Dunfermline’s Championship survival will hinge on a fraught playoff campaign following a miserable 2-1 defeat against already-relegated Queen of the South.
Trailing eighth-placed Ayr United by a point ahead of D-day in the second tier, the Pars knew a win at East End Park was paramount.
John Hughes’ side looked destined to hold up their end of the bargain, taking an early lead through Josh Edwards and dominating the first half.
However, a dire collapse after the break saw Queens complete an unlikely turnaround courtesy of a Joe Chalmers own goal and Darragh O’Connor’s clinical header.
As it happens, Ayr rendered events in Fife moot, registering a 3-1 triumph over Partick Thistle.
The Pars will now travel to Firhill to face Queen’s Park in the first leg of their playoff semi-final on Wednesday evening. The return fixture takes place on Saturday.
The victors of that tie will play either Montrose or Airdrie for a place in the 2022/23 Championship.
‘One of our own’
Matty Todd, Coll Donaldson, Liam Polworth, Dom Thomas and Kevin O’Hara came into the line-up.
— Alan Temple (@alanftemple) April 29, 2022
The sides emerged to a wall of noise, with Dunfermline’s boisterous Section North-West group producing a fine display to honour departing chairman Ross McArthur.
The ‘One of Our Own’ message was intended to mark his final home match in the role, albeit the Pars will now have at least one more fixture at East End Park this term.
Stevie Lawless forced a sharp low save from Joshua Rae, while the Queens keeper was called into action to block a stinging Kevin O’Hara drive.
By the time Edwards flashed another ferocious drive narrowly wide, the Pars were purring.
However, dispatches from out west suggested their efforts would prove futile.
The days of transistor radios may be long gone, but the Livescore app was doing a roaring trade on the Halbeath Road. Aaron Muirhead had given Ayr United the lead against Partick Thistle from the penalty spot.
A slight hush descended on East End Park before the reliable refrain of the Section North-West drummer ratcheted up the noise once more.
Unperturbed by events elsewhere, the hosts continued to push and prod. Only a wonderful goal-line intervention by O’Connor stopped O’Hara from doubling Dunfermline’s lead from eight yards.
As Hughes’ side narrowly failed to extend their advantage, Ayr did. Tomi Adeloye made it 2-0 as ex-East End Park hero Lee Bullen led the Honest Men to survival.
An X-rated chant aimed at former boss Peter Grant — the man who many fans blame for the Pars’ plight following wretched start to the season — was audible as half-time approached.
Perhaps due to the bleak outlook, Dunfermline were abject after the break.
Queens restored parity in bizarre fashion after 52 minutes, with Chalmers thundering a header into his own net after being bamboozled by a deep Willie Gibson delivery.
Efe Ambrose struck the post with a towering header as the Pars sought to restore their lead — only for Gordon Crawford’s offside flag to ensure the effort would not have counted.
Rae then made a super stop to deny O’Hara following a fine Thomas cross.
No matter. Another penalty to Ayr. Three-nil at Somerset Park.
And Dunfermline ensured they would be slipping into the playoffs with a whimper when O’Connor rose highest in the box to nod a Lee Connelly corner-kick beyond Jakub Stolarczyk.
Chalmers and Bobby Kamwa both flashed decent efforts narrowly wide, but the hosts could not find a leveller as another doleful night for Dunfermline came to a despairing conclusion.