SPFL Play Off Final DUNFERMLINE 0 COWDENBEATH 3: Date 18/05/14
(Aggregate Dunfermline 1 Cowdenbeath 4)
Cowdenbeath recorded their first win at East End Park since May 1993 to retain their place in the SPFL Championship for next season.¬ It was a massive blow to the players, management, board and fans who now have to settle for yet another season in the third tier of Scottish football.¬ All that seems so sad given the tremendous home support - 7000 strong - ¬ that turned out for this match.
One of the largest crowds of the season¬ greeted the SPFL Championship Final second leg to East End Park on Sunday afternoon for the 4.05pm kick off against near rivals Cowdenbeath. After 36 league and 3 play offs games it comes down to beating Cowdenbeath. The campaign has¬ stretched almost ten months¬ since the opening day win at East Fife and the target of coming second to Rangers was achieved with matches in hand. Stranraer were negotiated in the play off semi final and the Pars returned from Central Park all square at 1-1 from the first leg.
Cowdenbeath manager Jimmy Nicholl went with the same starting eleven as on Wednesday night while Jim Jefferies made one change, Stephen Husband dropping out to make way for Shaun Byrne.¬ The pre match build up was bouyant as the stadium filled up and the players were loudly applauded in warm up but fans who arrived early with most unable to think about anything other than the match all day long.
Jim Leishman¬ made an appearance on the 18 yard line to thank¬ the fans for their support of the club and the Centenary Club Lifeline. The Pars fans filled the North, Main and McCathie Stands and in anticipation peaked as Leish went off doing his aeroplane impersonation.
When the team emerged on to the pitch the noise level was turned to maximum drowning out the 1000 travelling supporters in the East Stand. The visitors kicked off attacking the goal at the McCathie Stand end and Josh Falkingham handed Cowdenbeath a free kick in the first tackle of the afternoon. When that was lofted into the Pars box the ball was headed on and dropped for Kane HEMMINGS to stab the ball past Ryan Scully. 0-1 and just 27 seconds on the clock! This was the 22nd goal of the season for the PFA Scotland's Championship player of the year.
Ryan Williamson forced the Pars first corner of the afternoon on eight minutes after a slick exchange with Falkingham down the right. Unfortunately when the corner came over Kerr Young was penalised for tugging. Cowdenbeath continued to pose a threat with Lewis Milne earning a free kick on the left that Falkingham rose to block.
John Armstrong intercepted a pass and broke feeding Greg Stewart but fortunately Young cut out the pass bnut within a minute Stewart was picked out on the right corner of the Pars box and it was a relief that after cutting in and on to his left foot he sent the shot trundling wide right. In 17 minutes Lewis Martin made a fine last man tackle on Hemmings.
Whittle's 20th minute tackle on Jon Robertson¬ resulted in a 21 yard free kick but Robertson sent that into the Pars wall. Scully then held a Stewart chip from the left byeline¬ into the six yard box. Dunfermline's foray into the Cowdenbeath penalty box was a fruitless one as Faissal El Bakhtaoui's cross could not be controlled by Falkingham. Grainger then pumped over a cross that Thomas Flynn fisted away but Dunfermline play in the last third with Falkingham winning a 27th minute corner. Grainger's cross was too strong and Geggan headed well wide left.
Next minute Byrne sent a pass into the path of El Bakhtaoui and he advanced at pace before releasing a low shot from 25 yards that slipped wide left of target. Nat Wedderburn tried to ease the pressure on his defence by going forward and playing a one two off Hemmings but Geggan read it well and hooked away the clearance.
Scully made a wonderful save in 34 minutes after Stewart had slipped the ball through Young's legs with a neat back heeler and sent Hemmings in but the raised left hand saved the day.¬ What a let off that was. Play switched back to the other end with Grainger being called into providing most of the threat.
In 37 minutes Scully produced a fantastic save when Dean Brett latched on to an opportunity on the right as the ball broke back to him off Stewart. The shot was low and hard but the Pars keeper's outstretched right hand tipped the ball away. Four minutes from the break Robertson cut down Geggan as he tried to move forward from midway in his own half. No card and Geggan was okay to continue after treatment from physio Kenny Murray.
