Dundee United 1-0 PARS

NICKY CLARK ruined Stevie Crawford's debut in charge of his former club as his late winner earned Dundee United victory over the Pars this afternoon.

The striker, who left East End Park last summer for Tannadice, came off the bench to head beyond Lee Robinson in the 81st minute to sink Athletic and ensure Crawford began with a defeat.

It was hard on Dunfermline who, in a game of few opportunities, shaded the opening period and spurned the half's best opportunity when James Vincent shot wide from 12 yards.

But United, who came close shortly after the break when Pavol Safranko produced a smart stop from Lee Robinson, snatched the points to leave the Pars six points adrift of fourth-top Queen of the South.

After a whirlwind week that saw Allan Johnston and Sandy Clark leave East End Park on Wednesday, this was Crawford and newly appointed assistant Greg Shields' first game in charge since being appointed as the club's new management team on Thursday.

An already intriguing afternoon was made even more interesting with Crawford, not only coming up against one of his former clubs, went head-to-head with Robbie Neilson, with whom he worked with at both Hearts and MK Dons.

Despite the change in the dugout, there were no sweeping changes to Athletic's team as Crawford retained faith the starting line-up that surrended a two-goal lead to Alloa last time out that, effectively, cost Johnston his job.

There was, though, a positivity about Dunfermline in the opening stages as they sought to play at a high tempo and with plenty of energy.

Kallum Higginbotham, deployed on the left with Myles Hippolyte to the right, had the game's opening effort with an audacious shot from distance that was never troubling Benjamin Siegrist.

But it was a decent statement of intent from the visitors and they came close again in the ninth minute.

Jackson Longridge's free-kick from halfway was played up to Hippolyte, who did well under pressure to lay it off for Aidan Keena, whose effort with the outside of his boot was on target but smothered comfortably by Siegrist.

United, though, soon had their first opportunity when Pavol Safranko did well to head a corner to the far back post back across goal for Frederic Frans, who thankfully could only direct the ball straight at Lee Robinson.

In what was a pretty even opening quarter, Dunfermline almost carved open a golden opportunity when Hippolyte slid the ball to Higginbotham at the edge of the box, but his attempt to find the onrushing James Vincent was just cut out by a covering United defender.

Although there were few opportunities in the opening half an hour, Athletic's energy, tempo and work-rate was good, but they spurned a golden opportunity to take a 33rd minute lead.

Moments after Paul McMullan had shot wide for United, the Pars advanced forward and, but for a poor first touch, Hippolyte would have been in on goal after Keena played the ball into his path.

From the resulting throw in, a mistake in defence from the hosts saw the former Falkirk man presented with the ball on the right-edge of the box, from where he laid it on a plate for James Vincent, but he pullled his effort wide from 12 yards.

That was as good as things got in the opening 45 minutes and Neilson sought a reaction from his men by swapping Matthew Smith for Aidan Nesbitt at the interval.

He almost got it when Safranko charged down Devine's attempted clearanced and raced into the box, but Robinson produced a smart save at his near post before Dunfermline managed to clear.

In the 64th minute, Crawford made his first move by introducing Callum Smith - who cut-short his loan from Arbroath earlier this month - on in place of Aidan Keena in attack.

There almost a glorious chance for the Pars five minutes later when, after dealing with a high ball, a backpass towards Siegrist was underhit, allowing the alert Higginbotham to pounce.

But, at the vital moment, the winger stumbled, which gave the United keeper the time to race from his goal and clear to avert a dangerous substitution.

Former Par McMullan was then subbed in favour another ex-Athletic man, Clark, who received a "warm" reception from the visiting fans.

And, within minutes, he should've scored.

A throw from the right was worked into the Pars area and it fell kindly for the striker around six yards out, but somehow he put it wide of the near post.

Higginbotham and Joe Thomson's races were run a minute later, with Aidan Connolly and Malaury Martin coming on, as Crawford sought a route to victory in the closing stages.

But, with nine minutes to go, United snatched the lead.

James Craigen conceded a free-kick on the Pars' left and, as he debated the decision with the referee, United took it quickly.

Aidan Nesbitt eventually played a cross into the near post and there was Clark to glance a fine header home to net his second goal against the Pars this season.

Despite their best endeavours, the visitors couldn't muster a response and began life under their new management team with defeat.

Dundee United: Siegrist, Murdoch, Booth, Frans, McMullan, Fyvie, Stanton, Safranko, M. Smith, Bouhenna, C. Smith.

Subs: Clark, King, Nesbitt, Robson, Thomas, Watson, Rakovan.

Goal: Clark (81).

Pars: Robinson, Craigen, Ashcroft, Devine, J. Longridge, Higginbotham, Vincent, Beadling, Thomson, Hippolyte, Keena.

Subs: Durnan, Connolly, M. Martin, El Bakhtaoui, Smith, Muirhead, Gill.

Referee: Alan Muir.

Attendance: 5,913.