Alan Temple at East End Park
A Michael Higdon brace saw Motherwell return to the top of the league after a hugely entertaining 4-2 win at East End Park.
It was the least McCall’s side deserved for a composed, expansive performance from start to finish, and one which guarentees the Steelmen a place at the summit of the SPL – for 24 hours at least; although they did have to cope with an unwarranted nervous ending to proceedings.
‘Well were ahead early doors as a delightful passing move culminated in a sweeping left-footed finish from Michael Higdon. The lead was doubled ten minutes later as Jamie Murphy surged from midfield before firing past Paul Gallacher, via a kind Alex Keddie deflection.
The game looked to be dead in the second half as Chris Humphrey popped up to score a delightful solo goal.
The Pars’ attempt at a comeback was somewhat laboured as they struggled to create many clear-cut chances, but they did pull a goal back with 20 minutes still to play. This time the home side benefitted from a deflection, as David Graham’s speculative effort found the net, off the back of Joe Cardle.
And Joe Cardle’s late strike has claret and amber hearts in mouths, only for Michael Higdon to complete the scoring in a six-goal thriller; his second of the match.
Naturally, Motherwell reverted to a more tried-and-tested line-up after a successful outing for many of the second string players against Clyde in midweek. Daren Randolph, Stevie Hammell, Stephen Craigan, Chris Humphrey, Steve Jennings and Jamie Murphy all returned to a strong Steelmen starting eleven.
There was also a debut for Tim Clancy, a midweek signing from Kilmarnock. The Irishman replaced Shaun Hutchinson in the heart of defence after the young Geordie succumbed to a hamstring strain.
Dunfermline also made a swathe of changes following an altogether more harrowing Scottish Communities League Cup experience during their defeat to Irn-Bru Second Division East Fife.
Gary Mason, Martin Hardie, Joe Cardle and Clydesdale Bank Premier League joint-top scorer Andy Kirk all returned for the Fifers as they looked to continue a remarkable unbeaten streak at the start of the campaign.
Stuart McCall had previously stated the importance of going into the international break on the back of a positive result, and ‘Well started in fluid fashion, with Nicky Law looking particularly incisive with a couple of runs at the heart of the Pars defence.
And The Steelmen were rewarded for an industrious opening after eleven minutes. Some wonderful interplay on the edge of the box involving Steve Jennings, Keith Lasley and Michael Higdon allowed the latter to spin inside the box and fire a superb finish across Paul Gallacher into the corner of the net.
The visitors were utterly dominant in the early stages and could have doubled their lead after 20 minutes as Tom Hateley curled a sumptuous free-kick from 30 yards off Gallacher’s right-hand post. Jamie Murphy also looked to have a claim for a penalty as Dunfermline scrambled to clear, but Euan Norris waved the shout away.
But McCall’s charges made it two a matter of minutes later. A lax Pars midfield and backline allowed Jamie Murphy to surge forward and his low drive proceeded to take a knick off Alex Keddie, wrong-footing the unfortunate Gallacher and nestling in at the near post.
Things went from bad to worse for Keddie as he was booked for a poor challenge on Michael Higdon moments later. That moment was actually a rare incident of passion and intensity in a very flat performance from the erstwhile unbeaten home side.
That was illustrated five minutes before the break as Tom Hateley, remarkably, was allowed to run the length of the right flank before cutting inside a blazing over the bar – without a challenge in sight.
Only a last-ditch block stopped Motherwell going in at half-time three-down – not a scoreline that would have flattered them – as Higdon was denied a clear effort following a Stevie Hammell cross.
It’s hard to believe that Jim McIntyre wouldn’t have had come vociferous home truths for his side at the break, and his side did display a little more intensity in the early stages of the second half, while struggling to break down and organised ‘Well back four.
Yet it was Motherwell showing the more potent streak up front, and Alex Keddie was forced to clear a dangerous cross-cum-shot after Nicky Law cut inside the box and lashed a right-footed towards the back-post.
