It was a very similar game to the first meeting between the teams at EEP this season. Dunfermline were the better team first half, with County having all the joy in the second. In the end, it was a comfortable win.
Bruce Anderson and Faissal El Bakhtaoui worked well together and they took full advantage of Callum Semple's apparent injury. The difference Andy Boyle made after coming on was vast. He gave nothing away. An assured debut.
As one poster alluded to earlier, I was surprised the hosts didn't target County's left-hand side more than they did. Ryan Williamson is known for his overlapping runs, but he never got to the byline as much as he would have liked to, and that's partly down to how well Kenny Van Der Weg coped with his 1v1's against Kallum Higginbotham - who had a very poor afternoon against him. Higginbotham lashed out at Michael Gardyne shortly after being dispossessed by VDW to cap off the winger's dreadful showing.
The majority of the game was played down that side of the pitch, with County winning the battle in the second half. Gardyne coming on influenced the game massively, and like the match back in August, he gave Williamson a torrid time. He's an obvious weak link defensively, and Gardyne savoured his moments against him, much like he did the first time around when he capitalised on the full back's mistake to score. This time he was the beneficiary of a shanked clearance from Higginbotham, which was quite fitting.
I understand why Stevie Crawford made that double substitution, but he killed any threat his side still had. Anderson had run himself into the ground after a great debut, and El Bakhtaoui was understandably not favoured to play the lone striker role. That was a fair assessment to make, but would he have been any worse than Callum Smith when he came on? I doubt it.
In trying to shore up defensively, the changes ended up gifting County the centre of the park. Ross Draper, Jamie Lindsay and Lewis Spence were only ever going to win a midfield battle against Ryan Blair, James Craigen and James Vincent. The latter's attempt at blocking the winner was comical, and he lost the ball regularly. I fail to see what he's offering to that midfield.
Draper was immense throughout and bullied his counterparts. Lindsay worked hard and was a threat going forward whilst also recovering brilliantly to prevent what you would assume would've been the opener at that stage of the game. Spence was industrious, putting himself about and getting stuck in. He wanted to impress against his former employers, and I feel he accomplished that.
Brian Graham done his job and linked the play well to those running off him. He really should have scored, though. Fair play to Craigen, it was a great block on the line.
I was a bit surprised to see Declan McManus taken off at the break, but I think Stuart Kettlewell's post-match comments hinted why he made the switch. I thought Billy Mckay was the more obvious choice to go off, but taking off your top scorer in a losing position would've been bold.
Mckay is never a winger, and as @bunglebonce says, the moment the management team stop playing our forwards out there, the better.
It's been great to see a confident Billy Mckay this season. He finished 'both' of his goals well. Imagine giving a striker with 12 league goals to his name that much space in the box, though. He gambled on a deflection and was rewarded for it, but the marking was non-existent.
With Falkirk and Partick Thistle both picking up wins and finding form, I really worry about Dunfermline. As great as it would be for them to have Anderson and El Bakhtaoui forming a partnership and finding the back of the net consistently, their fragile defence and lightweight midfield are really causes for concern.
The three sides below them either strengthened by recruiting free agents, or they retained key loan signings in Alloa's case.
The Pars haven't recruited well enough all season and with an inexperienced manager in the dugout, they could pay heavily for it this year.