The first quarter of the Championship season ends tomorrow with all teams having faced each other once by the final whistle of Saturday's games. Ayr United sit level on poiints with Dundee United at the top of the table, having coped with the loss of their outstanding goalscorer Lawrence Shankland this summer. Ayr also lost manager Ian McCall last month, to bottom of the table Partick Thistle. Still to appoint a permanent replacement for McCall, Ayr travel to Fife to face a Dunfermline side without a home win in the League since March.
Here is the current Championship table:
If there are any positives to be taken from a start to the season that has yielded just one League victory, it is that Dunfermline go into tomorrow's match unbeaten in 3 games, looking to be more ruthless when given the opportunities to win matches. Even though the Pars' last game, 2 weeks ago in Greenock, was an awful match to watch, 3 points should have been secured after going ahead in the 87th minute, only for the team to lose an equaliser deep into stoppage time. There is little point a fortnight later in concentrating on the poor performance level - as fans, we can only hope that the work done on the training ground will pay off on the pitch this weekend, with a vastly improved display, accompanied by a long overdue home win.
The team have shown patches of decent form this season, mainly in cup competitions. There is talent there, but it must be managed and moulded into a more effective unit. Points are all important, especially for a Dunfermline side who currently occupy the relegation play-off position, but to encourage fans back to games, particularly at home, the product must also be worth watching.
Injuries will once again curtail manager Stevie Crawford's team selection for the game tomorrow. Central defenders Euan Murray and Tom Lang are definitely out, with Lang closest to making a return. Long term absentee Joe Thomson has returned to training but will obviously need game time in the reserves before being flung back into the first team, as welcome as his return will be. Paul Paton is also training and likely to return after missing the last 2 games. Lewis McCann's hand injury, which required stitches, flared back up last week and he may not be risked tomorrow.
As for the staring lineup, I feel it is imperative that the team has 2 up front: Kevin Nisbet has struggled as a lone striker in various formations. The introduction of Andy Ryan from the bench against Morton saw Ryan put Nisbet through on goal, and later get the opening goal. I would also select Paton if he is fit enough to play at the expense of Harry Cochrane.
Dunfermline travel to Greenock tomorrow, hoping to become the first team in this season's Championship to take even a point from Morton at Cappielow, with David Hopkin's team having a 100% record from their 3 home games this season. Morton's away form has been less impressive, losing all 4 games, including last week's 6-0 scudding at Tannadice against Lawrence Shankland FC.
Here is the current Championship table. Alloa play Dundee United this evening - the game will be shown live on the BBC Scotland channel, with a 7.05pm kickoff. All other Championship matches are scheduled for a Saturday 3.00pm start.
Last weekend's draw at home to Alloa saw Dunfermline have more of the ball and create more clearcut scoring opportunities than the visitors but unable to secure the 3 points. After the important win at Partick Thistle the week before, pre-game talk last week was about building momentum with another victory. A win tomorrow would rekindle the positivity that was felt after the Thistle game, and set the team up for 2 potentially difficult games against Dundee United and Ayr United, after the international break next weekend.
Team selection for tomorrow's match will be along similar lines to the players who lined up against Alloa. Absentees last week - Paul Paton, Tom Lang, Euan Murray, plus longer term Joe Thomson, are still likely to be missing. Only Paton from that group stands any chance of featuring in Greenock, and he is rated extremely doubtful due to an ankle injury. Hearts loanee Anthony McDonald has returned to Tynecastle having not played any first team or reserve football for Dunfermline after he injured his back a few days before his loan deal began. Andy Ryan, who was ill last week, will be back in the squad tomorrow, and will at the very least give an attacking option from the bench, which was sorely lacking last week. Gabby McGill, out injured for the Alloa game, is also back in training.
