By Graeme McGill
Kevin Nisbet netted inside the first 30 minutes before Jonathan Afolabi scored his first goal since arriving on loan from Celtic in the second half to secure a big victory.
Before a ball was kicked few would have fancied Dunfermline’s chances against league leaders United. Such has been the prolific form of Robbie Neilson’s side this term, it seemed incredibly unlikely that Stevie Crawford’s team would take all three points.
But football is a funny old game. Dunfermline kicked things off and even very early on showed signs that they were up for a fight and this would be far from a routine three points for their visitors. Within the first few minutes, a Dom Thomas cross floated into the box which United stopper Benjamin Siegrist spilled.
Fortunately for him, he managed to dive and gather the ball again before the lurking Dunfermline forwards could pounce and capitalise on his error. Crawford’s men were first to register a shot at goal 11 minutes in, Nisbet having an effort from distance saved after slipping on the surface before striking the ball.
Dundee United’s first chance came following a counter-attack 23 minutes into the game when Rakish Bingham had the ball cut back to him on the edge of the box but he blazed his chance well over.
Minutes later it was Dunfermline who drew first blood when Nisbet dinked the ball over and beyond the grasp of Siegrist with a fine header following a superb ball in from the halfway line by Kyle Turner.
Afolabi had an opportunity to double down on the Pars advantage with a ball coming into the box from Thomas, who was a thorn in United’s side for most of the afternoon. Afolabi connected poorly with the ball and headed it wide of the target.
As the game progressed the Tannadice outfit looked increasingly nervy and were likely relieved to hear the half time whistle with Nisbet hitting the post seconds before the interval. United kicked off the second half but it wasn’t long until Dunfermline were battering the door again.
Nisbet cut in from the right wing and rattled the post for the second time in the match. Louis Appere uncorked a powerful effort just after the 50-minute mark from just outside the home box but the Tangerines star sent it just wide of the goal.
United couldn’t keep the pressure on and Thomas bombed down the right wing. He drew three United players onto him before lifting the ball over Neilson’s defence for Afolabi, who was waiting by the back post for a tap in to double the host’s lead.
United did little to rectify the deficit as Dunfermline kept the pressure on through their relentless pressing and winning every loose ball. Afolabi and Turner both had shots at goal parried away.
Lawrence Shankland – who had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the game – connected with a cross from Paul McMullan in the 80th minute but his headed effort went just over the bar. It was only in the last 10 minutes of the game that Dundee United showed any sense of urgency but the Fifers held firm and resolute against their advances.
The full time whistle blew and Dunfermline moved up to sixth place in the table, two points off a promotion play-off place. Here are three things we learned.
Dunfermline end 13-year United curse
Crawford’s side have been up and down this year, but make no mistake, they comprehensively beat the league leaders. It ended a 13-year wait to beat the Terrors on home soil in emphatic fashion.
They were organised, hard to break down and played with a swagger and level of flair which will give them a much needed booster shot of confidence going into the business end of the campaign as they vie for a Premiership play-off place.
Dundee United not at the races
It was an afternoon to forget for Neilson and his team. They started poorly, struggled to keep the ball and failed to settle into any sort of rhythm throughout the 90 minutes.
Shankland was isolated and left without any real service for the afternoon. Whilst it remains a question of when they’ll lift the Championship trophy rather than if, today’s showing would suggest they need to bolster their ranks for their inevitable assault on the top flight.
We need to talk about Nisbet
Whilst Shankland is deservedly being lauded for his goalscoring exploits and is this season’s poster boy, Nisbet has been quietly going about his business racking up an impressive 23 goals in 32 appearances this term.
This was an excellent indication of his qualities and what he brings to the team. His cool finish gave Dunfermline the lead but he was instrumental in a lot of the attacking play throughout the afternoon. He seems to have a predatory striker’s instinct and is always in the right place at the right time.