DUNFERMLINE 1 - 1 HIBS
It's probably a sign of the times then that this particular 1-1 draw was met by the vast majority of Pars fans with a huge sigh of relief, such was the nature of the Pars performance.
After - all-too-predictly - losing to Martin O'Neill's side in their last match, manager Davie Hay stated in his programme notes how the Pars lost to three "quality goals"- a statement which seems to confirm many Pars fans suspicions that Hay is actually asleep in the stand during the games. With that in mind, Hay appears to have settled on his preferred starting eleven, starting the match with one change from the Celtic match - Thomas Butler replacing the injured Gary Mason in midfield.
For the second home match in a row, the Pars kicked off towards the Norrie McCathie stand - the visitors electing to play towards the sea of green which was the away end. Backed by their large travelling support - an undoubted boost for the East End Park coffers - Hibs started the brighter of the two teams, going close in the first minute. Ex-Arsenal youngster Dean Shiels found Gary O'Connor on the right-wing before the striker swung in a cross for Stephen Fletcher, the youngster's header failing to trouble Derek Stillie. The visiting support were in uproar a minute later after referee Calum Murray turned down the Hibees penalty claims, Derek Riordan appearing to be impeded by Scott Wilson.
The visitors came close, once again, in the 8th minute after a David Murphy through ball found Gary O'Connor who sent in a cross for Derek Riordan, the youngster's effort skimming off the Stillie's cross bar. All this was to no evail however, with the linesman flagging for offside. The Pars were to show their first real sign of attack soon ater, in the 11th minute, with Scott Thomson going close with a low drive after a Gary Dempsey corner. The visitors were next to threaten five minutes later, with Beuzelin sending a volley over the bar after getting on the end of a Stephen Glass free-kick.
The Pars should have taken the lead in the 18th minute after good play involving Gary Dempsey and Billy Mehmet. With Mehmet playing a neat one-two with the Irish midfielder Mehmet was sent racing into the Hibs penalty box. After showing good skill to out-fox two Hibs defenders, Mehmet fired wide from only five yards out when it seemed so much easier to score - the big striker once again failing to find that killer touch. Mehmet came close again soon after, his right-footed shot blocked after a Thomas Butler cross was knocked down by Craig Brewster. In what was a good spell for the Pars, they could have taken the lead once again, in the 25th minute, after Butler was taken down on the edge of the Hibs eighteen-yard box. A tremendous curling free-kick from captain Scott Thomson had Hibs keeper Simon Brown beaten only for the ball to crash off the upright, Darren Young sending the rebound straight into the arms of the Hibs keeper.
With the Pars looking increasingly dangerous, Thomas Butler curled a right-footed effort just wide of Brown's left-hand post in the 32nd minute. With the home side enjoying a fair amount of possession - particular down the flanks - the Hibs defence were scrapping for their lives, Ian Murray desperately blocking a Billy Mehmet drive in the 37th minute. Then out-of-the-blue - or green if you like - the visitors took the lead only two minutes later thanks to a Gary O'CONNOR strike. After good play involving Derek Riordan and Steven Whittaker, O'Connor was sent through on goal, the Scotland U-21 International sending his low drive past Derek Stillie and into the net to put the visitors into the lead against the run of play.
It was a sucker punch for the Pars who had, up until then, looked by far the most likely to get open the scoring. Equally as dissapointed were the Pars supporters, all of whom were surely feeling more than a touch of dejavu after a start to the season which has offered little joy for Pars fans. With the first-half stuttering to a finish, there was a touch of cheer for the fans in the North West stand after an early Rock Steady substitution, the elderly male steward being replaced by a stunning blonde steward (a female blonde, I'd hasten to add!).
The half-time break saw the East End Park catering department truly surpass itself. With no hot food available - not even those honking Cheese 'n' Onion bridies that they normally struggle to give away! - we were treated to Mars Bars and crisps galore - well, only ready salted! I'm seriously beginning to wonder if Claude Anelka is running the East End Park catering operation, although having said that Anelka could probably do a better job than the current staff.
An incident staright after the break almost resulted in a contender for David Seaman's or David James' (or any other useless English keeper's) Christmas Goalkeeping Bloopers video. With Stillie ready to a collect a fairly aimless Hibs through-ball, the Pars keeper suddenly realised he had strayed out of his box before the letting the ball slip through his legs before diving to collect the ball. The Pars almost took the lead from Stillie's resulting clearance, Gary Dempsey firing in a shot from six-yards out after a Barry Nicholson cross, Hibs keeper Simon Brown saving well.