The starting 11 will probably be the same as against Alloa, unless Paton is fit enough to play. The extremely youthful team that lined up last week - averaging 21.8 years old - will need strong performances from the senior players - Lee Ashcroft, who will deputise as captain, and Ryan Dow. Our other Hearts loanee, Harry Cochrane, who partnered Kyle Turner in central midfield against Alloa, will likely keep his place although Tom Beadling is an option. Josh Coley, who was heavily involved during his sub appearance last week, is still looking for the consistency required to start games. I would go with the same starting 11, but add Ryan and McGill to the squad in place of Matty Bowman and Danny Devine, who were among the unused subs last time out. That would still leave Stuart Morrison as defensive cover. Ryan Scully, Beadling, Coley, Matty Todd, plus Ryan and McGill, would join Morrison on the bench.
Dunfermline go into tomorrow's Championship game against Alloa on the back of a first League win of the season at Partick Thistle last weekend. It was also the Pars' first League victory since March, when tomorrow's visitors were defeated in an away fixture. Dunfermline's recent record against Alloa at East End Park has been poor, culminating in a 2-1 loss to the Wasps in the Challenge Cup 3 weeks ago.
Here is the current Championship table. Queen of the South play Dundee this evening - the game will be shown live on the BBC Scotland channel, with a 7.05pm kickoff. All other Championship matches are scheduled for a Saturday 3.00pm start.
A long overdue League win was achieved with some degree of comfort at Firhill last Saturday. There was pressure on the Dunfermline management and players going into the game, even at this relatively early stage of the season, as the team were bottom of the table and playing the side directly above them, the only other team without a win at that point. The 3-0 win, achieved through goals by Kevin Nisbet, Ryan Dow with a tremendous solo effort, and a deflected Kyle Turner shot from distance, lifted Dunfermline 3 places up the table and in with a chance of going into the top half of the table this weekend, depending on other results.
Nisbet's goal, his seventh of the season, was also the striker's first after a barren run of 6 games without a goal. The supply to the team's main goal source was improved last week with the return from injury of Ryan Dow, and Greg Kiltie being shifted to the left wing. Having Dow and Kiltie on the wings should see far more chances created in the weeks ahead. It was also pleasing to see Nisbet playing alongside a partner in attack as opposed to the lone striker role he has been asked to occupy in many games, which often left him an isolated and frustrated figure. Gabby McGill, who partnered Nisbet in the opening 45 minutes at Partick, has a niggling injury and may mot be available tomorrow. This should allow Lewis McCann a chance to play in his natural position as a striker, alongside Nisbet, and not the left sided attack role that Stevie Crawford has deployed the player in for much of this season.
There will be no other return from injuries this weekend: Joe Thomson, Euan Murray are still out; there was no update on Tom Lang but the defender would be, at best, on the bench if fit. Andy Ryan has been ill this week and could miss out tomorrow. He would have been unlikely to start against Alloa in any case.
The goalkeeping position and back 4 picks themselves, as does centre midfield plus the wings. Paul Paton had an effective game against Partick, his experience and physicality contrasting and complimenting the attacking thrust and greater mobility of his midfield partner Kyle Turner. Hearts' loanee Harry Cochrane, a central midfielder, will have to wait a little longer for a first team start with Dunfermline, unless Stevie Crawford makes a positional change involving Turner.
A victory tomorrow is essential to build momentum after last week's win at Firhill. A run of positive results would not only offset the poor start made in the opening 5 League games, but would also catapult Dunfermline to the edges of the top 4. The team have the ability as we have seen mainly in cup games this season. Winning breeds positivity and another 3 points tomorrow would give the team a further boost going into the end of the first quarter of League games next weekend, away to Morton.
The Championship's bottom 2 teams go head to head at Firhill tomorrow with both Dunfermline and Partick Thistle looking for a first League win of the season, the only clubs in the division without a victory so far. Partick, who sacked manager Gary Caldwell on Wednesday, go into the game with a temporary management team of Gerry Britton, youth coach Scott Allison and veteran striker Kenny Miller. Britton, who in addition to being an ex-Partick player is also an ex-Par, is currently the Chief Executive at the Glasgow club.
