DUNFERMLINE 1 - 0 HEARTS
After a terrific fighting performance, the Pars came away with the three points to lift themselves off the bottom of the table and into 9th position in the SPL, a mear three points off the top six - unthinkable only a few hours ago!
Taking to the field with the same first eleven that started against Motherwell, the Pars faced what could only be described as a weakened Hearts side. After the midweek excitement of the UEFA Cup, Jambos manager Craig Levein saw this fixture as the perfect opportunity to rest some of his key players - leaving Hartley and Maybury on the bench, and leaving the unfit Mark De Vries and captain Steven Pressley out of the squad completely.
In what was a very forgettable first-half, the Pars threatened first with Brewster going close in the 8th minute. After a Mehmet knock-down, Gary Dempsey sent in a cross from the left which Christophe Berra failed to clear, Brewster sending a shot straight at Scotland keeper Craig Gordon. The visitors hit back seconds later when Jamie McAllister sent youngster Craig Sives through on goal, only for the young debutant to see his weak shot easily saved from Stillie.
Good play from Young, Mehmet and Dempsey set up Craig Brewster in the 15th minute, only to see his left-footed shot blaze far over the cross-bar.
What was to follow was a large period of inactivity with neither side making their significant possession count. The Pars were presented with a half chance on the half-hour mark however, a defensive mix-up letting in Brewster only for Berra to nick the ball away from the striker at the last minute. Brewster again came close soon after, sending a delicate chip just past the post with Gordon well-beaten.
Hearts offered their tuppence worth in the 33rd minute when loan-signing Michael Stewart sent in a left-footed drive straight at Stillie, the Pars keeper comfortably dealing with the effort. Two minutes later the Pars came tantalisingly close to taking the lead when a stray header from a Dempsey corner lobbed the advancing Craig Gordon, Hearts stand-in captain Robbie Nielsen heading the ball off the line at the last minute. It was Dempsey's turn to come close soon after, the Irishman seeing his 25-yard effort brilliantly saved by the Hearts keeper. This was to prove to be the last act of what was a frankly dire fourty-five minutes.
Luckily however, the second-half was to prove anything but dire with action and controversy reigning from the outset. One minute after the restart the Pars were to win a penalty after a good piece of play involving Mehmet and Dempsey. Mehmet showed good skill to find Dempsey who burst through the Hearts defence before being taken down by Craig Sives. Referee Mike Ritchie immediately pointing to the spot. The Hearts players surrounded the referee in protest - obviously hoping for a similar outcome to the Arsenal-Fulham penalty incident last week. Although the tackle was undoubtedly cynical, the Hearts players could maybe feel a little aggrieved over whether the incident actually happened inside the box. They needn't have worried however, Craig Gordon excellently saving Dempsey's poorly taken spot-kick.
Rather than let their heads drop, the Pars upped the tempo and showed a real determination to get the three points. With the Pars carving out countless passing moves, the home fans began to remember what this Pars side can actually achieve. With the home side pressing the Hearts defence at every opportunity, the visitors resorted to time-wasting tactics, Craig Gordon the main culprit.
Gary Dempsey could have made-up for his penalty miss soon after, only to see his right-footed drive excellently turned away by Gordon once more. With the humour somewhat lacking at East End Park this season, it was nice to see Paul Hartley - not exactly a Pars fans favourite - make a complete and utter hash of a free-kick soon after - the ball almost ending up in the Forth, Hartley ending up on the floor!
The good humour was to increase in the 65th minute, however, when the Pars took a well-deserved lead. After a mistake from substitute Alan Maybury, Barry Nicholson was sent careering through on goal. With Craig Gordon straying ever-so-slightly off his goalline, NICHOLSON sent an excellent 30-yard chip over the Hearts keeper and into the back of the net, sending the Pars players and supporters wild.
Far from sit back in hope of defending their lead, the Pars continued to attack the Hearts defence in search of a killer second, deperate defending from a combination of Nielsen and Webster clearing a Billy Mehmet header five minutes later. With the visitors beginning to look desperate - Craig Gordon in particular appearing somewhat more urgent with the taking of his by-kicks - Paul Hartley was booked for a dangerous and cowardly challenge on Gerg Shields, Shields lucky to avoid serious injury.
Barry Nicholson could have doubled his, and the team's, tally shortly after when his left-footed effort was almost spilled by Gordon in what seemed like a flashback to the recent Scotland-Slovenia game. Spurred on by the backing of the increasingly-vocal home crowd, the Pars continued to press and came agonisingly close, once again, in the 75th minute when Gary Dempsey was sent through on goal, only to see his left-footed drive somehow turned away by the feet of the Hearts keeper.
With the seconds ticking away, time was rapidly running out for the Tynecastle - or should that be Murrayfield? - side. They could have equalised with ten minutes remaining however, only for Alan Maybury to see his thundering drive excellently saved by Derek Stillie. Hearts continued to press without ever looking likely to draw level, the Pars players, and defence in particular, scrapping and fighting for every single ball.
With the game petering out to a finish, the referee somehow found enough time to add an extra four minutes to the match, time enough to see the first-team debut of recent signing Thomas Butler, the Irishman replacing Craig Brewster. The substituition, obviously manufactured to run down time, worked a treat with the final whistle sounding only thirty seconds later sparking a huge roar from a relieved home support finally sampling that winning feeling once again.
As the saying goes, you can only win whats put in front of you, and win the Pars did. A tremendous battling performance from the Pars will no doubt give some very disillusioned supporters a lot of heart. A win that should not be over-shadowed by the fact that Levein went with a particularly weakened side.
The performances of Billy Mehmet, Craig Brewster, Darren Young and Scott Thomson were very encouraging, however the performance of Barry Nicholson was absolutely scintilating. When Barry plays, the Pars seem to stick to the passing game of years gone by, a style that constantly tears teams apart. The inclusion of Nicholson seems to raise the game of many other players - particularly that of Greg Shields. Couple this together with a wonder goal - does this guy ever score ordinary goals? - and you get one of the best indivudual Pars perfromances this season.
We certainly haven't turned the corner, but it's definately a start!
Man Of The Match - BARRY NICHOLSON - Top class performance from the midfielder coupled together with an absolute screamer of a goal.
PARS - Stillie 7, Shields 7, Thomson 8, Wilson 7, Skerla 7, Nicholson 9, Dempsey 7, Mason 7, Young 8, Brewster 8, (Butler 90), Mehmet 8.
SUBS NOT USED - Langfield, Labonte, Hunt, Tod, Donnelly, McKeown.