THE gladiatorial nature of sport has forever thrown up the joy of winners and pain of losers, but this was a reminder that play-off football simply serves to amplify those emotions. For Dunfermline and Queen’s Park, one late, dramatic goal made a world of a difference.

Dunfermline, a club of huge historical importance in Scottish football, with a significant fan-base that has been put through the mill in recent times, are now headed for League One. It has been a catastrophic season that began carelessly and climaxed in hapless fashion.  As if Efe Ambrose’s 58th-minute red card was not bad enough, Simon Murray’s 89th-minute winner just about encapsulated the Pars’ wretched campaign.

For Queen’s Park, though, this could have been another step on the ambitious journey the club has mapped out for itself. League Two champions a year ago, they are now within touching distance of the Championship and Murray is convinced they can afford to dream as they head into their final with Airdrie.

“This is massive, it’s the play-offs,” he said of Saturday’s win. “I know it was massive for Dunfermline as well but we had a lot riding on it.

“We’ve put everything in to try to get promoted. As players you try to do the best you can and sometimes in football you don’t get the rewards. But Saturday was a nice reward to take us to the next step in the final.

“It’s a great opportunity. Airdrie are a good team as well and it will be a good final. But we’re in it and if you’re in the final you’ve got a good chance. All the form from the season goes out the window and it comes down to who wants it the most.”

Nerves swirled around East End Park after last Wednesday’s goalless first-leg and it was Dunfermline who appeared weighed down by fear and responsibility. They recovered, however, and should have gone in for the interval ahead following a 20-minute blitz on their visitors’ goal.

Ironically, Ambrose came closest when his snap volley from a Graham Dorrans corner was repelled by Calum Ferrie on his goal-line. The former Celtic and Hibernian defender proved a pivotal figure 12 minutes after the restart, however, when he tripped Murray at the edge of the box and was deemed to have denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity.

The anxiety returned for 10-man Dunfermline and there was a sense of inevitability about the way Bob McHugh muscled his way to the bye-line before crossing for Murray to hammer in the winner. Even then, Kevin O’Hara should have equalised within seconds and Coll Donaldson could only hit the wall with a 20-yard free-kick deep into injury-time.

Queen’s Park, for whom Owen Coyle was a noisy presence in the dugout, despite not officially taking charge until the summer, now have an unexpected shot at further progress but Dunfermline face a major rebuilding project.

Who will be part of that process remains to be seen. John Hughes, who replaced the winless Peter Grant in November, claimed afterwards he craves the chance to win promotion next season, but the unforgiving supporters at full-time directed their ire - and taunts over his Falkirk background - towards the manager.

The playing squad has also been cobbled together with the Championship, and, perhaps, crucially a promotion push, in mind. Cutbacks will be necessary and some will not fancy third-tier football.

“Everyone is devastated,” said skipper Graham Dorrans. "It is never easy when you get relegated with a football club. It is very raw.

“I’m under contract but we will sit down over the next couple of weeks, speak to the gaffer, speak to the club and see what’s going on. We have to let it sink in. We will have our meetings in the next couple of weeks and whatever happens from there we shall see.”