Dunfermline Athletic’s travel sickness this season may have their supporters feeling a little queasy ahead of the Fife derby decider at Stark’s Park.
The Pars’ 0-0 draw against their fierce foes on Tuesday night should have been cause for cautious optimism. They were the better side; created several good opportunities; didn’t allow a slick Rovers side to ripple the net.
Then there is the relative form of both teams. Stevie Crawford’s charges have lost just one of their last seven matches, while John McGlynn’s men were beaten 4-0 by Hearts and 2-1 by Dundee ahead of their Premiership playoff push.
In normal circumstances, Dunfermline might even be considered favourites for the quarter-final second leg on Saturday; the outfit with momentum despite finishing the regular season four points adrift of Raith.
But McGlynn said it best after the first leg, when it was suggested that Rovers now have the advantage: “Dunfermline’s away record is not that great, so I would think [so], slightly.”
That comment is not mind games. Or maybe it is. But it’s accurate, nonetheless.
Dunfermline won just one league match on the road during the shortened 2020/21 campaign, fewer than any other side in the division. Alloa; Arbroath; Morton; Ayr United — all picked up three points away from home with more frequency than the Fifers.
The ‘draw’ column is positively bursting at the seams, with six stalemates from 13 outings. That is the joint-highest tally in the division, tied with Dundee — who await the victors on Saturday in the semi-final — and Morton.
It was no surprise, then, to hear Crawford repeatedly mention the possibility of Saturday’s clash in Kirkcaldy going the distance, to extra-time and penalties. The evidence of this campaign would suggest that is a distinct possibility.
“The flip-side of that [away form] is that our home form has been terrific,” said Crawford. “I think we’re a club that’s evolving and we’re not frightened to give people opportunities to get better, and that goes for myself as the manager of the club.”
Indeed, Dunfermline finished in second place in the Championship table when only home games are considered, just four points behind runaway winners, Hearts — who they beat 2-0 in Fife earlier in the campaign.
Nine wins from 14 games speaks to East End Park becoming something of a fortress and could not be a more jarring dichotomy to the Pars’ record on their travels, especially given the games are being played in empty stadiums.
Uninspiring results have led some supporters to question the way Crawford lines up away from East End Park; with a perceived lack of invention and too much focus on the dangers of the opposition, rather than their own strengths, the main criticisms.
While they could not be more different characters, Jimmy Calderwood’s inability to create a Pars side with consistency home and away has been a parallel repeatedly drawn by a portion of the Dunfermline faithful.
If they are going to rectify the issue, now is the time. And they do look capable of casting off those shackles.
On-loan Celtic kid Ewan Henderson has been irrepressible of late, while the front-three of Declan McManus — dropping deep — Kevin O’Hara and Craig Wighton has clicked superbly.
They have one nerve-shredding afternoon at Stark’s Park to prove they can prevail away from home and, in doing so, exorcise a few ghosts from their 5-1 defeat against Rovers in March.
“Tuesday was a good battle — two Championships sides who played the game in the right manner — and Saturday will be no different,” added Crawford. “We know we’ve got 90 minutes, or longer, to get through and the first leg gave me great hope.”