ABSENT from the comparatively glitzy Scottish Cup fifth round, Kilmarnock and Dunfermline were desperately seeking to address more immediate concerns in the Championship – promotion and survival respectively.
And while this may not have been the weekend’s glamour fixture, the contest was won by a finish of the highest quality from Kyle Lafferty to give the home side a 2-1 victory.
The match began with a poignant minute’s silence for Killie fan Colin McCue, who died suddenly outside the stadium following his team’s midweek defeat to local rivals Ayr United.
Appalling wind and rain could perhaps justify a slew of slack passes in the opening stages. The teams had no excuse when things brightened up after 20 minutes, however, with neither side managing to string together consistent spells of probing possession.
The Pars had the chance to take an early lead after being awarded a penalty in the 23rd minute. A free-kick slung in from the halfway line was controlled by the arm of Fraser Murray. Steven Lawless stepped up to the spot. In goal he faced Killie keeper Zach Hemming, who dived low to his left to save his fourth penalty of the season.
Monsoon-like rain returned for the second half. Again, the weather quickly cleared, with little discernible impact on the quality of proceedings. Killie produced a contender for miss of the season ten minutes into the half, with onrushing midfielder Blair Alston somehow missing from six yards out after being teed up by Fraser.
Chris Burke, introduced at half time to inject some attacking thrust, achieved just that on the hour mark – but not in the way his manager would have intended. The veteran lost the ball on the halfway line and appealed in vain for a foul as Pars left-back Josh Edwards strode towards the edge of the Kilmarnock box, before sliding a pass to Lewis McCann on his left. The striker fizzed a low cross to the back post. Lurking there was Lawless, who earned redemption with the simplest of finishes.
Just when the home supporters’ cries of exasperation were reaching a crescendo, Dunfermline debutant Efe Ambrose took his eye off the ball to allow Alston to break free down the right-hand side. He cut the ball back to Lafferty who, despite having barely touched the ball, assuredly side-footed home from the centre of the box. With 20 minutes to play, the title favourites were level.
Derek McInnes’ side were now in the ascendency. And Lafferty proved he barely needs to be involved to be the matchwinner. After the ball popped up above head height in the Dunfermline box, the 6’3 striker showed astonishing agility to propel himself into the air to blast the ball home with a breathtaking overhead kick.
McInnes hailed his striker as an “inspiration”. “His confidence to take on the second goal is something that we shouldn’t really be too surprised by,” he said, “but you’ve still got to have the technique to finish it.”
John Hughes, meanwhile, reflected on the end of his team’s unbeaten four-match run. “We did enough to get something out of the game, if not win it. But you always have to give your opponents credit as well, and the last 20 minutes it was all Kilmarnock.”