick Thistle last Sunday. With only 80 seconds on the clock, Kilgannon swung over one of his characteristic crosses from the left touchline, Lee Bullen headed back across goal for Nicholson to meet 15 yards out, but his effort was blocked.
The teams cancelled each other out in the other early exchanges until Gary McSwegan zoomed down the right wing to fire a shot across the face of the goals and had he chosen the square ball, the opening goal might have transpired in the eighth minute. At the other end Colin Meldrum was out to clutch a Stevie Crawford cross after Brannan had sent the Dunfermline striker down the right wing.
Kilgannon tested Meldrum from 25 yards out after Fowler made a mistake. Then Kilmarnock threatened to take advantage of a Bullen slip but Peter Canero decided to take the ball for a run-a-round the Dunfermline box before a weak shot was easily cleared through Barry Nicholson.
The first corner of the match was awarded to visitors in the 18th minute, but Scott Walker failed to convert Kilgannon`s cross. Two minutes later, Nicholson robbed Stevie Fulton and tried a one-two with Craig Brewster which just failed to produce the opening which would have put him clean through on goal.
Play continued to be end to end, Garry Hay sending over a ball from the left that McLaren met at the far post and Stillie easily collected. Scott Wilson cleared the next Kilmarnock attack out towards the left touchline and Jamie Fowler appeared to be returning from an offside position when he won a free kick on the edge of the box. The free kick was headed away, but Killie retained possession ending with McSwegan sending over a ball from the left but McLaren headed straight at Derek Stillie.
In the 24th minute, Gus McPherson found himself in a shooting position but Meldrum dealt adequately with the effort. Gus then had another break in which he supplied Crawford the chance to feed Bullen on the right, who sent over a testing ball which Kilmarnock turned behind for a corner as Brewster challenged.
Nicholson took the corner on the left and when it was headed back out to Kilgannon, Nicholson then swung over another dangerous ball which Brewster narrowly headed wide of the right goalpost. Derek Stillie had to be alert as Kilmarnock countered with Hay sending McLaren into the left side of the penalty area to release a shot from 15 yards which the Dunfermline keeper did well to turn out right,
The home support were on their feet appealing for a penalty in the 31st minute when Scott Walker stumbled over a back pass and Andy McLaren. The referee, Dougie McDonald ignored the Ayrshire appeal.
Five minutes later, the visiting support had similar success with their appeal when Crawford ducked a Wilson cross and a Kilmarnock defender appeared to illegally use a hand. Ignoring the claims, David Grondin hammered the ball towards goal, but his shot was just wide to the left.
As the interval approached, the home fans were growing increasingly agitated as they saw their team losing possession far too easily to Dunfermline. The visitors may have enjoyed more possession and greater territorial advantage, but unfortunately the scoreline remained goalless at half time.
Five minutes into the second half, a Ged Brannan free kick was played through Brewster and Bullen to Crawford, but his thumping effort was left of target. Next, Brannan looped another ball into the home penalty area, but Nicholson could not take advantage. Kilmarnock`s first chance of the second half came from a McSwegan ball from the right which Stillie decided initially not to come for, but then dashed out as Hay shot. The ball was saved by the keeper`s feet.
Nicholson was brushed off the ball by Canero to set up a 52nd minute free kick which Brannan drove into a five man defensive wall and when the ball was returned in the direction of Brewster, Greg Shields conceded a corner.
Four minutes later, Shields intercepted another Brannan free kick which Bullen challenged. After Chris McGroarty came on for David Grondin, Bullen just about created the opening. His ball into the right side of the penalty box for Stevie Crawford allowed the Dunfermline striker just enough space to lose Freddy Dindeleux and cross for Brewster to head in. Remarkably, Meldrum managed to palm away what looked like a certain goal.
The Dunfermline pressure created great excitement from the Young Pars travelling support behind the goal and they didn`t have long to wait to see their team take the lead. Crawford pounced on an opportunity on the left side of the box and Brannan got a shot on target. Greg SHIELDS should have cleared the ball off the line, but somewhat in recompense for his goal against us on our last visit, this time he put the ball high into his own net.
Gary Dempsey then came on for Lee Bullen who no doubt was feeling the effects of not having played even at under-21 level since his injury a month ago. Stillie produced another fine save after Shields had picked out Canero and then Dempsey and Dindeleux clashed, resulting in treatment for both players and Dindeleux being stretchered off.
The substitution introduced Kris Boyd and started a concerted assault on the Dunfermline defence. Kilmarnock played with three men up front and Dunfermline looked to sit in and defend with five men across the back.
There was always the possibility of a breakaway and McGroarty just about accepted such a possibility. His pace up the left won a throw in which was quickly taken by Kilgannon who laced the ball for Crawford to square for Dempsey. Unfortunately, the Irishman`s shot was saved by Meldrum.
Noel Hunt came on for Brewster but he played deeper demonstrating the Pars intention to defend out the remaining 15 minutes. With ten minutes to go, Crawford conceded a corner in a very strange manner. Going into a tackle 40 yards out, he appeared to try to play the ball off his opponent, but instead blootered it over his own bye line for a corner.
Fulton took what was Kilmarnock`s first corner of the match, sending the ball over from the right to be met by the head of Kris BOYD and sending delight through the home support.
With their fans urging them on, Kilmarnock won another corner off McPherson and in a replay of the his first, Fulton again picked out Boyd, but fortunately the header dropped wide to the right of goal. Canero had the ball in the net, but the offside flag was up as Mahood played the ball beyond Wilson.
McGroarty travelled up the left wing before finding Dempsey and as he tried to put Crawford through, Kilmarnock intercepted and Dunfermline`s last chance dissolved. Kilmarnock might have won it in the 93rd minute when a suspiciously looking McSwegan was denied by a fine save from Derek Stillie.
In the end, Dunfermline hung on for a point which probably was not enough from this fixture. Their performance was certainly an improvement on the previous Sunday`s but the election to defend for 30 minutes after going ahead was probably over optimistic.
A good return to the first team for Lee Bullen and a fair defensive act in the absence of Skerla. David Grondin did not get to grips in the Gary Mason role and his inclusion beside Sean Kilgannon will require further testing.