Ladbrokes Championship: Brechin City 0 Dunfermline 3: 20/03/18

A match which could have been a banana skin for the Pars’ continuing promotion hopes was quickly settled when Nicky Clark pounced twice early on, the striker completing his hat-trick in the second half.

As expected, Manager Allan Johnston named an unchanged starting eleven for the journey up the M90 and A90 to Angus in the latest of a cluster of championship fixtures. Andy Ryan came back in to the squad as Dean Shiels was relegated to a place in the stand.

Brechin boasted two former Pars players in their starting line-up, namely Euan Spark and Finn Graham who was proudly sporting his new bleached blond hair-style. Experienced keeper Graeme Smith was recalled, with previous custodian Paddy O’Neil wearing the gloves on the bench. Curiously Saturday’s substitute keeper Scott Costello was named as an outfield player as the home team struggled to fill places.
Callum Morris won the toss and elected to switch the players around, meaning the Pars, wearing their first choice strips, would attack the Trinity Road end stand which housed about 100 or so Pars fans. A further 300 or so lined the touchline by the celebrated hedge.

An early free-kick led to an early Brechin corner and a chance for Mackin when he held off Morris to swivel and shoot, but Robinson saved comfortably.

The Pars hit back with a looping McManus header from a Craigen free-kick, before taking the lead in the 8th minute. McManus was first to a long clearance from Robinson, then quickest to react to his initial touch, sending CLARK into the box in the inside right channel – his strike partner drilled his shot beyond Smith into the far corner to open the scoring.

Within a minute the lead was doubled – Spark struggled to deal with an incoming ball and CLARK outmuscled Fusco to create a chance for a shot which he slotted past Smith from 12 yards.

With their hosts rattled, the Pars continued to press – Martin made a good run into the box and lashed a shot at Smith who could only parry, but McManus couldn’t take advantage of the rebound, before McManus turned creator again, playing in Clark but this time Smith saved well with his legs. Robinson likewise used to his legs to good effect to deny Tapping from a corner, before Orsi shot narrowly wide.

Darren Dods had seen enough and had to change his plans as early as the 24th minute, when he switched from a 4-5-1 formation to a 3-5-2, hooking Spark and moving Graham to right wing back. This made the home team more competitive in the middle of the park and with Ashcroft temporarily off having a cut above the eye attended to, the home side were able to engineer a couple of long-range cracks at goal. In particular Dyer contrived a dipping shot which nearly foxed the Pars’ keeper.

Of course, there were spaces behind the wing backs which Williamson sought to exploit, but Ryan couldn’t quite find the killer cross. McManus did manage to pick out Clark at the back-post in 36 minutes, but Nicky blazed the ball over the bar from close range when it seemed easier to find the net. However, the linesman was flagging and Clark’s blushes were spared.

Try as they might, the Pars could not find a third goal. A further chance presented itself in 42 minutes when the ball was only half-cleared to Williamson in the box. The Pars full-back desperately tried all his tricks to create a shooting chance, but eventually had to admit defeat and lay the ball back to Higginbotham who teed up Beadling for a volley, but this was just too high, then with half-time looming McManus, who had had a fine half, cut inside from the left but his shot was deflected just over. McManus then got on the end of the corner, but his flick came back off the bar,

Half time: Brechin 0 Dunfermline 2

There were no further changes at the break and the two teams seemed more evenly matched as the second half began in scrappy fashion. keeper Smith miskicking a clearance, but fortuitously finding a man in red was the only incident of note. However, the hard work of the Pars’ midfield finally paid off when Beadling found both control and space and chipped the ball to CLARK who this time was in the left channel. In a mirror image of the first goal he dispatched the ball beyond Smith to complete his hat-trick.

Clark and McManus again combined just before the hour mark, Nicky sending his partner wide before making ground to meet the return pass first time, but his curled effort from 20 yards was the wrong side of the upright.

The game’s first yellow card appeared in 61 minutes when Tapping was booked for a late challenge on Beadling 30 yards from goal. With all four of Dunfermline’s midfield standing over the ball, it was left to Craigen to try his luck, and he came close, Smith scrambling to save low to his left.

With the match seemingly won, the Pars made a double switch with 25 minutes left, replacing McManus and Clark with Armstrong and Ryan in what was a straight swap. Ten minutes later Aird replaced Vincent, with Craigen moving from the left to the middle to allow the Canadian internationalist to play wide.

A poor pass from Morris to Williamson nearly landed the latter in trouble, but he used his turn of space to get out of danger, then found space opening up in front of him as he charged through the middle, Unfortunately Armstrong couldn’t match the quality of the preceding play as he failed to find the target from Williamson’s pass.

City hadn’t given up hope of getting something – a terrific run from Graham on the right beat several players but he fired his shot from the angle across goal, before Tapping managed to create space at the edge of the box, but pulled his attempt wide.

This late flurry allowed the Pars to break fast – Aird looked dangerous down the left but his 81st minute shot was half-blocked allowing Smith an easy save – before Robison’s throw to Higginbotham in the middle of the park saw the Pars go 3 v 2, but a crucial bobble at the key moment saw Armstrong lose control when he was about to pull the trigger.

With the match moving into stoppage time we saw the rare sight of Williamson being allowed to go forward for a corner, but Brechin dealt with that, and right at the depth an ambitious 35 yarder from substitute Spencer nearly undid Robinson’s clean sheet, the Pars’ keeper being a little relieved to see the ball was just too high.

So in the end a comfortable win, which with results elsewhere tees up Saturday’s fixture nicely.

Highlights from Pars TV

BRECHIN CITY: Graeme Smith: Euan Spark (Sean Crighton 24) Euan Smith, Gary Fusco (Paul McLean 74), Willie Dyer: Kelvin Orsi, Liam Watt (Jordan Sinclair 73) Callum Tapping, James Dale, Finn Graham: Dylan Mackin
SUBS NOT USED: Aron Lynas, Callumn Morrison, Sean Crighton, Scott Costello, Paddy O`Neil (GK).
YELLOW CARD: Tapping (61), Dyer (75)

DUNFERMLINE: Lee Robinson: Ryan Williamson, Callum Morris (c), Lee Ashcroft, Lewis Martin: Kallum Higginbotham, James Vincent (Fraser Aird 72), Tom Beadling, James Craigen: Declan McManus (Dan Armstrong 64), Clark (Andy Ryan 64).
SUBS NOT USED: Jean-Yves M`Voto, Nat Wedderburn, Jason Talbot, Cammy Gill (GK)
SCORERS: Clark (8,9, 54)

REFEREE: Barry Cook

NEXT MATCH: Ladbrokes Championship: (away) v Dundee United, Saturday 24th March 2018, 3.00pm kick off at Tannadice.

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