PARS 2-0 Falkirk

CAPTAIN Euan Murray led from the front with a double as Dunfermline saw off rivals Falkirk in the Betfred Cup tonight.

The centre back scored two headers within the space of seven second half minutes to clinch three points and leave the Pars sitting pretty at the top of Group E.

Having started brightly in the opening 20 minutes, the League One Bairns grew into proceedings and the game became an open, entertaining cup tie.

It wasn't without incident - an early corner from Dom Thomas, who set up both of Murray's goals - looked like it may have crossed the line before Falkirk keeper Robbie Mutch blocked, while the visitors howled for a penalty minutes before half-time for what they felt was handball by Declan McManus.

However, Athletic took control and dominated after the break, going on to claim a deserved victory.

Stevie Crawford made two changes to the team that defeated Dumbarton on Tuesday night.

With Kerr McInroy joining Lewis Mayo in Scotland's under-21 squad for their European Championship qualifier against the Czech Republic, the on-loan Celtic midfielder dropped out along with Kyle Turner, who was named on the bench.

That meant McManus, who returned to East End in the summer after spending last season on loan to the Bairns from Ross County, and Fraser Murray came into the starting line-up.

Lee Miller, who was named on the bench, and David McCracken included three former Dunfermline men in the visitors' team - defenders Scott Mercer and Mark Durnan, and forward Aidan Keena, who had a short spell on loan with the Pars two years ago.

Within two minutes, the hosts almost had the lead when, from a corner, Thomas' wicked near post delivery almost found its way in directly, but Robbie Mutch managed to get a block on it before it ended up going out for a goal kick.

Thomas looked in the mood early on and his pace and trickery saw him lead the Bairns a merry dance, before his shot was blocked, following which Mutch was forced into a decent save.

A quickly-taken free-kick sent the influential Dow away down the right and his cross picked out McManus, whose glancing header was pushed out by the Bairns keeper before his defence cleared to safety.

Soon afterwards, the hosts had the ball in the net but, to their frustration, it was disallowed.

A Thomas corner was flicked out to the far side and returned by Fraser Murray.

In the ensuing scramble, in which Mutch got something on it, it looked as though O'Hara had poked it home, but the referee had awarded a foul in the Bairns' favour.

At the other end, Keena was found by a through ball and, onside, curled one from range but the ball sailed over the top.

The Bairns were coming into proceedings more and, on the half hour, had a great chance to take the lead.

Callumn Morrison's cross from the right found Keena, eight yards out in the middle of the goal, but Fon Williams reacted superbly to keep out his header.

Dunfermline looked to have lost their way, and were guilty of being sloppy in possession, as the visitors began to take more of a foothold and look assured on the ball.

Robbie Leitch, on the half turn, forced Fon Williams into action again from the edge of the box before excellent running by McManus saw him win a foot race and win a free-kick from Ben Hall.

Thomas took it from the edge of the box, forcing Mutch into a fine stop, and from the resulting corner Paul Watson was denied by the Bairns keeper.

Three minutes from half-time, there was a huge shout from the visitors for a penalty after a front-post header was flicked on, but Grant Irvine gave nothing.

But, even closer to the break, the Pars had two great chances to score.

The first was for O'Hara who, after being picked out by a superb Aaron Comrie pass, was through one-on-one but his touch let him down and the chance was gone.

Soon afterwards, Dow tried to round Mutch and tap home, but the keeper did well to get a hand on the ball and keep the Pars at bay again.

Fraser Murray fired one off target from around 20 yards as Dunfermline sought to start the second half on the front foot, before Thomas showed brilliant skill to beat his man and fire over a left-foot cross, but there was no-one there to connect.

In the 55th minute, an even bigger opportunity fell the way of Dunfermline - and O'Hara.

Fon Williams' clearance, via a Falkirk head, sent the ex-Bairn scampering in on goal but he couldn't convert, with Mutch blocking well.

But, just before the hour mark, Athletic's positive play was rewarded with the opener.

The superb Thomas showed tremendous skill and close control to win a free-kick from Gomis on the left and, from his vicious curling free-kick, Murray was there, unmarked, to power a header beyond Mutch from close range.

If that was good enough by the skipper, he doubled his and his team's money five minutes later.

Thomas again tormented the Bairns defence to win a corner and, with another fine delivery, he picked out the centre back's head again to put the home side in a commanding position.

The former Kilmarnock winger was running the show and, after being gifted possession 25 yards out, used his trickery to find room for a shot.

Although it was blocked, he fired the return back at goal with interest, but Mutch held well low down.

There were further chances for both Murray and O'Hara as the clock ticked towards the 90, but Dunfermline had done enough to earn a satisfying win over their rivals.

Dunfermline: Fon Williams, Comrie, E. Murray, Watson, Edwards, Dow, Whittaker, F. Murray, Thomas, O'Hara, McManus.

Subs: Turner, McCann, Wilson, Allan, Fenton, Gill, Swinton.

Goals: Euan Murray (58, 65).

Falkirk: Mutch, Mercer, Dixon, Hall, Durnan, Miller, Gomis, Morrison, Leith, Keena, Dowds.

Subs: Connolly, Todd, Sammon, Francis, Sneddon, Miller.

Referee: Grant Irvine.