"PLEASE stay behind the barriers at the end of the match," implored the announcer at East End Park to the Celtic army of supporters just 10 minutes from time yesterday. He need not have bothered wasting his breath. Unknown Craig Falconbridge proved to be the best form of crowd control possible with an 83rd-minute goal which ripped the title from Celtic's grasp and kept the Premier Division race going until the final day.
Until Falconbridge, who had come on as a substitute just seven minutes earlier, scored with a looping header, Celtic had looked certain to clinch their first title in 10 years and their 36th overall. Now the champions- in-waiting and their fans will have to hold out for just a little longer.
Rangers' slip against Kilmarnock on Saturday means that the point gathered here leaves Celtic two ahead of their Old Firm rivals. Victory over St Johnstone at home next week should be enough while Rangers must travel to Dundee United, but Wim Jansen's side have managed just three wins in their last eight league games and can take nothing for granted.
As is always the case with someone who enjoys his 15 minutes of fame, Falconbridge's life story could have been written by a scriptwriter. The striker, who turned 20 last week, is only at Dunfermline because his own club, Coventry City, placed him there as part of his rehabilitation from a broken leg. Now Falconbridge is considering asking his manager, Gordon Strachan, who has offered him a two-year contract, if he can stay in Scotland permanently.
Celtic, as expected, were stunned by the late intervention which spoiled their green party. Jansen said later: "We were seven minutes away from winning the League and Dunfermline scored a goal out of nothing. They never had any chances in the game but that is what happens when you don't get a second goal to kill teams off.
"We must now pick ourselves up and win the last game against St Johnstone. Sure, there will be a lot of tension but I am sure we can cope."
The sense of anticipation of a first title since 1988 had thousands of Celtic supporters flooding into Fife more than three hours before kick- off despite the fact that the match was being shown live on TV. Another 15,000 fans were also back at Parkhead watching the action being beamed on to giant screens. In Dunfermline, tickets were changing hands for pounds 300. No one wanted to miss the party. Even Billy McNeill turned up in the stand. When Jansen's players emerged on to the pitch, they were met by a sea of green and white from the 10,000 fans who had got tickets to get into East End Park.
The deafening backing from those fans was impassioned but, sensibly, Jansen's team refused to get caught up in it all. They felt their way into the game in the calm manner in which the Dutch coach has tutored them.
Dunfermline's resistance was stubborn, if unadventurous, for at least half an hour, although Simon Donnelly had an excellent chance to break the deadlock in the 31st minute when Henrik Larsson put him in behind Dunfermline's back four, but their goalkeeper, Ian Westwater, did just enough to put the Celtic striker off. However, Westwater was powerless to prevent Donnelly scoring four minutes later from an almost identical move.
Phil O'Donnell won possession and fed Larsson, the fulcrum of Celtic's attacks, and the Swedish forward delivered a reverse pass into the path of Donnelly who swept a low right-foot shot past Westwater for his 16th goal of the season.
Westwater then had to perform impressive saves to prevent Donnelly and Larsson putting the game out of reach before half-time. Another save from O'Donnell in the 49th minute, when the Celtic midfielder's shot was denied by the keeper's fingertips, proved crucial.
The high tempo did little to aid flowing football but what there was came strictly from Celtic. They ought to have gone further ahead when Larsson was brought down in the penalty area by Craig Ireland in the 75th minute but the referee, John Underhill, dismissed their vociferous appeals.
Maybe that fuelled the sense of injustice that Larsson seemed to carry as he stupidly barged into Richard Huxford in the centre circle, eight minutes later. Such an innocuous moment was the source of Celtic's undoing. Scott McCulloch hoisted a long free-kick deep into the corner of the box where it was met by Falconbridge who sent an angled looping header over the, hitherto, untroubled Celtic goalkeeper, Jonathan Gould, and into his net.
Goals: Donnelly (35) 0-1; Falconbridge (83) 1-1.
Dunfermline (4-4-2): Westwater; Tod, Squires, Ireland, McCulloch; Shiels, French (Petrie, 70), Huxford; Millar (Bingham, 70); Smith, Britton (Falconbridge, 76).
Celtic (3-5-2): Gould; Annoni, Stubbs, Rieper; McNamara (Brattbakk, 85), Burley, O'Donnell (Wieghorst, 86), Lambert, Boyd; Larsson, Donnelly. Sub not used: Blinker.
Referee: J Underhill (Edinburgh).
Bookings: Dunfermline: Ireland; McCulloch, Millar; Celtic: Annoni.
Man of the match: Jackie McNamara.Reuse content