SPL v Hearts
DUNFERMLINE 3 HEARTS 1 Date: 17/11/02
Fixture: BOS Premier League
Attendance: 5683, Kick Off: 15:00
Referee: M McCurry, Weather: Cold but dry
As an advertisement both for televised Scottish football and for an Old Firm-free league, this game certainly did not get off to a good start. Inside the first five minutes Wales forced Stillie, a last minute replacement for Ruitenbeek, to parry the ball wide. This was not the shape of things to come though and neither goalkeeper was to be particularly troubled for the rest of the half. The complexion of the game might have changed had Hearts been awarded an early claim for a penalty when Scott Wilson got into a muddle and was accused of handling. It was not to be however and the game relaxed into a huff-and-puff battle of aimless balls and little else.
The Pars first real attack of the game saw Brewster freeing Barry Nicholson down the right wing, but his cross was deflected harmlessly back toward goal.
When the ball found its way back to the Dunfermline end, Jason Dair was unlucky to concede a free kick just outside the box for what appeared to be a perfectly fair challenge on Stamp. Fortunately for the Pars the ball was deflected wide off the wall and Nicholson cleared the resulting corner with ease.
Jason Dair got himself involved again at the opposite end of the pitch in an attempt to replicate his midweek winner but while he worked himself into position convincingly his shot, this time with his supposedly stronger foot, sailed well wide of the mark. He came closer minutes later with a second attempt from 25 yards but it curled away from goal and finished just wide of the target.
The Pars continued to have the lion`s share of the ball for a period but to say that they put Hearts under pressure is overstating the threat somewhat. A lack of imagination plagued the Pars` attempted attacks and the closest they could manage was a Brewster header that was cleared from the 6-yard box by Pressley.
Hearts began to edge their way back into the game and came closer to opening the scoring. Jason Dair did well to tackle Stamp as he raced toward goal, and Gary Wales should have at least hit the target after latching onto a low cross from Valois, but poked the ball wide. Valois again launched a dangerous ball into the Pars box minutes later but McKenna`s header dropped onto the roof of the net.
Under continued pressure from Hearts Dunfermline were forced into conceding a corner as Stillie punched Stamp`s cross behind. Just as things were looking dangerous the Pars were saved by their opposition, the ball rebounding back off the helpless Kirk on the goal line. Play again swung back in Dunfermline`s favour in the closing stages of the first half and when Brewster played a good through ball to Crawford, McKenzie was quick enough off his line to deny the Scottish internationalist with a fine save.
Dunfermline didn`t let it lie and when they next won a corner Brewster saw his header cleared from the 6-yard box. Crawford was quick thinking and grabbed the rebound but couldn`t steer it through the huddled mass of defenders in his way. It was the turn then of the Pars to claim a penalty five minutes from time when the ball broke to Kilgannon on the bye line, but he fell foul of a two-footed lunge from Pressley. Referee McCurry let it go and both teams ended a poor first half deservedly goalless.
The Pars came out determined in the second half and Crawford was denied an early goal only by a timely tackle in the 6-yard box from Webster. The tide turned however when the visitors took the lead a minute later.
One of the main reasons that the Pars had struggled in the first half was not through any tactical astuteness on the part of Craig Levein`s team but rather that they appeared to lack presence in midfield. It didn`t get any more obvious than when Scott SEVERIN was allowed a free run through the middle before driving the ball from distance into the bottom corner of the helpless Stillie`s net.
Matters did not seem to improve for the hosts when the same hesitance in the middle of the park allowed first Valois and later Stamp to fire long-range efforts just off target.
Twenty minutes into the second period the game turned in the Pars` favour. Collecting the ball twenty yards out, Barry NICHOLSON controlled it and let fly with a hopeful effort that took a nasty deflection, sending it looping over McKenzie`s head and into the net. From then on it was a very different Pars team, the midfield now strengthened with the appearance of substitutes Mason and Dempsey.
Within a couple of minutes the Pars should have been ahead. Barry Nicholson timed a run to perfection to leave the Hearts defence standing, but couldn`t quite reach the ball. Roddy McKenzie was surprised by Nicholson`s slip and could only slap the ball away to the feet of Brewster. The experienced striker attempted to dribble round the grounded keeper and make sure but lost the ball beneath his feet before falling down in what was probably an optimistic attempt at winning a penalty.
Hearts should have regained their lead when DeVries found himself in space and began to bear down on goal. Derek Stillie was quick off his line though and produced a superb block to redirect the ball back out of danger.
The Pars took the lead in the 76th minute. With the ball sailing high to the right hand side of the box most people expected Lee Bullen to chase it. What was not expected was for BULLEN to calmly bring it down and send a wonderful volley screaming past McKenzie into the far corner of the net.
Through continued pressure a much-improved Pars team won a corner courtesy of tricky wing play by Crawford. The ball was only cleared as far as Dempsey but his shot curled away from goal and narrowly missed the top corner.
Crawford again tormented the Hearts defence before sending a corner to the back post where Lee Bullen once more hammered an impressive volley back toward goal. Knocked past for a corner, the ball made its way back into the box where Crawford produced a terrific volley that was well blocked by McKenzie before Pressley cleared the danger.
Hearts should have bagged a share of the points in this top-versus-second battle of the rebel ten when, with only five minutes remaining, Derek Stillie spilled a cross and sent the ball to the feet of Valois. With an almost empty net to aim at Valois should have done a lot better than balloon the ball over the crossbar.
Just to compound Hearts` misery, the Pars killed the game off with a third goal right on the end of regulation time. Crawford raced down the left wing and skinned Maybury before knocking it past Pressley. His Scotland teammate presumably thought the game had already ended as he desperately tried to exchange shirts on the way past. The referee let it go as CRAWFORD escaped Pressley`s clutches, ran into the box and fired a powerful finish low past McKenzie. Questions should be asked about any goalkeeper being beaten at his near post but nobody in the Norrie McCathie stand behind him stopped to wonder.
There is no escaping that it was a poor performance from both teams to begin with - a poor crowd probably did not help raise the excitement levels, derby or not - but the Pars stepped up a couple of gears after equalising and in the end were deserving winners. They might have notched up an even more impressive scoreline when, two minutes into injury time, Crawford found himself bearing down on goal once more but with no support he was eventually stopped by a trio of Hearts defenders.