Back on league business after a 2 week cup layoff the young Pace headed for Forth with the form guide pointing towards a comfortable victory, the hosts yet to register a win and Dunipace having experienced 100% success in their 7 fixtures thus far. Football though is rarely played on paper and Forth Royals, on what was quite possibly the shortest and narrowest park in Scotland, gave their visitors much to consider with a performance that suggested not all teams will have things their own way when they visit this season.
From the off Dunipace found it difficult to adapt their sharp passing style to the size of the park, finding no space at all in the wide areas where there were only 4 steps between touchline and 18 yards. They did threaten early though as Brown linked with Comrie and Steven to race down the right hand side, the home defender throwing himself into a last ditch tackle to concede the corner.
Swords took the kick and drilled a good low ball the short distance between the corner and box which Brown diverted narrowly wide.
Despite only showing flashes in the opening 10 minutes the Westfield men did take the lead on 11 through top scorer Brown. Swords, Maclaren and Comrie exchanged sharp passes centrally, Comrie playing the ball into the inside right area for Brown. Brown rode the challenge of his marker who blocked the initial effort, but the big striker was not to be denied firing low and hard across the keeper with his right, finding the corner from the angle 12 yards out.
And the striker nearly made it 2 moments later as Mitusch linked well with McIntyre on the right before finding the striker with a delivery that Brown hooked narrowly wide, the ball falling slightly behind him making it a half chance at best.
Steven was next to test the home keeper, linking well with with Comrie on the left before stepping inside two challenges and firing across goal, the keeper palming out over his bar for a corner. And Steven was the instigator again moments later as he linked with Taylor and Brown before stepping inside and beating two home defenders before being fouled by the third. Steven took the free kick himself but saw it deflect off the wall for a corner before the keeper had to make a save.
Dunipace though, despite creating those chances and being ahead, were not playing well. Ball retention was poor, the tempo in the game was well below their normal standard and even their shape which has been consistently good was showing signs of faltering. That said, a Forth equalising goal came well against the settled direction of traffic as the hosts pulled level on 18 minutes with their first attempt on goal, with more than a little help from the match official.
Comrie lost possession 10 yards inside the Forth half, with Swords unable to rescue the loose ball on halfway. As the home midfielder played the ball through the striker was well beyond Balmer in an offside position, the official waving play on leaving the Dunipace defence little hope to rectify the situation as the Royals striker seized upon the mistake of the official, placing a fine finish beyond Jackson, low to his right, from 12 yards.
Despite their obvious frustration at the decision Dunipace regained the league moments after the restart again through Brown. Swords and Maclaren linked to feed the ball to Steven who combined with Comrie to slide into the path of Brown who had spun into the left channel. Brown raced away from the defender before sending the keeper the wrong way from 12 yards with his right, slotting into the bottom left hand corner for 2-1.
Comrie came close to extending the Pace lead as he latched onto the throw of McIntyre, heading beyond his man before firing just wide with his left from 18 yards. And the young attacker was nearly on the scoresheet again moments later as he linked with Brown and Steven before showing good skill to beat his marker and flash across goal with his left, missing by inches with the keeper stranded.
Forth tested the gloves of Jackson rarely during the half, but an impressive effort just before half time showed the stopper was still concentrated on the game as the Royals midfielder controlled the long ball well before skipping past Maclaren and drilling at goal on the half volley from 30 yards, Jackson gathering comfortably.
Brown could have won a penalty before the half but he stayed on his feet after being fouled in the box, looking for Comrie in the centre who couldn't get there before the final chance of the half fell to Brown. Mitusch exchanged passes well with Comrie on 18 yards before dinking to the back post for Brown who sent his free header over the top from 6 yards when it looked a certain goal.
2-1 at half time but Dunipace, despite creating a host of chances to extend their lead, were unrecognisable from the team who have been so pleasing to watch so often this season. The pitch size, even though a good playing surface, clearly didn't suit the Westfield men who were growing more frustrated at a number of things as the half progressed.
Into the second half and Dunipace made some early changes, King replacing the out of sorts Steven after 48 minutes, closely followed by Comrie and Maclaren making way for Meade and Weir.
As the half progressed it was more of the same though for the visitors as slackness continued in much of their play, nearly gifting Forth a way back into the game on more than one occasion with poor play in dangerous areas, but Jackson in the Pace goal was not required to make any save of note during the half.
And it was Dunipace who could have extended their lead as King forced a stop from the keeper with a strike from 12 yards before Mitusch exchanged passes with Meade and McIntyre to narrowly miss Brown with a cross from the right that may have been better drilled along the ground rather than floated. Weir forced a good stop with a strike with his right before Meade, who'd had a positive impact since coming on, made the game safe for Dunipace.
Brown, King and Weir linked to win a corner on the left and from the kick Swords picked out a good low ball for Brown who saw his effort blocked 8 yards from goal. Meade though latched onto the rebound, forcing his way beyond two strong challenges before riffling beyond the last defender from 5 yards.
And it only took seconds to make it 4-1 from the Forth kickoff, Meade winning the ball back before playing in Mitusch on the right. Mitusch drove infield before picking a wonderful pass into the run of Weir who's first touch took him away from the defender, allowing him to finish very calmly with his left below the the keeper from 12 yards.
Barrowman, who replaced McIntyre at right back on 65 linked with meade on the right, Meade winning a corner which he played sharply to Swords who worked the 2 v 1 with his midfield partner, Meade picking out Brown on 12 yards who fired over the top with his right.
Hepburn replaced Mitusch on 70 as Dunipace looked to see the game out, with Swords, Meade and King playing a narrower 3 in front of the Hepburn who played just in front of the back 4.
Weir, Brown and King all had further chances to extend the Dunipace lead in what was a bitty second half, play stop starting constantly with some bizarre decisions going for and against both teams, but 4-1 it finished. The only moment of real note was a soft late yellow for Hepburn following a trip on half way.
A 4-1 win for Dunipace in a game where they never really got going. In the 7 previous games the young Pace have occasionally dropped back from their high standards during the 90 minutes but have always managed to put together good periods within the game to showcase their potential and secure the result. The worry on this occasion will be that, despite creating a number of chances and winning the game comfortably, it's the first time that they have not had said spell within the game, playing well within themselves throughout.
Given their quality this was surely just a blip under the circumstances and there were of course, as always, a good number of positives to take from the game with some good individual performances among an overall below par team performance.