PARS 1-2 Inverness Caledonian Thistle

A DEFLECTED goal from Tom Walsh saw Athletic fall to defeat against second-top Inverness Caledonian Thistle tonight.

The Pars could have moved to within two points of the second-top Highlanders with a win but, after creating some decent early chances, fell behind thanks to Aaron Doran's free-kick.

That goal midway through the first half hit the underside of the bar, with the assistant referee deeming it had crossed the line, but Stevie Crawford's side fought back with a stunning Dom Thomas leveller.

The winger's superb strike into the top corner inside the last 20 minutes looked as though it would at least rescue a point but, with 13 minutes left, visiting substitute Walsh won it for the visitors.

He had already cracked the post before his decisive strike but it was a cruel blow for Dunfermline, who will feel they did enough to merit a point.

With Morton winning at Ayr United, it meant the hosts dropped a place to seventh in the table, remaining four points behind the fourth-top Honest Men in the chase for he promotion play-offs.

Dunfermline had gone 24 days without a match - since their 3-2 win at Queen of the South - and had not played at home for a further eight.

They had hoped to pick up from where they left off, having beaten Dundee and Queens, and Crawford made just one change to his starting line-up that was victorious at Palmerston, with top scorer Kevin Nisbet returning in attack in place of Gabby McGill.

For the visitors, who have a Scottish Cup quarter final date at Hibernian this Friday night, there were no less than four ex-Pars players in their starting line-up.

Shaun Rooney, Jordan White, Brad McKay and James Vincent started for John Robertson, who drafted Lewis Toshney, Aaron Doran and Roddy Macgregor into their team that lost at Dundee United, with James Keatings, Walsh and Kevin McHattie dropping to the bench.

There was an early warning sign from Jonathan Afolabi who, alongside Owain Fon Williams in goal, was making his home debut.

He fizzed a dangerous ball low across the six-yard box from the left but, after Mark Ridgers got down to palm clear, Inverness cleared the danger.

A clearer sight of goal soon fell for Thomas, after Vincent had been booked for cynically hauling back Paul Paton.

From the free-kick, Afolabi's knockdown fell to the on-loan Kilmarnock winger's feet, but he dragged his shot wide from the edge of the area.

If that was a decent opportunity, a golden one fell for top scorer Nisbet with just 13 minutes on the clock.

Ryan Dow provided the ammunition with a terrific centre from the right and, finding himself unmarked in the middle of the box, eight yards out, he could only head wide.

Afolabi soon had a decent effort that ended not too far off target as Crawford's side impressed in the early exchanges, but, at the other end, Toshney was presented with an opportunity at the far post from a Doran corner, but lashed the ball over.

But, midway through the half, Inverness snatched the lead.

After Aaron Comrie conceded a free-kick around 20 yards out, Doran stepped up and curled the ball against the underside of the bar.

Although play initially continued as the Pars cleared to the edge of the area, the referee took his assistant's advice and awarded the goal, deeming that the ball had crossed the line.

It was terrific technique from Doran but harsh on the hosts following their bright start to proceedings, which faded as Inverness began to take more of a grip on the match.

They looked assured on possession and, although they created little other than a hopeful Roddy Macgregor penalty appeal that was rightly waved away, they kept Dunfermline at bay pretty comfortably.

A break by Comrie five minutes before half-time, which saw him pass to Dow to cross, did however create an opportunity.

After the ball fell to Afolabi, he laid it off for Thomas to shoot, which Nisbet connected with six yards out only to scoop it over the top.

Shortly after the interval, the Pars again went in search of a leveller, and Ridgers was equal to Thomas' curler, with Dow missing the target from the follow-up.

Ethan Ross, who represented Scotland's under-19s last week, replaced Dow in the 54th minute and tried to make an immediate impact with a shot from range, but his deflected effort was held by Ridgers.

They were soon on the attack again when Kyle Turner's flighted cross-field ball picked out Alofabi but, after checking onto his left foot, sent his shot well off target.

Dunfermline continued to probe and, following good play on the left, a decent opening presented itself for Euan Murray.

The full back did well to check inside his man after making his way into the penalty area but, with some of his team-mates looking for a pass, elected to shoot and didn't trouble the goal.

Moments later, Nisbet found the feet of Afolabi 18 yards out, but he could only strike low and down the throat of Ridgers but, with 20 minutes left, they found an equaliser.

And it was worth the wait.

After his corner in was cleared back to him on the right, Thomas moved to the right-edge of the area and unleashed an unstoppable, sensational strike that arrowed beyond Ridgers and into the top corner.

Danny Devine then flashed a header narrowly wide as the game's excitement ramped up before, at the other end, substitute Walsh cracked a super effort off the base of the post.

But, with 13 minutes to go, Walsh did find the net - and it was unfortunate for the Pars.

He sent a shot goalward from the right-side of the area but, with the aid of a huge deflection, left Fon Williams with no chance as it wrong-footed the keeper at his near post.

It was a harsh blow to Dunfermline, who tried to rally in response in the final 10 minutes, but struggled to breach the Inverness defence.

As they searched for a leveller, they did leave gaps at the back, which James Keatings almost took advantage of with a smart volley that flashed over.

Try as they might, Athletic couldn't find a leveller as Inverness claimed victory and move eight points clear of their hosts in second, leaving the Pars outside the top four.

Pars: Fon Williams, Comrie, Devine, Ashcroft, Murray, Dow, Turner, Paton, Thomas, Nisbet, Afolabi.

Subs: Martin, Thomson, Beadling, McGill, Ross, McCann, Gill.

Inverness CT: Ridgers, Rooney, Tremarco, Toshney, Carson, White, Doran, Vincent, Storey, McKay, Macgregor.

Subs: Keatings, Walsh, McHattie, Todorov, Trafford, Harper, Mackay.

Referee: Gavin Ross.