With the visitors looking to add to their lead, Stillie was tested in the 49th minute after a fierce Steven Whittaker drive, the keeper making a good save to deny the midfielder. The Pars came close soon after, with a Darren Young shot being charged down by Hibs midfielder Beuzelin - the Frenchman requiring treatment after bravely denying the Pars midfielder. Davie Hay unveiled yet another strange substitution from his book of "Strange Substitutions" - you'll find it at WH Smith's next to his book of "Boring Post-Match Interviews" - just after the hour mark, replacing the - once-again - impressive Billy Mehmet with Derek Young. Young would announce his arrival on the day's proceedings only seconds later, clattering Hibs youngster Stephen Fletcher and in-turn picking up a yellow card.
Ex-Hibs striker Craig Brewster came close in the 62nd minute, his thundering 25-yard drive being turned round the post by Brown in the Hibs goal. Shortly after, Stillie was called into action once again after good play down the Hibs right-flank. An excellent Dean Shiels pass found Derek Riordan who's shot was brilliantly saved by Stillie yet again. Hibs youngster Shiels was given freedom of the pitch soon after, in the 74th minute, when he ghosted past four weak Pars challenges only to send in a fairly weak effort. The visitors could - and should - have sewn the game up only minutes later when a poor Derek Stillie only went as far as Derek Riordan. With the Pars keeper caught in 'no-mans land' the Hibs striker flicked the ball towards goal, only for Greg Shields to make a last ditch goal line clearance.
With this, Hay switched to the long-ball tactic, or more precisely, he sent on Andy Tod in place of Thomas Butler with 'Toddy' taking his unfamiliar place up-front. With long-ball upon long-ball failing to find any way through, Tod came agonisingly close in the 81st minute after an impressive Pars passing move. A Gary Dempsey pass had sent Nicholson racing down the right-wing only for his cross to be volleyed wide by Tod from only six-yards out.
Then, after a flash of inspiration, Davie Hay made that all-important phone call - sending on pre-season signing Simon Donnelly for the ineffectual Darren Young. It was to pay dividends only minutes later as DONNELLY - being deployed once again in a midfield role - managed to get ahead of the strikers and onto a Derek Young through ball before neatly flicking the ball past Hibs keeper Simon Brown. The relieved Pars support erupted and urged their team on for a winner, although a draw was gladly accepted after an excellent double save from Derek Stillie denied both Beuzelin and Riordan in the dying seconds of the match. The Pars keeper - without doubt the best shot-stopper in Scotland - proving his worth once again to the Pars, earning his side what was - in all truth - an undeserved point.
What was billed as a 'must-win' game for the Pars - a phrase we seem to be hearing all to often nowadays - turned out to be a 'thank christ for a draw' game. Despite performing well in the first-half, the Pars second-half display was quite frankly abysmal. The Pars centre midfield pairing of Darren Young and Gary Dempsey were all to frequently non-existent, offering very little support to the Pars defence. By the time he was withdrawn from play, the number of misplaced Darren Young passes must surely have been reaching the thousand mark. To single out Darren Young would be unfair however, with the Pars midfield as a whole, performing fairly poorly.
More encouraging however, was the performance of an - at times - isolated defence. Despite his wayward distribution, Derek Stillie made many an excellent save to keep his side in the game - his double-save in the dying seconds ensuring the Pars held on to their point. The full-backs, Greg Shields and Scott Thomson, continue to improve on their early-season form with 'Sheildsy' in particular turning in an impressive performance. After an erratic performance at Celtic Park last week, Skerla looked back to his best alongside the excellent Scott Wilson - Wilson turning in easily his best performance of the season.
The most pleasing aspect of the match however was the super-sub appearance form Simon Donnelly, the striker - who's been scoring goals for fun in the Reserves - coming off the bench to grab the Pars a point. Maybe, just maybe, you'd think that Mr Hay will now consider giving Donnelly a run in the team as a forward - his actual position.
One point certainly isn't three points but one things for sure, it's a hell of a lot better than winning sod all - an outcome which looked inevitable up until four minutes before the end!
Man Of The Match - SCOTT WILSON - A commanding presence at the back, the big defender was impressive throughout.
PARS - Stillie 8, Shields 7, Thomson 6, Wilson 8, Skerla 6, Nicholson 5, Butler 5, (Tod 74) 4, Darren Young 5, (Donnelly 82) 7, Dempsey 5, Brewster 6, Mehmet 6, (Derek Young 61) 6.
SUBS NOT USED - Langfield, Labonte, Lyle, McKeown.