After Saturday’s impressive win against Stenhousemuir which saw Dunfermline become Britain’s top league goalscorers this season, there was a feeling that this match might present a different kind of challenge. Still without skipper Andy Geggan, Allan Johnston kept the same team and subs that had performed so well at the weekend. Rovers’ manager Darren Young made two changes to the team that so nearly beat title hopefuls Peterhead on Saturday – Darren Petrie took the place of Saturday’s goalscorer Ally Love while former Par Andy Barrowman was relegated to the bench to allow Paul Archibald to wear the number nine jersey.

Despite the cold air, conditions were good. The teams changed ends with Dunfermline starting proceedings facing the Norrie Stand. The Pars won the first free kick of the match inside two minutes when Joe Cardle was fouled by Talu, but despite a decent delivery from Paton there were no takers. A slick passing move gave Faissal El Bakhtaoui the first shot of the match but his 20 yard attempt slipped wide to the left.

Dunfermline continued to play all the football but it was clear that Albion were going to play with eleven men behind the ball so patience would be required to break down a well-organised defence. In 14 minutes two Pars corners in quick succession did nothing to dent the Rovers defence, and when a shot did come it was a fairly weak one at the other end from Albion’s Ross Davidson which was comfortably saved by Sean Murdoch.

The pattern of the match continued with Dunfermline trying to find a way through a packed Rovers defence but Darren Young’s team showed that they could cause problems by breaking quickly and midway through the first half they started to pose more of a threat. Efforts by Spas Georgiev and Darren Petrie were well wide of the mark but in 24 minutes the best chance so far and it came at the other end - from a throw in right Paton slid a good ball to Cardle who turned and fired a left foot drive just over the bar. Paton was then almost immediately required to do some nifty defensive work to prevent an Albion breakaway.

In 27 minutes some good work from Michael Moffat and Craig Reid created an opportunity for Byrne to fire in a shot. The partially blocked shot looped up towards the top left corner of the goal before Ross Stewart made a good save to keep the scores level. Dunfermline’s frustrations were increasing and in 34 minutes Cardle went down inside the box as he tried to dribble his way past the Albion defenders. Referee Gavin Duncan decided however that Joe had gone down too easily and the Pars wingman found himself yellow-carded for simulation.

Ross Davidson had a decent effort that went over the bar in 39 minutes, then Joe Cardle won a corner for Dunfermline in 43 minutes but Albion defended it comfortably. After a lively start the match had rather petered out towards half-time and despite their 56% first half possession, Dunfermline knew that it would take something a bit special to break the Coatbridge defences.

Half time: Dunfermline Athletic 1 Albion Rovers 1

The Pars showed early second half intent and El Bakhtaoui brought out a save from Stewart inside the first minute after the restart. Then just a minute later a Paton ball almost put El Bakhtaoui through again causing the Albion defence to clear frantically.

A foul by Brad McKay in 51 minutes gave Rovers a free kick just outside the box but Ross Davidson’s well-struck effort was saved by Murdoch. In the next minute Faissal’s good run was brought to a halt by Turnbull who became the first Rovers’ player to be yellow-carded. Paton took the kick and found McKay but his header flew over the bar.

Dunfermline weren’t making much headway in this half either so Allan Johnston decided on an early double substitution, bringing on Ryan Wallace and David Hopkirk in 55 minutes to replace Michael Moffat and Joe Cardle. Craig Reid went into the referee’s book for a foul on the half way line before Petrie fired another Albion shot wide.

Although Darren Young’s men had come into the game, the introduction of the Pars subs seemed to bring freshness again to Dunfermline. Hopkirk’s run down the left produced a cross for Wallace but Ryan just couldn’t get enough on the header. Then in 63 minutes El Bakhtaoui was given space in front of goal but his left foot shot was too cl
ose to the keeper. The Pars made a further change in 65 minutes with Rhys McCabe replacing Shaun Byrne while Albion brought Andy Barrowman for Archibald. Dunfermline maintained the pressure and Michael Dunlop was shown yellow for a foul on El Bakhtaoui.

In 70 minutes McCabe brought out a fine save from Stewart with a 30 yard piledriver. From the resultant Paton corner Brad McKay headed just over. Petrie became the next Rovers player in the ref’s book before Paton’s shot was blocked as Rovers continued to defend doggedly. Then, just as it was beginning to look like the breakthrough would never come, a great piece of skill put the Pars in the lead in 75 minutes. From the left side midway inside Rovers half, McCabe slipped a ball to Ryan WALLACE. Ryan took on a defender before firing an accurate drive from more than 20 yards out low and into the bottom left corner of the net.

Unfortunately the lead that had taken Dunfermline so long to create lasted just one more minute. Hopkirk was deemed to have fouled Georgiev wide right outside the Pars penalty area. The free kick didn’t look too troublesome but McKay’s defensive header from close to the byeline was weak allowing Rovers to pick the ball up inside the box. As the Pars defence tried desperately to clear the ball broke to DAVIDSON who shot home from eight yards.

Dunfermline got the chance to get straight back into the lead after Georgiev handled the ball. From the free kick Falkingham sent a cross over that Ben Richards-Everton headed across goal. Faissal got there first but he miscued in front of goal allowing Stewart to save comfortably.

The Pars didn’t give up and Craig Reid fired in a good attempt in 83 minutes that went just wide from an acute angle on the right, then in 90 minutes Ryan Wallace had another long-range effort that dipped over the crossbar. But despite five added minutes, Dunfermline could make no impact on the resolute Albion defence and had to settle for a share of the points.

Although the result is disappointing, the Coatbridge side are no pushovers and showed why they have got such a good defensive record. Eleven points ahead with eight games to go is a good place to be and with Dunfermline’s strength in depth being shown once again to be invaluable, Pars fans have still plenty to shout about.
DUNFERMLINE: Sean Murdoch; Craig Reid, Brad McKay, Ben Richards-Everton, Jason Talbot; Michael Paton, Shaun Byrne (Rhys McCabe 68) Josh Falkingham (c), Joe Cardle (David Hopkirk 55); Michael Moffat (Ryan Wallace 55), Faissal El Bakhtaoui.
SUBS NOT USED: David Hutton (GK), Lewis Martin, Shaun Rooney, Paul Joseph Crossan
SCORERS: Wallace (75)
YELLOW CARD: Cardle (34), Reid (58), McKay (84)

ALBION ROVERS: Ross Stewart; Alan Reid, Michael Dunlop, Ross Dunlop, Kyle Turnbull; Spas Georgiev, Ross Davidson, Darren Petrie (Ally Love 76), Scott McBride; Ricardo Talu, Paul Archibald (Andy Barrowman 67 (Mark Ferry 88)).
SUBS NOT USED: Paul Archibald, Darren Young, Callum McRobbie, Mark Ferry, Blair Lockhead (GK)
SCORERS: Davidson (77)
YELLOW CARD: Turnbull, Petrie, Dunlop

REFEREE: Gavin Duncan

NEXT MATCH: Ladbrokes League One: (away) v Ayr United, Saturday 12th March, 3.00pm kick off at Somerset Park