And that potency was re-enforced ten minutes into the half as Chris Humphrey made it 3-0. The Jamaican was allowed all the space in the world to surge down the right flank before cutting inside the box. With no challenge forthcoming he powered a left-footed drive past Gallacher, arrowing in to the net via the inside of the post.
While Motherwell had graciously lapped up the good fortune of the first half deflected Murphy goal, it was Dunfermline’s turn to get a slice of luck after 69 minutes. Second half substitute David Graham smashed an effort from distance which struck Joe Cardle, completely wrong-footing Darren Randolph, and finding the back of the net.
Randolph had to be on his toes to save a near-post header from Andy Kirk as McIntyre’s side tried to turn the screw in the latter stages.
A Jason Thomson shot, which harmlessly cleared the ‘Well crossbar, proved to be a warning shot as Dunfermline ensured a very nervous finale. Joe Cardle spearheaded a four-versus-two counter attack after a Keith Lasley slip and, after moving into the box, his shot cannoned off Craigan to make it 3-2.
But the loud band of ‘Well fans needn’t have worried. Moments later a lovely move set Nicky Law free on the byline, and his delivery across the face of goal was poked home by Michael Higdon from close range.
[tab:As it happened]
Kris Jack at East End Park
Full Time – Dunfermline 2-4 Motherwell. A deserving win for Well, unfortunate to lose the they goals they did, but an assured performance. Top of the League.
90 Mins – GOAL! Higdon at the double puts it to bed! A patient build up from Humphrey and Law picks out Higdon at the back post. Magic stuff.
88 Mins – GOAL! Dunfermline pull it back to 3-2. Craigan OG? Cardle given it by Pars announcer though. Randolph had it until Craggs stuck out a leg. Squeaky Bum Time after a really unlucky break for the captain.
80 Mins – Thomson fires over for Pars, after good work to keep the ball in by Kirk. It’s taken this long for Dunfermline to make a game of it.
69 Mins – GOAL! Graham strike takes a massive deflection past Randolph and in to make it 3-1. Pars comeback on the cards?
55 Mins – GOAL! 3-0 to the Well. Chris Humphrey cuts in from the right, as he’s done all day, this time rattling the ball in off the post. Great solo effort.
53 mins – Nicky Law goes close with an effort, as Barrowman swaps with Graham for Dunfermline.
39 Mins – Hateley given free reign of the right wing to run and cut inside, only to fire well over.
21 Mins – GOAL! 2-0 Well, Murphy goes on a darting run in to box, his shot taking a deflection off Keddie and in. Well running the show here.
20 Mins – Law fouled 30 yards out and Hateley rattles the post with a bending free kick. Murphy denied penalty while closing down rebound.
16 mins – Higdon could have had a second, as Humphrey’s cross form the byline almost picks him out. Up the other end, Barrowman fires well wide.
11 Mins – GOAL! Great play from Jennings, Murphy and Lasley to play in Higdon, who smashes the ball low in to Gallacher’s far corner. A merited Well lead.
5 Mins – Motherwell with most of the possession in the early stages, Clancy with a few introductory long balls for good measure.
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“We said that we wanted to end with a good result because we have two weeks before we go to Celtic; I could handle scoring four away from home every week.
“We would have like to have done it a bit more comfortably but you’ve got to give credit to Dunfermline.
“We just got a bit sloppy. Once we got the third goal we started taking too many touches on the ball, taking too many risks and not keeping the ball the way we can do.
“If you’d said before the game we would come here and won 4-2, I would have been delighted – so I’ve got to still be happy with that.”
Dunfermline manager Jim McIntyre:
“They played well, but for me we didn’t compete enough. In the second half we got ourselves back in the game, but Motherwell deserved to win.
“We were extremely disappointed with our first-half showing and Motherwell punished us. They’re a good side and we’ll have days like this when it is a learning curve.
“We learned that if you don’t start games well, it is hard to recover. You will get punished at this level. It is about how they respond to it now.”