SPL v Hibernian
HIBERNIAN 4 DUNFERMLINE 0 Date: 07/05/12
Attendance: 15281, Kick Off: 7.45pm.
Referee: Euan Norris
This was the big one that Dunfermline had to win or their relegation fate was settled. Two matches left for both these teams but Hibs in 11th place started the game five points ahead of the Pars in 12th who also have the inferior goal difference. Jim Jefferies and his players were keen to win and put pressure on Hibs for their final game at Inverness.
Suspension meant the Pars were without Alex Keddie. Paddy Boyle came in at left back with Austin McCann switching to central defence. Martin Hardie for Joe Cardle was the only other change from the side that drew at Inverness in midweek. Hibs were also affected by suspensions with Leigh Griffiths and David Wotherspoon missing for that reason. Eoin Doyle replaced Griffiths while George Francomb and Sean O`Hanlon dropped out making way for James McPake and Lewis Stevenson.
The stadium filled up to the tones of the Proclaimers and the optimistic Glory, Glory to the Hibees. The Pars support packed their section at the other end of the South Stand from usual and gave their team a rousing welcome. Andy Kirk and Kyle Hutton got the match underway and Hardie got the first shot on target albeit from 40 yards out but he did make Mark Brown save.
Hibs had a chance on two minutes when Doyle got round Boyle and Dowie deflected the shot back for Chris Smith to gather. The Pars came back at their hosts with Graham, McMillan and Kerr all making positive moves. Inside the fifth minute a free kick led to the opening goal. It was a weak decision against Jordan McMillan for his challenge on Stevenson but the ball was floated in by Tom Soares for McPake to head on and Matt DOHERTY directed the ball in off the left post. 1-0.
It was not the kind of start the Pars needed but the team went forward again with Graham doing well to beat off Doherty but his cross was a little too high for Hardie. Hibs came back though and scored again with their next attack. Doherty exposed the left side of the Fifers defence with both Boyle and Dowie failing to stop the cross from the byeline leaving DOYLE with the simplest of chances to head in his first SPL goal from close quarters. 2-0.
Worse was to follow within four minutes. Referee Euan Norris pointed to the penalty spot after McCann tugged Paul Hanlon off the ball. A yellow card for the Pars captain and a chance for the dayglo boot of Gary O`CONNOR to stroke the ball past Smith.
On 20 minutes Kerr threaded a really good ball into the path of McMillan and his shot on the angle was blocked by Brown`s legs. Dunfermline did not look as though they were going to lie down but Boyle`s cross from the left was way too strong. Play was comfortably deep inside the Hibs half for a lengthy spell but creating chances was not a forte as the green shirts spread themselves across the park.
In 29 minutes McMillan had another good chance running in to meet a better Boyle cross but Brown again got in the way. Kerr picked out Hardie on the right but McPake intercepted the well placed cross to deny Kirk. Hutton was playing a major role as playmaker and despite the scoreline it was Dunfermline who were playing the better football! There was an appeal for a penalty when Stevenson appeared to handle the ball in the box but that wasn`t to be.
Graham went flying down the left in 37 minutes but McPake got back to slide in and prevent a shot. Stevenson countered and got in a low shot that Smith held. The clock was heading towards half time and still Dunfermline pushed up and still Hibs mopped up. Hibs had only won once at home in the SPL this season but they were well on their way to making that two as Euan Norris brought the first half to an end. Woeful defending and the return of individual defensive errors looked to have sealed the Pars fate.
Half time: Hibernian 3 Dunfermline 0
Dunfermline`s SPL obituary had probably been penned before this game but the file would have been opened at the break ready for a cut and paste. Forty five minutes stood between the Pars and First Division football as Jim Jefferies was forced into making a change for the restart, Joe Cardle coming on for Austin McCann. Hibs too made a change with George Francomb, on loan from Norwich City, subbing Pa Saikou Kujabi.
First chance of the second half fell to O`Connor but he pulled that across the face of Smith`s goal. Dunfermline forced a 52nd minute corner but Brown fisted away Cardle`s inswinger. Two minutes later Doherty passed off a great chance from Soares free kick from the left.
Kirk made a neat flick to play Graham in on goal but McPake made another timely tackle to thwart the Pars. A corner ensued but Dowie`s attempt was turned behind for another. Andy Barrowman then replaced Andy Kirk and he was the target of a Cardle cross right away but was inches too short. Liam Buchanan then came on for Kyle Hutton before Hardie had a good effort from a 35 yard free kick in 70th minute and it appeared Brown`s left hand post helped keep the ball out.
Doyle had missed a sitter when Osbourne sent an inviting ball in from the right. The Irishman then met Soares corner to head on target only to see Mason head the ball off the line at the right post. With ten minutes to go the Easter Road stands were chanting "We are staying up" and one only had to wonder why it took them so long to find that one.
The fans were given even more to cheer about when Hibs were given a fourth goal for HANLON`s shot that crashed off the bar nine minutes from time. All the video evidence in the world would not be able to prove the ball crossed the line and so it was just as well the goal did not matter.
Despite recent changes in fortune, the great Pars escape was not be. In fact it looked impossible right from the fifth minute of this game and so the Pars duly return to the First Division after one season in the top flight. No glamour games next season but matches against Falkirk, Raith Rovers, Cowdenbeath and Dundee on Saturdays at three o`clock do not look too dark a prospect.