Here is the current Championship table. All this weekend's games in the division are scheduled for a 3pm Saturday kick-off.
There was precious little for Dunfermline fans to get excited about in last weekend's defeat to Inverness but manager Stevie Crawford has, understandably, attempted to draw some positives from the game, while admitting that his players have to pose a far greater attacking threat. Defensively, the Pars team were more solid than in previous weeks, with left back Lewis Martin switching to the central defensive role that he filled for most of the earlier years of his career at East End Park. This was partly due to injuries to other defenders (Euan Murray and Tom Lang) and lack of form of others (Danny Devine and Stuart Morrison). Martin is the fifth player to partner Lee Ashcroft in the middle of the backline this season. Martin played the final 13 minutes of the game against Inverness at left back after an injury to Josh Edward. Substitute Danny Devine then conceded an 87th minute penalty for what proved to be the game's only goal.
With injuries now impacting more each week, the manager has to find the best defensive formula, hoping that Edwards will be fit to play tomorrow so that the same back four who started against Dundee United can line up at Firhill. Goalkeeper Cammy Gill seems set for a prolonged first team run for the first time in his Pars career.
In midfield, Ryan Dow's fitness is still in doubt, along with Hearts loanee Anthony McDonald and longer term absentee Joe Thomson. Whether Tom Beadling continues in the right midfield role he was given last weekend is for the manager to decide but there must surely be a first start for the other Hearts loan signing, Harry Cochrane, who came off the bench last week for the second consecutive game.
In attack, I would still like to see Lewis McCann partner Kevin Nisbet but the young attacker has been played wide left, as a left sided attacker rather than a traditional winger. There are options up front, depending on the formation chosen. Greg Kiltie, who played alongside Nisbet last week, can also play out wide or behind the main striker.
While we would all prefer to see a more attacking performance, Stevie Crawford has also shown in times of poor form and results that he is prepared to be pragmatic and to have his team grind out a draw or a narrow win with a more defensive set up. This was a feature of the five game winning sequence last season and we may see that approach resurface this weekend. Last season, with a fragmented squad, it was a case of needs must. There can be no doubting the attitude of this season's players, but they are displaying all the signs of a group who lack confidence. A positive result tomorrow would inject some much needed belief back into the squad. This is where we are at the moment.
Still searching for a first League win of the season, Dunfermline take on an in-form Inverness team on Saturday at East End Park. The Pars are one of 3 clubs in the division without a win, and play one of the 2 other teams, Partick Thistle, next week, in what could prove a crucial fortnight for the prospects of the team and, even this early in the season, the management. While I am in no way advocating a change in the dugout, preferring to give Stevie Crawford time to allow his squad to - hopefully - develop and progress, the team has to find a way to win, and quickly, to achieve anything of worth this season.
Here is the current Championship table. Arbroath play Partick Thistle this evening. All other games are scheduled for 3pm Saturday kick-offs.
After a promising start to the season, topping the Betfred League Cup group, Dunfermline's form has nose-dived along with results. With an almost entire squad rebuild during the summer, with mainly younger players being brought to the club, patience was always going to be required. The enthusiasm and attractive play in those early games has been replaced by a hard slog and lack of fluency in the team's play. Playing the ball out from the back, the last 3 games have seen various players plus 2 goalkeepers look out of sorts and in danger of gifting goals to the opposition. Creatively, there has been little to enthuse over, with the exception of the good link up play and finish that saw Greg Kiltie score against Alloa last week. Unfortunately, that has been an isolated example of what we all hope the team are capable of.
