CIS Insurance Cup v Rangers
DUNFERMLINE 0 RANGERS 1 Date: 07/11/02
Fixture: CIS Insurance Cup
Attendance: 8415, Kick Off: 15:00
Referee: D McDonald, Weather: Dry 8c
There is often a painful predictability about a game against Rangers that stretches much further than the gulf in goals scored. In the build up to the match it would seem that at least one player always gets their face on the back pages offering up the usual "we`re not afraid of the Old Firm" speech (before that same face acquires a thick layer of egg post-match); summaries of the game inevitably follow the ominous pattern "Dunfermline started positively but..."; and is there a single Pars fan who hasn`t been made painfully aware that their team has not beaten Rangers since 1988?
Tonight`s game certainly demonstrated that Dunfermline had no reason to fear the visitors and put up a good fight, vastly improving on their last dismal showing against Rangers and avoiding their usual televised torture. Indeed on the balance of play the Pars bettered their opposition but as is all too well known, you also need a little bit of luck, whether it be the break of the ball or the odd decision in your favour. Alas the Pars found themselves all out of luck tonight and when the next game against Rangers rolls around, fans will still be forced to reminisce on "that" goal by Mark Smith.
Neither team created too many chances in the opening stages - a good run by Jason Dair put Crawford into a promising position but a stray leg blocked his shot. The real turning point came after just nine minutes when Craig Brewster`s first foul of the game, on Fernando Ricksen, was judged to be worth a yellow card by the man in the middle, Dougie McDonald. Had common sense prevailed, the referee might have realised that this would set a precedent for the game that he simply would not be able to follow. The card was brandished though, and for the rest of the game players seemed to go into every challenge wondering exactly what was bookable and what wasn`t.
Brewster shook off his warning however and soon combined with Crawford up front to give the Scotland star another promising chance. Crawford left Malcolm standing but his shot from the edge of the box didn`t trouble Klos.
There certainly wasn`t any doubt about Gary Dempsey`s challenge on Ricksen meriting a yellow card a few minutes later. With possession regained through a follow-up foul by Nicholson, Rangers finally threatened after quarter of an hour when Mols beat the offside trap and had a free run at goal. The Pars were fortunate on this occasion that Mols took the ball too wide, and Marco Ruitenbeek came to the rescue with a fine save.
Dunfermline regained the upper hand soon enough and Craig Brewster almost provided Dempsey with a goal. A neat lob sent the Irishman through on goal but at a tight angle Klos blocked his first effort. Using his second chance to chip the ball back across the Klos-less goal, the Pars were foiled when his cross was cut out before it could reach Crawford.
Stephen Hughes was the first of the visitors to enter the book when he caught Nicholson with a poorly judged tackle and while the free kick was not perfect it did force a corner. The Pars could not convert any of their set pieces however and the first half continued to play out without any really dangerous attempts at goal.
Mikel Arteta did manage one effort, a twenty-yard curling shot that fell straight to Ruitenbeek, but the rest of the first half saw fans concentrating more on Mr McDonald`s performance than the rare hint of goalmouth activity. Having been the victim of a couple of heavy Pars challenges, Ricksen was the favourite to be picked on by the home support and in truth he was lucky not to be booked for a cynical foul on Crawford or his theatrical attempt to get Mason into the book.
The second half was far more generous in providing exciting football, with Dair beating Ricksen only to let Dempsey shoot over the bar inside the first five minutes. The referee even appeared to have calmed down a little when he let Gary Mason`s blatant foul on Arteta slide without the booking his first half standards deserved, but within minutes the card was back out again. This time Maurice Ross was the recipient, for a hopeless lunge at Gary Dempsey.
The Pars kept their cool and Dempsey once more collected the ball at the edge of the box after a string of neat touches had guided it closer and closer to the danger area. Attempting to be a little too neat with the finish however Dempsey sent his delicate chip wide of the post. Jason Dair followed this up with a superb run down the left wing but when he found his options limited the best he could manage was to cut inside and fire a weak shot into Klos` hands.
Rangers could have punished the Pars for a moment`s slackness with an hour on the clock. Having been awarded a soft free kick in the middle of the park, a quick ball to Maurice Ross saw the young Scotland fullback whip in a dangerous looking ball. Gus McPherson thankfully proved to be as quick thinking, and managed to get his head to it first.
A couple of bookings later, Dunfermline had their best chance so far. With a little over an hour gone, Dempsey sent Bullen down the right wing and the fans favourite cut back to Barry Nicholson, who was waiting at the edge of the six-yard box. It was a great chance for the Pars but a well-timed block by Robert Malcolm cushioned the ball enough to allow Klos to claim it.
Another half-chance arrived when Maurice Ross stupidly tugged Craig Brewster`s shirt at the edge of the Rangers box (but having already been booked, it was decided this wasn`t bookable). With Scott Thomson dropped, Jason Dair tried his luck as the resident free kick specialist but his effort was again sent straight into the hands of Klos. Pars were almost caught out on the counterattack but a Gary Dempsey header denied Ricksen his chance at goal.
Rangers wasted a golden opportunity with twenty minutes to go. Barry Ferguson played a neat one-two with Arteta but when he regained the ball the skipper struggled to control it and eventually produced a shot that was comparable to a pass back.
Having weathered a brief storm, the Pars really began to shine. Klos had to be quick off his line to beat Crawford to a Craig Brewster header in what marked a spell of intense pressure in favour of the home team. Jason Dair continued to out-think Ricksen on the wing and when his looping cross to the back post was returned by Dempsey, Nicholson should have put the Pars into the lead. This time the ex-Ger was denied not by defensive heroics, but by an unfortunate block from team mate Brewster.
Nicholson was again involved a couple of minutes later when Jason Dair sent another dangerous ball flashing across the box. Arthur Numan shoved the young midfielder to the ground but in the latest of a string of baffling decisions, no penalty was awarded.
Dunfermline continued pushing and Stevie Crawford again saw his shot blocked but this time Dempsey was on hand to lash the rebound past the last defenders but over the crossbar.
Rangers threw on Claudio Caniggia in an attempt to grab the killer goal and Andrius Skerla had to be on top form to carry off a superb tackle on the Argentinian. The Pars did not keep him at bay for much longer though.
Barry Nicholson fouled Maurice Ross on the right wing and a precise delivery from Arteta found CANIGGIA waiting. Questions should be asked as to why a man of his stature was scoring with a free header, but the replays will be equally painful for Ruitenbeek, who got a hand to it but could only help it into the net.
Pars last, best chance of an equaliser came when Lee Bullen got on the end of a Jason Dair cross but his back-post header went wide of the target. Ironically it was only now that Rangers had obtained the lead that they began to really threaten the Pars, and for the last five minutes Dunfermline rode their luck. Skerla very nearly threw away a second goal with a slack header, Caniggia should have scored when through on goal but miscontrolled it badly, and in the last minute of regulation time Arveladze just failed to connect with a vicious ball across the face of the Pars goal.
The tone of the game was best summed up by the fact that the last ten minutes saw more shouts for bookings (particularly aimed at a time-wasting Klos and of course Fernando Ricksen) than for excitement`s sake but, while the cliches will still be dragged up thenext time these teams meet, the Pars can at least take heart from an excellent performance in which they were exceptionally unfortunate to lose.