A¬ real scramble developed from a Grainger free kick as Thomson and Martin tried to send the ball into the net but the defence got the ball away. Next Whittle was taken down on edge of the box when squeezed out by Brownlie and Armstrong, giving Grainger an opportunity to power a low shot at goal from a 23 yard free kick but it screamed¬ past the right upright. At half time Dunfermline would be relieved to get in at 1-0 down, had it not been for Ryan Scully the contest could have been over.
Half time: Dunfermline 0 Cowdenbeath 1
The Pars were out early to restart, Andy Geggan had the team in a huddle as they awaited the emergence of their opponents and Ross Forbes replaced Shaun Byrne for the second 45. From the kick off they forced a corner on the right that immediately rallied the home support.
The corner was defended but next El Bakhtaoui was able to¬ cut back for Falkingham and his shot from just outside the box was net bound until Flynn parried the ball away. The offside decision against El Bakhtaoui incensed the crowd but his break was not to bring about the much needed equaliser.
Sub Forbes was wide left to drill the ball right across the six yard box but no one got a touch. Then a 57th minute corner from the left saw Grainger pick out Thomson for a free header but sadly he was off target. Next a Whittle cross from the left corner flag found Thomson but Flynn saved his deflection.
Cowdenbeath went forward, twice they had cut backs into open space in the centre of the penalty box. There were two corners for the Blue Brazil and Armstrong powered a header narrowly over the crossbar.¬ Geggan was penalised for an edge on Flynn as they both went for an El Bakhtaoui cross.¬ Cowden continued to remind us that they were just as likely to score the next goal and after exchanges of passes with Hemmings, Stewart tested Scully with an effort that the keeper did really well to turn behind.
From that 66th minute corner the ball broke wickedly off Forbes and Whittle had to clear off the goaline. That did not end the danger and Thomas O'BRIEN followed up to beat Whittle on the post. 0-2, 1-3 on aggregate.
Stephen Husband came on in place of the unfortunate Whittle but still the visitors caused problems. The major problem¬ was always¬ how to find the opposition net and in 76th minute that looked¬ academic¬ as Greg STEWART grabbed a third Cowdenbeath goal. With the Pars pushing up possession was lost to Milne and he fed the ball out left to the striker. He took three touches with his left foot as he entered the penalty area before tapping it around Young to finish with a right footed shot into the bottom right.
The goal finished the contest, the away fans were elated, the Pars fans deflated. Many of the 8288 fans had gone home by the time referee Steven McLean brought the final to an end.¬ It all ended in tears as several players realised that League One¬ football continues¬ next season¬ with trips to Stranraer and Peterhead.¬ Congratulations to the play off winners, Cowdenbeath who donned their "great escape" t shirts, and good luck in the Championship next season.
DUNFERMLINE: Ryan Scully; Ryan Williamson, Lewis Martin, Kerr Young, Danny Grainger;¬ Shaun Byrne (Ross Forbes HT), Josh Falkingham, Andy Geggan (c), Alex Whittle (Stephen Husband 68); Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Ryan Thomson (Craig Dargo 75).
SUBS NOT USED: Ryan Goodfellow (GK), Ross Millen, Callum Morris, Jonathan Page.
YELLOW CARD: Young (23), Falkingham (57), Geggan (84), Husband (88)
COWDENBEATH: Thomas Flynn; Darren Brownlie (Jamie Stevenson 82), John Armstrong (c), Nat Wedderburn; Dean Brett (Kyle Miller 61), Jon Robertson, Thomas O'Brien, Lewis Milne, Rory McKeown; Greg Stewart, Kane Hemmings
SUBS NOT USED:¬ David Gold, Kenny Adamson, Chris Kane, Jordan Morton, Seb Usai (GK).
SCORERS: Hemmings (1), O'Brien (66), Stewart (76)
YELLOW CARD: Brownlie (44)
REFEREE: Steven McLean
WEATHER:¬ Bright 17C
50/50 HALF TIME DRAW: Ticket 80718 won ¬£1000