I was very much looking forward to this game, for a variety of reasons:-
1) I had never visited East End Park before, which is quite a cosy ground and has some character to it
2) Dunfermline like to play with two flying wingers, which helps to open up the game
3) Gardyne would not be as heavily marked as he is by quite a few teams; it was plausible that he would have time and space to run at the defence
4) It was rumoured that Dowie and Keddie would be at the heart of the Dunfermline defence. The defenders were house-mates during their time with County, but are infamous for a lack of pace between them. It would be interesting to see how they would do playing together for the first time at Dunfermline.
Dunfermline lined up with an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, with Gibson and Cardle as wingers. Gibson played further up the pitch than Cardle on the other side, with a view to taking on County’s left-back Morrison as much as he could.
County started with their fairly typical 4-4-1-1 formation, with Gardyne playing deeper than the centre-forward Craig.
Dunfermline had a lot of the ball at the beginning of the match. Throughout the first half, the Pars were able to build up play from defence, with little pressure put on Dunfermline’s centre-backs, who were able to take the ball forward or comfortably pass to the full-backs.
Ironically, the Dunfermline defence found it difficult to keep the ball on the deck at times going further forward, because they lacked a central midfielder to collect the ball from them and recycle possesion. Mason could could have done more to show for for a pass. On more than one occasion, the full-backs lofted the ball over the County defence and straight to their keeper, wasting possession of the ball needlessly.
At times, County didn’t know how to cope with Bell’s forward runs, between the lines of County’s midfield and defence. The picture above shows Kirk un-marked, because Bell’s forward run over-loaded the centre of the County defence.
I would have thought that Kettlewell was included in the County XI because he is able to act as an enforcer and protect the defence. He has not played many games for County this season though and looked short of match practice. In any event, it was obvious that he and Brittain were more concerned with rigidly ‘keeping shape’ in the centre of midfield than one of them tracking runs from the Pars midfielder.
Bell helped ensure that Scotty Mo for County had a difficult afternoon by doubling up on him with Gibson. Gibson, at the very bottom of the picture above, was left un-marked here. Corcoran was guilty of not tracking back to support his full-back when under pressure.
Steven Craig made intelligent runs up front for County, by starting his runs on the outside of the full-back, before making a run in the gaps between the centre-back and full-back. He got a goal in the second half, but he often never got the service he needed until Barrowman was introduced in the second half (which was limited service itself).
Gardyne was always going to be key to County getting something from this game.
With Mason pushing up the park to help get the ball to the Dunfermline wingers and forwards, there was space behind him for Gardyne to exploit. County scored as a result of poor defending at a corner, but they looked dangerous on the counter-attack. This was largely due to Gardyne dropping off and pulling Dunfermline’s centre-backs out of position.
Keddie in particular would come out a long way to challenge for the ball. The County team might have been clever enough to work the ball around the back of him, with Corcoran and Jimmy Scott making runs into that gap. They never did this.
This picture shows how much space Gardyne had to work with at times. Regrettably he never did enough with the chances he had to expose Dunfermline’s lack of mobility at the back.
Note that Craig (circled red) made another run from the outside-in here. Perhaps he would have been better going from the inside-out, to drag Keddie with him and expose Dowie to Gardyne on a one-on-one situation.
Threat from Kirk
I always thought that Andy Kirk’s reputation as a dangerous forward came from his poaching and finishing skills.
However, he was very much the provider in this game. He provided assists for both Dunfermline goals during the first half, by pulling left during counter-attacks and crossing to the far post.
With Kirk drifting to his left, he pulled the whole County back-line with him, giving space for Bell, Gibson and Pat Clarke to use. More importantly, it dragged Scott Morrison into the centre of his 18 yard box, which meant he actively had to defend crosses. This is something he is not entirely comfortable with, given his physique, and the tactic worked well for Dunfermline.
This horribly out of focus picture shows the cross for the first goal. Gibson had time to finish well, because Morrison was otherwise occupied and Corcoran didn’t track back.
Here, McGovern had to save well from a Clarke header, who easily got the better of Morrison.
This picture shows McCormack letting Clarke run along McCormack’s blind side and slot home.
As well as getting flak from the East End Park crowd, Scott Morrison didn’t get the attention his forward runs deserved. Jimmy Scott, for all his attributes, isn’t the best decision-maker and didn’t see the run here, which might have been the first time County got behind the Pars defence.
Jimmy & Corcoran
Jimmy and Coco switched sides shortly after Dunfermline’s second goal, because it became apparent that Gibson was getting too much space on the left-side of County’s defence. This helped stabilise the County defence, because Cardle didn’t get forward as aggressively on the other side, which meant that Corcoran didn’t have as much defensive responsibility. In addition, Jimmy was able to pick up Bell’s runs from the centre of the park.
It was obvious that County needed to change something at half-time and they did this by bringing on Barrowman for Corcoran.
This meant that Gardyne, circled here, played wide-right, with Jimmy Scott still supporting Scott Morrison on the left. Barrowman went up front to partner Craig.
It was Barrowman’s link-up play which allowed County to get behind the Dunfermline defence for the first time in the match. From watching Keddie and Dowie play together at County, it is clear that they do not like being turned and having to defend while facing their own goal. This is how County scored, with Scott sliding in a low cross from the touch-line for Craig to finish.
Indeed, County were in the ascendency for the first time in the match, with Gardyne making the most of the space afforded to him between the lines.
However, they never had any real penetration, because Dunfermline made sure they always had three defenders to County’s two forwards. County sometimes need a central midfielder who is willing to burst forward and overload the defence; someone like Bell or even Nicky Phinn for the Pars, who remained on the bench.
Ultimately, Dunfermline got into the game again by the use of a double substitution. They were like-for-like replacements, but Graham was more dangerous than Cardle and McDougall eventually scored the winning goal.
Dunfermline’s late dominance was inspired largely by Gibson, who put in a tremendous performance today. His slaloming runs made County panic. County were happy at times to clear the ball anywhere, but this only resulted in the ball being given back to Dunfermline and the pressure continuing to build up.
It was only a matter of time before Dunfermline scored, although I thought County defended well by using a deep defensive line.
Dunfermline look a strong team going forward, with Kirk making intelligent runs and Clarke able to occupy two defenders at once. Add Gibson’s ability to beat a man and cross effectively, they should score a lot of goals in this Division this season.
However, there are tactical weaknesses in the team, none more so evident than the space between defence and midfield. Alex Burke might usually sit in there, but he is not a natural defensive midfielder and can be over-run by a more fit and mobile midfielder.
For County, there are promising signs in the Barrowman-Craig partnership up front. They have always looked soft defensively in the full-back positions and lack a classic box-to-box central midfielder. I suspect that after the first quarter of the league campaign, their ambitions of challenging at the top of the league un-realistic are at this stage.