BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
DUNFERMLINE manager Allan Johnston insists he will have no qualms about pitching Dean Shiels into the Falkirk Stadium cauldron when the fierce rivals cross swords for the first time since the shame game between the sides in January.
A small minority of Bairns supporters disgraced themselves on their last visit to East End Park, lobbing fake eyeballs at Shiels, who was forced to have surgery to remove his right eye in 2006 due to a domestic accident when he was eight years old.
Falkirk swiftly apologised for the actions of a moronic element of their traveling fanbase, while Pars chairman Ross McArthur subsequently released a statement confirming the playmaker had found the situation ‘difficult matter to handle’.
It was another ugly incident in what has been a distasteful campaign in this rivalry, with Kevin O’Hara and Joe McKee banned for eight and four matches respectively for ‘excessive misconduct’ for mocking Shiels’ affliction during an Irn-Bru Cup fixture in October.
The former Rangers and Hibs star was sent off for a lunge on McKee in injury-time of that game.
When the sides met a month later, Pars duo Declan McManus and Kallum Higginbotham were both dismissed in an ill-tempered 1-1 draw which, at times, appeared more about settling scores than claiming three points.
Johnston, however, is hopeful Dunfermline’s trip to the Falkirk Stadium on Saturday will see fans and players alike express their passion in the right manner, and will have no hesitation to field Shiels if required.
“I’m sure there won’t be a repeat of anything like that,” said Johnston, reflecting on the regrettable scenes in their last outing against the Bairns. “I think both clubs have moved on from that and it’s about the football.
“I’d have no qualms about playing Dean, he’ll be in the squad. He hasn’t been in the starting line-up of late, as we have a lot of options, but he is still a valued member of the team and if called upon I’m sure he will be ready to come in and play.
“We just want to go there and get a result. It is the biggest derby for Dunfermline, the supporters look forward to it, and we just want to give them the bragging rights over their rivals.
“You always want to see passion on the park, both teams committed to win the game and, as a player, the atmosphere in a derby match can give you that added edge.
“You lift your game and hopefully that takes us to another level.”
Dunfermline cross the Kincardine Bridge as the form team in the Championship, having taken 14 points from a possible 18 to soar to third spot in the race for the playoffs, ensuring a seven-game winless run at the start of the year is but a distant memory.
“We’ve given ourselves a real fighting chance after going through a spell where we couldn’t buy a win,” continued Johnston. “The confidence is back, we are creating chances, we are defending well – and we will need that between now and the end of the season. That is a platform to build on.
“We know we need to continue the way we have been playing to get ourselves in the playoffs. That is, of course, easier said than done, but the boys look like they are going into games expecting to win.”