Dunfermline travelled to Livingston on Saturday at the end of one of the most turbulent weeks in the club’s 128 year history, which saw administration take effect with several first team players including their captain, Jordan McMillan, made redundant. Fellow mainstays of the team such as Andy Barrowman, Joe Cardle, Andy Kirk and Paul Gallacher were also culled by the administrators midweek, leaving an air of gloom around the club going into the fixture.
Prior to the match, manager Jim Jefferies – who himself has offered to work for free in order to assist the club financially – had called for a “siege mentality” in his dressing room. If the players who remain at the club for the timebeing had any difficulty engaging with this mindset, the trip to Livingston would certainly have made it a reality.
The Lions have been no strangers to financial woe in recent years. Angelo Massone’s disastrous reign at the club may have afforded the Livi support some empathy with the Pars, but they certainly never displayed it. Instead, the home side were far more intent on starting Mark Burchill’s managerial reign with a victory.
Jim Jefferies, by virtue of the mass redundancies effected by the administrators, made wholesale changes to the squad, bringing in a raft of youngsters to the starting lineup. In order to preserve some degree of experience, the injured John Potter played with a damaged ankle in central defence, allowing him to maintain defensive discipline among the youthful ranks, in a first half during which the home side had the lion’s share of possession and opportunities at goal.
Surprisingly however, it was the Pars who snatched the lead against the run of play with around 20 minutes gone.
It appeared that Ryan Wallace had fouled Kyle Jacobs with an over-zealous shoulder charge around 35 yards from goal, but controversially the referee waved play on. Chris Kane then picked the ball up wide on the right hand side and whipped the ball into the penalty area. Ryan Thomson was there to meet it and nodded past Livi ‘keeper Andy McNeil.
The Pars fans were ecstatic, while the Livingston fans were incensed as some of the players appealed to the officials over the decision to continue with play immediately prior to the goal.
Dunfermline weathered a storm afterwards as Livi looked to even the scoreline prior to half time, but were able to keep their shape under heavy bombardment.
John Potter, although hobbling uncomfortably throughout the first half, was audible from in his encouragement towards his team-mates.
The second half began in much the same fashion; with Livingston dominating as Dunfermline tried to keep their shape and catch the home side on the counter-attack.
Mark Burchill introduced Marc McNulty for Kyle Jacobs at the restart, and the additional goal threat seemed to add a cutting edge to the Lions which they had lacked at times in the first half. Suddenly, the link-up play amongst Anthony Andreu, Iain Russell and Stefan Scougall seemed to have added urgency with McNulty thrown into the mix.
Things began to look increasingly worrying for Dunfermline when after 51 minutes, John Potter slumped to the deck clutching his ankle. His game was over. He had played through the pain barrier for Jim Jefferies, but he could no longer continue, and was duly replaced by Shaun Byrne.
And within seconds, Livingston found their way back into the game. Jesus Garcia Tena lofted a long diagonal into the area, and Andreu was there to tap in from close range. In an instant, the momentum seemed to swing completely towards the home side. Without the experienced Potter, would this young Dunfermline side have enough character to stand their ground?
For fifteen minutes, it certainly appeared so. Dunfermline again set about keeping themselves in the game, snuffing out opportunities from Russell and McNulty.
Livingston are a side which like to get the ball on the floor and play free-flowing football, but were only able to force a second goal from the Pars with another long ball.
Left back Jason Talbot arrowed a long ball into the box, which was chested down by Danny Mullen into the path of the onrushing McNulty who drilled the ball high into the left hand corner on the half-volley. Dunfermline had made a fist of it, but it now appeared that the game was going as expected.
Not if Ross Millen had a say. The young winger released a snap shot from fully 25 yards out, but the effort agonisingly continued to rise all the way and skimmed off the top of the bar.
His second attempt moments later was even closer. From a similar range, he rocketed the ball towards goal. It cannoned off of the underside of the bar, before bouncing on the line and being gathered gratefully by Andy McNeil.
Millen’s immediate reaction after the shot was to turn to the travelling fans with his arms raised and teeth gritted, rousing a passionate roar from them in return.
It was clear that the Pars were far from done, and in the dying moments of the game they finally got their just reward.
Danny Mullen brought down Shaun Byrne inside the box deep into stoppage time. Stephen Husband stepped up to drill the ball low and left past McNeil to an almighty wave of noise from the away fans.
The players ran to celebrate in front of them as if it had been a last-minute winner, and in that moment everybody connected with the troubled club seemed to have brief sanctuary from the worry and anxiety which had engulfed them in recent weeks, as it turned instead to relief and joy.
Richie Burke spoke to the media in place of Mark Burchill, who was reportedly extremely unhappy at the manner in which Livingston dropped two points late in the game, he said: “We’re very disappointed to give up two points at the end there with the penalty result. The first goal we also gave up was an aberration during the first half when we’ve been in a period of dominance. The players deserve credit for coming from behind and getting themselves in front. But we gave two young players a chance to come on from the bench and I think they’ve learnt a valuable lesson today.
“We need to show a little bit more maturity in the way we keep the ball sometimes. With a minute and a half to go, we have the ball in their half up in the corner, then thirty seconds later they have a penalty. So that’s something we need to look at.”
An upbeat Jim Jefferies was delighted with the result, he commented: “We’ve just been saying in the dressing room that feels like a 3-0 win today! What a fantastic response we gave during that last 15 or 20 minutes. We went 2-1 down and seemed to throw off the shackles. At 1-0 up and with young boys, their natural thought is to sit in deep and defend it. But when we went behind, we went 4-4-2 and played with freedom.
“Today showed that if Dunfermline continue and get past these problems, they have a bright future in the youth ranks. It’s no surprise that we’re in the youth cup final, a lot of the guys who came in today have played a big part in that. You worry about young boys caving in under the pressure of going behind. Livingston are obviously a very good side, they’ve got good front players so it’s a test for our defence. But they fought for each other.
“John Potter was actually struggling to play, his leg was bandaged up. But I didn’t want to risk having two young kids starting at centre-half, so I asked him to play and help us through. He did well to last as long as he did. We thought naivety could be a problem today and it was, but I won’t criticise them for that. They fought brilliantly and did us a fantastic turn.
“They did the club proud today. We’ve told them that if they accept the (wage) reductions and play well for the next six games, they can make themselves into legends at this club. That’s not something you can often offer. Usually you need to be at a club for a long, long time to be a legend, but that’s what they have to do now.”
Livingston: McNeil, McCann (McNulty 46), Talbot, Garcia Tena, Barr, O’Brien, Ky.Jacobs, Fox (Donaldson 85), Andreu, Scougall (Mullen 65), I.Russell.
Subs not used: Booth, Jamieson
Dunfermline Athletic: Hrivnak, Millen, Whittle, Young, Potter (Byrne 52), Kane, Dargo (Munro 56), Husband, Wallace (Smith 45),
Subs not used: Drummond, Goodfellow
Referee: Paul Robertson
For match photos from the Livingston – Dunfermline game check out the Official Scotzine flickr page.