IT was, perhaps, only right it ended this way.
After a campaign in which late concessions, sloppy defending and a lack of edge in attack have undermined Dunfermline Athletic's efforts to remain in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, two goals in the final four minutes of their closing contest deprived them of a consolatory victory.
Despite the briefness of his tenure as manager, Jim Jefferies has already tired of bemoaning the momentary lapses of concentration that have cost the club their top-flight status so, when asked to dissect the mistakes that allowed Liam Kelly and Jude Winchester to score, all he could offer was a sanguine shrug. Little wonder. It had appeared Dunfermline were on their way to a second home victory of the campaign – and a second in consecutive games – after taking advantage of their opponents' defensive disarray to score a 20th-minute opener. Joe Cardle's free-kick from inside his own half should not have been unduly troublesome, but Liam Buchanan was left alone to nudge a header across goal for Paul Willis to angle beyond goalkeeper Kyle Letheren from close range.
Loading article content
It would not be the last time Dunfermline discovered pockets of room in the visitors' final third, but they were ultimately punished for not exploiting them. Buchanan, particularly, frolicked without ever really being afforded a clear sight of goal, his one shot being blocked by Ryan O'Leary after Willis dispossessed Michael Nelson. Beyond that, a Cardle effort that was comfortably handled and an effort disallowed after Martin Hardie strayed offside to bundle in an Andy Kirk header were the only opportunities they enjoyed.
Same old story, said Jefferies. The Dunfermline manager was, however, more forthcoming on the decisions he now has to make to prepare for life in the lower leagues. With budget cuts necessitating the departure of several senior players, he used this contest to ask questions of his fringe performers. Some provided definitive answers. "Today confirmed one or two things ahead of meetings on Tuesday," said Jefferies, who has 10 of an expected 18-man squad already contracted for next term. "Maybe some of the players I want, I can't keep because I won't have the money to attract them."
Yet while Jefferies reaffirmed his own intention to remain with Dunfermline, doubt surrounds the future of his Kilmarnock counterpart. Kenny Shiels says he wants to stay, chairman Michael Johnston is eager to keep him, yet other clubs are casting covetous eyes at a manager who has overseen a remarkable season for the Rugby Park club.
"I turned down a job this week," Shiels revealed. "I was offered an interview by an English club, but I felt it was unfair. I couldn't have looked my son [Dean Shiels] in the face after he stayed here for less money.
"I want to be here and I hope that is reciprocated, but we have a long-term plan and I want something commensurate with that." Certainly, the Northern Irishman is building something encouraging at Rugby Park, even if it took his side half an hour to adapt to an experimental 4-3-3 shape and take a grip on proceedings. A couple of Kelly drives which skittered apologetically towards debutant goalkeeper Bernardo Fernandez at the end of the first half were little more than a precursor to 20 minutes of almost incessant pressure after the interval. The angle of attack was varied; William Gros had an low drive blocked by the goalkeeper's leg, Ross Barbour headed wide from a free-kick, Dean Shiels lashed a volley past and Gary Harkins almost duped the goalkeeper from 40 yards.
The clearest opening, though, came when a clever interchange between Shiels and Gros released Harkins on the right of the area and the chunky conductor lifted a delightful lob over the goalkeeper only for Alex Keddie to head desperately off the goalline.
Aware that a point would effectively ensure a seventh-place finish to add to their Co-operative Insurance Cup triumph, Shiels' side maintained their urgency and were eventually rewarded. First, Kelly lifted an effort high into the net, then youngster June Winchester capped an eye-catching cameo by turning Lewis Toshney's cross home in the 89th minute.
"We've played 20 games without a striker this season; we've been like a vehicle without a steering wheel," said Shiels, trying to explain why the goals took so long to come. "That's the more expensive part of the commodity and it makes our achievement even more remarkable."
A predictable end