3-0 down after play-off first leg

icon dunfermline17 May ~ On Sunday Dunfermline Athletic will be fighting for their Scottish Division One survival, in a play-off final second leg that could also have an impact on the historic club's existence. They went into administration in March, after overspending in an attempt to re-establish themselves as a top-flight club. Two years ago they were celebrating promotion after beating their fiercest rivals, Raith Rovers, in front of 11,000 at East End Park. At the same time, their opponents in this season's play-off final, Alloa Athletic, were being relegated to Division Three.

Dunfermline's return to the top flight was unsuccessful. They briefly closed a stand to save money before being relegated again, while Alloa were promoted back into Division Two. When they went into administration Dunfermline were docked 15 points, made eight first-team players redundant – including former Scotland goalkeeper Paul Gallacher – and were left competing with Cowdenbeath and Dumbarton to avoid finishing ninth, and in the play-offs.

Their administrator, Bryan Jackson, rated their chances of survival after administration as 50-50 and confirmed that relegation wouldn't help; average attendances in mainly part-time Division Two are a third of those in Division One, although Rangers' travelling support will boost gate receipts, even if it's just for one season.

It isn't meant to be like this for Dunfermline. Nine years ago they finished fourth in the SPL and they haven't visited Division Two since 1986. In the 1960s they regularly excelled in Europe – initially under Jock Stein – knocking out Everton and West Brom among others and reaching the Cup-Winners Cup semi-final in 1969. In 1965-66 their young striker, Alex Ferguson, was joint top of the scoring charts.

But this year's battle to stay in Division One has been a humbling tale of occasional steps forward amid several back: cautious optimism when their team of fast-tracked youth players beat local rivals Cowdenbeath 1-0 and climbed above them then despair on the last day of the season, when they lost to bottom club Airdrie while Cowdenbeath beat Hamilton.

Next, terrible news when they lost the play-off semi-final first leg 3-1 in Forfar. That deficit was extended early in the second leg but Dunfermline staged a great escape, with plenty of help from their opponents, who had three men sent off and gave away an own goal and two penalties as the tie went to extra time. Dunfermline fired in three more: Forfar 4, west Fife 7.

But the capitulation in Wednesday's early-evening sunshine in the first leg of the final was their worst yet. Paul Hartley's slick Alloa team controlled the game and were well worth their 3-0 victory; they've been on a good run of form and finished 13 points above Forfar in the league. It seems unlikely that Dunfermline can perform a great escape on Sunday that would eclipse the semi-final. Two seasons after playing against Rangers in the SPL, they may well be facing them again two tiers lower, if they survive administration. Mark Poole

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