DEEMED contenders for promotion to the Premiership at the outset, Dunfermline concluded a calamitous campaign with the catastrophe of relegation to League One.

After a season that began with 13 winless league games, there was an air of angry resignation amongst supporters after full-time following Simon Murray’s last-gasp winner for Queen’s Park. Pars players fell to their knees in disbelief, whilst the Spiders cavorted in glee at the prospect of a shot at promotion against Airdrie in the final.

They have had many over the previous weeks and months but Efe Ambrose was the fall guy on this occasion for Dunfermline. His red card for a trip on Simon Murray 12 minutes into the second-half swung the tie in Queen’s Park’s favour after the Fifers had dominated for most of the opening period. Murray’s 89th-minute clincher gave the home side little time to recover and their fate was sealed after six minutes of injury-time.

Manager John Hughes bore the brunt of much of the supporters’ frustrations. Appointed back in November, he has proved unable to turn things around sufficiently to avoid the clutches of the third-tier. However, he is adamant he craves the opportunity to return the club to the Championship this time next year.

"It’s not down to today, it has been right throughout the season and we all need to stand up and look at it,” he said. "It is very raw and we’re all hurting in there. I didn’t say too much to the players.

"I feel for the fans, the club. We need to take our medicine but it’s our job to try and get this club back where it belongs.

"I’m sure over the next few days there will be a lot of banging heads together, but we have to be very clever in what we’re doing. We have to sleep on it and see who wants to be with us in League One. Who wants to stay and try and get the club back up. We’ll have to let it sink in, see where we want to go and take it from there."

Asked if he wants to head up next season’s promotion push, he added: "I definitely want the chance to really take this club where it wants to go. This club is a really good club with really passionate supporters, and we’ve let them down, that’s for sure. Not just today but this season. So we need to regroup and go again, and get them smiling again."

Dunfermline kicked off nervously and could have been behind after two minutes when Jakub Stolarczyk repelled a Luca Connell effort. Slowly, they gathered themselves and for 20 minutes before the interval laid siege on the visitors’ goal. Nine times they came close to the breakthrough but Queen’s Park held firm in a decisive rearguard action.

The momentum shifted in the 58th minute. Ambrose tripped substitute Murray at the edge of the box and, although he was in no way heading towards the target, referee Craig Napier deemed it a goal-scoring opportunity and flashed red. After watching reruns Hughes said he could not argue.

Suddenly, Dunfermline were on the back foot and the nerves reappeared. The goal was preventable but Bob McHugh was allowed to muscle his way to the bye-line and cross for Murray to rattle in from close range. The theatrics of the play-offs were there for all to see at full-time. Devastation round three sides of the ground at the realisation of relegation and elation in one small pocket of visiting fans who can now dream of promotion.

"My family were in the Dunfermline end today, including my sons," said interim Queen’s Park manager John Potter, who was born in Dunfermline and went on to play, coach and manage the Pars and confessed to mixed emotions. "It’s disappointing for the club but I was here before when the club were in far worse state. They were in administration and didn't think they were going to be there. It's a big club, a good club, and I've no doubt it will be back up to the Championship trying to push on again."