Jamie MacDonald was the hero for Raith Rovers as wasteful Dunfermline Athletic failed to make their chances count during a nerve-shredding 0-0 stalemate at East End Park.
The hosts carved out several excellent opportunities to claim a priceless victory in the Premiership playoff quarter-final first-leg, but will instead travel to Stark’s Park on Saturday with the score in the balance, praying they are not made to pay for their profligacy.
Stevie Crawford’s outfit can consider themselves unlucky to have found MacDonald in sparkling form, rolling back the years to make a stunning stop from Kevin O’Hara and further blocks to deny Ewan Henderson and Dom Thomas.
However, the likes of Kevin O’Hara, Declan McManus and Craig Wighton all failed to hit the target when presented with decent sights at goal, which almost allowed Lewis Vaughan to hit the hosts with a sucker-punch.
But the score-sheet was destined to remain untroubled and the tie will now be settled in Kirkcaldy.
Rovers boss John McGlynn, understandably, barely deviated from the starting line-up which demolished the Pars 5-1 at Stark’s Park in March, with the only change coming in the form of Iain Davidson replacing the injured Frankie Musonda.
Dunfermline, meanwhile, selected their strongest available side, having rung the changes for their final regular season fixture against Alloa last Friday night; a 1-0 defeat at the Indodrill.
While their capitulation in Kirkcaldy was fresh in the mind, the Pars also boast a handsome Fife derby victory of their own this term — battering Rovers 4-1 in February — and they created the vast majority of opportunities in the first period.
Crawford’s charges repeatedly pounced on the break as Raith’s patient passing game invariably came up against an impenetrable wall of black-and-white.
Steven Whittaker was the unlikely goal threat in the early stages, fizzing one shot wide of the post and unleashing a ferocious volley inches over the bar — with Jamie MacDonald visibly relieved to turn and see the latter effort nestling on the roof of the net.
MacDonald produced a magnificent finger-tip save to deny O’Hara after the speedy striker was sent scampering through on goal by Dom Thomas.
Raith, fresh from a 4-0 defeat against Hearts, were rocking and Ewan Henderson forced another sharp stop from the ex-Jambos goalkeeper with a dipping drive from distance, before McManus skewed a shot wide from inside the box.
By the time a Wighton effort from 18 yards drifted over the bar, the prevailing feeling was: Dunfermline had to make one of these chances count, especially in light of their lamentable away form.
James McPake, whose Dundee side will face the victors of this tie, Hamilton manager Brian Rice and Arbroath’s Dick Campbell were among those in attendance as the second period began at East End Park.
The familiar pattern continued: the Pars sprung on the counter — this time through O’Hara haring down the left flank — and Jamie MacDonald saved the Thomas shot with which the attack culminated.
On-loan Celtic kid Henderson was enjoying another fine outing for Dunfermline, drifting in from the left and causing havoc. He whipped another shot inches over the cross-bar and MacDonald pilloried the lack of pressing and tackling which allowed the youngster to surge forward.
The Pars were almost made to rue their missed chances when Brad Spencer finally cut through the massed ranks to send Vaughan through on goal, only for Owain Fon Williams to palm his drive to safety.
The sight of Ross Matthews — only just returning from a lengthy layoff due to a toe injury — limping off to be replaced by Adam King with 10 minutes left to play is another potential headache that depleted Rovers could do without.
Dunfermline’s night was summed up in the dying embers when Kerr McInroy smashed a low shot wide and O’Hara somehow contrived to head a Henderson cross wide from all of six yards