A 6 am start, 3 train journeys, multiple cancelled trains, a (really late) replacement bus service and over 8 hours of travel. That was my journey to Stark’s Park yesterday afternoon to see the near enough sold out Fife derby.
For weeks I had been looking forward to this one. My first trip to San Starko and joining an almost 3000 strong Pars away support had returned the excitement to make the long trips down to games, that hadn’t been there towards the end of the Allan Johnston tenure. I arrived with half an hour to spare, despite Scotrail’s best efforts to ruin my trip and after the stress of the day up to that point, I was thrilled to be in amongst a healthy Pars crowd as the atmosphere was building.
There was one change to the Pars lineup and it was an enforced one as Aiden Keena, who had returned to Hearts after a loan spell was replaced by fans favourite Faissal El Bahktaoui. The singing was loud and proud from the kick-off as the Pars supporters got behind their side and in particular the French Moroccan.
A cagey opening 10 or so as you would expect from a derby match as both sides tried to gain some kind of control. It was the Pars who seemed to take control as they played the ball about nicely with Beadling, Higginbotham and Hippolyte seeing a lot of the ball. El Bahktaoui started brightly and seemed to cause Rovers captain Kyle Benedictus problems with his pace and direct running. The best chance of the half came for the Pars, and what a chance it was. A shot from El Bahktaoui was blocked and rebounded to Hippolyte who did well to control it in the box and take it around his man but somehow failed to find the back of the net as Robbie Thomson kept it out. A huge chance that would actually end up being the closest the Pars came to a goal all game as the teams went in level at the break.
The general feeling amongst the Pars fans at the break seemed to be positive with one general consensus, we were playing some nice stuff but were crying out for a goalscorer. I felt at that point the Pars would go on to seal their place in the fifth round, such was my happiness with the first half performance. However what happened in the second half was nowhere near what I had imagined.
The Pars started the second half the way they finished the first, playing some nice stuff and once again being in control of the game. Then came a vital moment in the match. Pars captain Ashcroft was beaten by a cheap bounce and pulled down Chris Duggan who the referee deemed to have had a clear and obvious goal scoring opportunity and so Bobby Madden brandished the red card, despite the protests of Danny Devine who insisted he was there to cover. My initial reaction was that it was a red card and I haven’t seen anything in the footage to make me confidently change my mind.
Despite the red card the Pars still seemed in control for the next 5 minutes or so and had a couple of half chances but yet again the failure to be clinical in the box costed them. The real turning point in the match came not long after that, and it was that man Duggan at the centre of it once again. The Rovers man was fouled once again and this time in the penalty box by Dunfermline substitute Mark Durnan. Lewis Vaughan stepped up and hit a smashing penalty into the left side of the net to give the home side the advantage.
It was at this point that floodgates opened, Vaughan doubled his lead as he found himself unmarked at the back post to convert a cross with a diving header past the helpless Robinson. Number 3 came not long after that and this was a really poor goal for the pars to concede, a hopeful ball of the top that Danny Devine made a real hash of, allowing Vaughan in to deal his hat trick on his 150th appearance for the Rovers.
A very poor day at the office for the Pars and as the large away support was flooding out of the McDermid stand, I felt strangely okay about what I had witnessed, nothing like the anger I had felt leaving games towards the end of the AJ reign. Upset, disappointed but not angry. The Pars played well for 60 minutes. We were let down by our captain seeing red and our other centre-halves having stinkers. The first hour of that game there is no question there was only one side really in the game.
I was one of the biggest advocates for managerial change and the removal of Allan Johnston and I’m very happy that it came to fruition. I’ve also been impressed with Stevie Crawford and Greg Sheild’s enthusiasm and idea that they have put across in interviews and also the improvement in the performances at Tannadice last week and for the first hour yesterday. It is not Stevie Crawford’s fault we lack a goal scorer in the team, there is nothing he can do about the red card, penalty and the individual mistakes that cost us the game. I still feel positive that the new coaching team will get it right but it will take time. It is clear that some of the playing squad need to move on and we require new players in a number of different positions, and it seems obvious at this point that there are some financial constraints preventing Stevie Crawford from making the changes he would perhaps like.
The players, in my opinion, put a lot of effort into the game and were clearly hurting at full time. The majority of us lobbied for change and now we have it and for me, it’s very important we get behind the players and the manager because it seems at the moment we will have to make the best of what we’ve got.
I stood in the away end after the full-time whistle, near enough the last Pars fan left and I felt weirdly optimistic despite a hammering from our local rivals. Change is needed on the park and I trust in Crawford to make those changes and get us firing once again. It was certainly refreshing not leaving a stadium with pent up rage after a Pars defeat.
However, it was a while after full time that things got most interesting. I had plenty of time to kill before my train out of Kirkcaldy and after spending some time talking to some fellow Pars fans about the game I noticed the team bus parked up waiting for the team to board. So me being me, I decided to wander down and have a word with a couple of the players as they left and I’m very glad that I did. I managed to speak to every player individually bar one, and one thing was clear, they were all really hurting. Tom Beadling and Faissal El Bahktaoui especially, who I thought were our best players on the day were very upset with how things had gone. I spoke with the captain Lee Ashcroft, who apologised for the result and performance and likewise, James Vincent was very apologetic and thanked me for the support. Kallum Higginbotham, who seems to have divided attention was also very approachable and made no excuses for the result and just seemed so frustrated with how things had gone. Ryan Williamson, who I had spoken to after the defeat to Partick Thistle, took quite a bit of time to talk to me and again like the others it was clear to see he was hurting from the result despite not even being involved. If there’s one thing I’m happy about going over to speak to the players it’s that it is now clear to me that is complete nonsense to suggest these boys don’t care. I also caught a word with Greig Shields who seemed very dejected by the result but was also very approachable. However, the interaction that really made it all feel worthwhile was with the manager Stevie Crawford. He apologised once again about the result acknowledging that the supporters deserve much better than that and when I had commented on the improvement in performance until the sending off he said that it’s all well and good doing it for 60 minutes but that needs to become 90. He was very apologetic and thanked me for staying behind to have a word with him and made it clear how much he appreciated it.
I am wary of this sounding like a bit of a love-in between me and the players and manager, but trust me this wasn’t a cheap autograph and selfie opportunity. I genuinely felt like speaking with the players was going to make me feel better about the result but also it can only have a positive impact on their morale after a result like that. I’m very glad I did it. It’s very easy to forget when you’re in the terraces that these are all men who have to go home to their partners and children with the pressure of a defeat like that on their shoulders. They all have lives outside of football and it’s clear to me that these lads aren’t just here to scoop a paycheck. They’re passionate about our football club and want us to succeed.
I myself have been guilty in the past of being overly critical and negative, and I will be honest my mindset towards the club and the players have changed off the back of today. We need to get behind this squad and the coaching staff, because whether we like it or not, and we all have different opinions on different players, for the moment they’re here to stay.