CELTIC 3 - 0 DUNFERMLINE
No no, not at all, well not if the Pars calamitous attempts to defend set-pieces in this fixture are anthing to go by. Christ knows just what Hay and his coaches are teaching the players in training, however one things for sure, it certainly isn't the art of defending - or attacking for that matter - set-pieces.
Going into the game with two consecutive wins under their belt, the Pars took to the field with just one change from Wednesday night's CIS Cup triumph over First Division side Partick Thistle, Gary Mason replacing Thomas Butler in the Pars midfield - a move which was to backfire spectacularly on the Pars management team just quarter of an hour into the match.
Although there was no official minute silence at the start of today's game for the death of the legendary Brian Clough, the Celtic support managed to show their respect by almost perfectly observing a ninety-minute silence throughout the course of the game. The home side showed their intentions in as early as the 4th minute of the match when a delicate Stilian Petrov lob sneaked just past Derek Stillie's right-hand post. Almost sixty-seconds later, Celtic's Brazilian midfielder Juninho saw his right-footed effort sail well wide of the post from thirty-yards out.
With Martin O'Neill's side continually probing the Pars defence, defensive-midfielder Gary Mason's brief involvement in the game came to an end in the 15th minute when he appeared to suffer a relapse from the injury which kept him out of the midweek CIS Cup fixture - Aaron Labonte taking to the field amid a series of tactical changes from the Pars management team. Seconds after the substituion the Pars showed their first real sign of attack when lacklustre Celtic defending led to a Pars corner. The resulting Gary Dempsey corner was cleared only as far as Darren Young at the edge of the box, the midfielder firing his effort far and wide of the Celtic goal.
Any thoughts of a Pars attacking onslaught were quickly dispelled, however, as the home side took the lead in the 20th minute. An in-swinging Alan Thompson corner was poorly dealt with by the Pars defence leaving Stanislav VARGA to bundle the ball into the net at the back post. The Pars continued to look nervous - with Skerla in particular seriously struggling up against the pace of Henri Camara - and, only minutes later, a horrendous mix-up in the Pars defence - with Skerla the main sinner - led to a desperate goalmouth scramble in which the Pars defence just managed to clear the ball to safety.
With this the Pars started to impose theirself much more on proceedings, spraying the ball about confidently and with a purpose. In the 29th minute, a good move involving Brewster and Dempsey culminated in a blocked Darren Young effort with the Celtic defenders scrambling back, desperate to protect their lead. Almost a minute later the Pars came agonisingly close to claiming an equaliser, an excellent Greg Shields run and cross down the right-wing found Brewster lurking in the Celtic penalty area, the veteran striker sending his right-footed volley just past David Marshall's left-hand post.
Normal service was resumed however, in the 38th minute, when the home side added to their lead. With Andrius Skerla giving away an absolutely needless foul on the edge of the eighteen-yard box - the kind of reckless challenge you certainly wouldn't expect from an international class defender - Alan Thompson was once again given the opportunity to test the Pars defensive resolve. A dangerous left-footed cross was met by the head of Henri CAMARA, bringing out an excellent point-blank save from Derek Stillie, only for the Senegalese striker to react much quicker than a static Pars defence to stab the ball into the net.
With the Pars defence in tatters, the home side could have added to their lead only minutes after Camara's strike. With Scott Thomson tracking but failing to challenge Celtic winger Momo Sylla - a pattern which was somewhat common throughout the ninety minutes - the winger was allowed to deliver a pin-point cross for John Hartson at the back post, the big striker's floating header rebounding off the cross-bar. With the half-time break growing ever-closer, a Barry Nicholson corner was well-met by a Scott Wilson header which crept just over Marshall's crossbar.
With the visitors desperately looking for a way back into the match, the half-time break saw the setting for a Calderwood-esque moment from Pars boss Davie Hay, the manager replacing the ineffectual Darren Young with striker Noel Hunt - the Pars formation in-turn switching to a 4-3-3. If anything, the move seemed to have the opposite effect for the Pars with Celtic starting the second-half in the same manner in which they had finished the first, Alan Thompson going close after some neat skill from Stilian Petrov. A Craig Brewster effort soon after, failed to seriously trouble the young Celtic keeper with the Pars frontline living off scraps.
