The Dunfermline Ultras are in early for a soundcheck.

With over 9000 due inside East End Park, this a big night for them, never mind anybody else. There’s still over an hour until kick-off, but already the night air is filled with songs less than complimentary about the town of Falkirk and its inhabitants.

Its football team are certainly not welcome in this part of the world tonight, and there are more than just three League One points at stake. These two clubs aren’t often mentioned when the great Scottish football rivalries are up for discussion, but that a Tuesday night fixture in the third tier has completely sold out tells even the least familiar observers something is afoot.

That something is a race for the title. Dunfermline, five points clear, can take a massive step back towards the Championship if they can see off their visitors. For Falkirk, little else than a victory will do in their quest to finally get out of this league.

2000 of the 9530 with tickets are backing them. There’s minor uproar outside when the approaching sound of a drum turns out to be coming from the back of a car packed with Falkirk fans, who are all gestures and, shall we say, colourful greetings for the Pars faithful queuing at the turnstiles.

Justifiably, much has been made on social media of the sell-out crowd these past few days, but the numbers through the gate are of secondary importance if you’re here every week.

“It’s good,” says one Dunfermline diehard at the gate. “But the crowd means f**k all if we dinny f****g beat them.” A fair point, well made.

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It’s an almost impossible fixture to call, given the form of both teams. Dunfermline have not lost a league game since October 22, a run of 17 without defeat. Falkirk, meanwhile, are unbeaten in 13, their last loss coming against Dunfermline themselves.

A point isn’t too much use for them here, so something’s got to give. John McGlynn has not built his managerial reputation on shy, retiring football, and there’s a feeling he might set his team up to have a real go. The Falkirk boss is out early, not only to oversee his team’s warm-up, but to take part.

His side play an eye-catching, progressive brand of football, but the man himself is a bit of a throwback. You won’t catch McGlynn donning a pair of Alexander McQueen plimsolls – standard issue for your modern manager – instead, it’s trademark cap, glasses and Copa Mundials. His arrival is greeted warmly by the rapidly-filling away end, and it’s not long until the atmosphere is simmering nicely.

When the teams arrive for kick-off, they’re greeted by a roar and some adapted Big Country lyrics. ‘In a big city, dreams stay with you’ reads the Dunfermline fans’ banner, dreams for these two is a return to the upper echelons of Scottish football.

In days gone by, this could have been a Premiership fixture, and the numbers who have turned out suggest it could be again. Only one of these clubs, however, will take the champions’ route to the Championship, and this evening could go a long way to deciding who.

Falkirk start far brighter, and some of their football defies any misplaced expectation that this will be an old school, blood and thunder derby. Their midfield carries a balanced blend of youth and experience; Stephen McGinn is the old head, Aidan Nesbitt is perpetual motion, and 20-year-old loanee Max Kucheriavyi’s composure in possession belies his rookie status.

Their one touch football leaves Dunfermline chasing shadows in a few sharp early exchanges, but the half-chances which follow come to nothing. Their command of the football, however, is enough to stimy the home support for a time. It never takes much to light the fuse on these occasions, though, does it? Something as simple as Kane Ritchie-Hosler robbing Callumn Morrison in midfield is enough to bring East End Park to its feet and inspire a spell of home pressure.

It proves a false dawn, and although the noise from the home fans does not dissipate, it gradually turns to frustration as their team continually turn the ball over. Often it is under little pressure, indicating a hint of nerves about McPake’s players. It’s odd to witness a side five points clear at the top of the table, and playing at home, look so jittery, but they make it to half-time unscathed.

That being said, Falkirk’s aggressive press is a disrupting factor, forcing Dunfermline to go long and too often there is no one there to hold the ball up. Kucheriavyi, on-loan from St Johnstone and making first start, picks passes at will, while Kai Kennedy carries a threat down the left flank.

HeraldScotland: The Pars are now eight points clear at the topThe Pars are now eight points clear at the top (Image: SNS)

But for all Falkirk’s dominance, it is Dunfermline who come closest to opening the scoring. As half-time approaches, Chris Mochrie’s effort from distance cannons off Brian Kinnear’s right-hand post and back into play.

The break shortly follows, but the tone has been set for the Pars to race out of the second-half traps; Kyle McDonald firing over from close range after a corner when he really should score before Matty Todd forces Kinnear to palm away a low effort. Suddenly, though, there is a real sense of turning tide.

That sneaky feeling is confirmed when a Pars corner to the back post finds Rhys Breen’s head, and he puts just enough purchase on his effort to ensure it crosses the line. There’s a split second silence before East End Park erupts, the home fans freezing for a moment until it is confirmed the ball has indeed gone in. It’s chaos thereafter, enough to send Falkirk heads spinning into the concession of a calamitous second.

A hesitant Kinnear has his clearance charged down by Craig Wighton, and Todd is in the right place to slot home the simplest of finishes. “It was difficult after that,” admits Falkirk boss John McGlynn afterwards. “We’ve handed them the initiative. On the second-half performance, we didn’t do enough to take anything from the game. We’ve got to accept that Dunfermline deserved it on the night, I’m not going to throw our guys under the bus, we’ve taken 24 points out of 27. We’ll move on.”

They had to sit through an iffy first 45, but this now is the party Pars fans had come to enjoy. Eight points clear and with soaring momentum behind them, the League One championship is now very much theirs to lose.

HeraldScotland: McPake says his players deserve these big nightsMcPake says his players deserve these big nights (Image: SNS)

“It’s the biggest crowd in a decade in here, and that’s down to the players, they deserve that,” said Dunfermline manager McPake. “We had to do something to get them off their seats.

“That’s what we want, big crowds in. It’s excellent to manage in, I wish I was playing in it actually! That’s when you miss it, big nights under the lights. The players deserve the credit for it tonight.”

Whether it’s the beginning of a broader revival in this corner of Fife remains to be seen, but this is an evening reminiscent of when they used to mix it in the big time, and will only give the club a taste for more.

‘Cheerio’ goes the cry towards the Falkirk support as they slink for the exits with time to spare – it rings out like a farewell to their title hopes.