With the visitors seemingly intent on conceding corner after corner and free-kick after free-kick, the inevitable seemed only matter of time away. Ten minutes into the second-half an Alan Thompson corner was very poorly dealt with by the Pars defence, a series of amatuerish half-clearances leading to the ball striking the bar, before Henri CAMARA managed to fire past Stillie to claim his second, and his side's third, of the afternoon. With the game all-but over as a contest, the Pars finally started to penetrate the Celtic defence with Noel Hunt going close in the 58th minute with a header from a Gary Dempsey cross. Four minutes later the Pars were presented with, perhaps, their best goalscoring opportunity of the match after an impressive Noel Hunt run down the right-flank. After taking on Belgium defender Joos Valgaeren, a pin-point Hunt cross was met by Craig Brewster who took a touch before volleying straight at David Marshall rom twelve-yards out.
Struggling to find any sort of rythym, the Pars were still somewhat prone to suffering from the odd defensive lapse aswell as at the hands of some disgraceful refereeing from Alan Freeland. With Brewster adjudged to have brought down Henri Camara at the edge of the Pars eighteen-yard box in the 72nd minute, Alan Thompson's thunderous free-kick was superbly saved, once again, by Derek Stillie. With John Hartson failing to allow Stillie the chance to kick the ball out, the Welshman was rightly booked - to the displeasure of the home crowd. With referee Freeland committing the ultimate sin in booking a Celtic player at Celtic Park, he was quick to make amends, booking Barry Nicholson for what seemed like a fairly innocuous challenge on Juninho. With substitute Noel Hunt clearly struggling with an injury, the striker was replaced by fellow Irishman Thomas Butler in the 73rd minute.
With Celtic fans streaming out of the stadium in their thousands, Celtic youngster Ross Wallace and striker Henri Camara both passed up excellent one-on-one opportunities when it seemed easier to score. With the minutes ticking away, Aiden McGeady and Camara (again) saw decent efforts excellently saved by Stillie once again. With the tiny Pars support almost outnumbering the vanishing home crowd by the time the whistle came, the final whistle brought an end to yet another hugely disappointing trip to the East End of Glasgow for the travelling Fifers.
Any thoughts of a repeat performance of the Pars 2-1 victory over O'Neill's side back in May were ultimately just a pipe dream with the Pars never really looking likely to take any points out of this fixture whatsoever. Although the Pars matched the home side for periods throughout the game, the failure to finish and failure to defend set-pieces played a huge part in the visitors eventual downfall.
Going into the fixture on the back of two morale-boosting victories, too many vital Pars players failed to perform. Among others Darren Young, Gary Dempsey and, strangely, Andrius Skerla were particularly disappointing. Young - who has enjoyed an impressive start to the new campaign - looked rushed and uncomfortable when in possession, Gary Dempsey - clearly out of position on the left-wing - looks a shadow of his former self, and Andrius Skerla - one of the SPL's top defenders without a shadow of a doubt - appeared nervous and lacking in his usual unscrupulous defending style.
Perhaps they were tired after the midweek game, perhaps the poor start to the season has filled them with nerves, whatever the excuse they use, intimidation due to the Celtic Park atmosphere cannot be one of them! With an atmosphere that was - at the best of times - dead, you would have thought it would have given the Pars players the advanatage, reminding them of the morgue that is East End Park. With only a handful of Celtic fans singing - all of them aged twelve or under - at least the Pars fans were provided with a laugh or two - imagine the BeeGees with their vitals caught in a vice, singing "Celtic, Celtic" then you'll begin to get the picture!
It's back to the drawing board for Mr Hay and his stooges now, with the visit of on-form Hibs to East End Park next Saturday. Lets just hope the Pars players have learned how to shoot and defend free-kicks by then!!!
Man Of The Match - DEREK STILLIE - Without Stillie, the score could have resembled F*****k's thrashing during the week. Excellent display.
PARS - Stillie 9, Shields 6, Thomson 5, Wilson 6, Skerla 5, Nicholson 5, Dempsey 5, Mason 5, (Labonte 15) 5, Darren Young 5, (Hunt H/T) 7, (Butler 73) 6, Mehmet 6, Brewster 7.