Team selection for tomorrow's game is impacted by injury to several players. The two central defenders signed during the summer, Euan Murray and Tom Lang, are both injured. Lang made his first start in a competitive match against Alloa last week but had to be substituted with a hamstring injury after an hour and will not be available this weekend. This leaves Stevie Crawford with a decision as to who will partner Lee Ashcroft in the middle of the defence. A possible clue was given last week when left back Lewis Martin (who was, of course, a centre half for most of his Pars career before being switched to full back) was moved to the middle when Lang went off, and Josh Edwards brought on in his natural position of left back. This was despite having Stuart Morrison - dropped after a difficult game against Dundee United - and Danny Devine - dropped after replacing Morrison in the next game at Arbroath - on the bench. I would prefer Martin alongside Ashcroft. Morrison is still raw and Danny Devine is Danny Devine.
In goals, Ryan Scully, himself not in the best of form, should come back in for Cammy Gill, who did not impress against Alloa.
The midfield has been a problematic area in the past month. Paul Paton has been dropping deeper and deeper, leaving gaps in the middle of the pitch. Tom Beadling has been largely anonymous. Matty Todd, given a start against Alloa, is another young player who is not ready for a regular first team start. Ryan Dow is injured, Josh Coley out of form. On the plus side, Harry Cochrane is available and should start but his fellow Hearts loanee, Anthony McDonald, will again miss out with the back injury he sustained shortly before his loan deal began.
Depending on what formation the manager chooses, we have various options up front but need to find the right blend. Andy Ryan has been disappointing this season and I would prefer to see Greg Kiltie, who did well in his debut match last week, play behind a front two of Kevin Nisbet and Lewis McCann. One up front has not been a success in recent weeks and although the coaching staff have used McCann on the left, I would select him in his natural position of striker in a partnership with Nisbet.
Once Euan Murray, Tom Lang, Anthony McDonald, Ryan Dow and longer-term injury absentee Joe Thomson are fit, the manager will have a much more competitive squad to select from. Central defence is a concern in the meantime. My own team selection sees the most experienced player, Paul Paton, drop out. This could be seen as a risk in itself as we lack older players to balance the youthful core of the team. This is the result of going top-heavy with players in the 18-22 age group, and we cannot select any player simply because he is older than the others. This is the time for Tom Beadling, himself hardly a veteran at 23, to step up and lead the midfield.
After a winless start to the League campaign, Dunfermline have a Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup fixture this weekend that, depending on your opinion, is either a welcome distraction from the Championship and a chance to give certain players some game time, or a pointless game that we could do without and instead concentrate on the next League match, at home to Inverness a week on Saturday.
Visitors Alloa, who sit 2 places and 2 points above Dunfermline in the Championship table, knocked the Pars out of last season's Challenge Cup, at East End Park, winning a penalty shoot-out after the game ended 2-2. Since then, both clubs have changed managers for different reasons and both will go into the game tomorrow knowing that no matter the merits of the competition, it does represent a chance of winning a trophy. Alloa won the Challenge Cup in 1999, while the closest the Pars came was in 2007, losing in the final to St Johnstone.
In the build up to tomorrow's game, Stevie Crawford hinted that some squad players could be selected, while also pointing out that the reserve team that lost 2-0 to St Mirren on Tuesday was youthful and did not include any first team fringe players. There is probably a need to freshen up the team in any case; an argument could be made for change even if this weekend's game was a Championship fixture. The past 3 League games have produced less than stellar performances, with some players lacking form.
Of the 3 recent loan signings, the Hearts pair of Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald will both return to their parent club to play for Hearts Colts in the Challenge Cup tomorrow. Both were cup-tied in any case but it is disappointing that the terms of their loan deals did not prevent them being risked in such a competition. The third loan signing, Kilmarnock's Greg Kiltie, is available tomorrow.
In goals, I would give much-needed first team game time to Cammy Gill, especially with Ryan Scully being out of sorts recently. In central defence, Tom Lang is surely due a start; with Euan Murray injured, Stuart Morrison benched last weekend in favour of Danny Devine, who went onto have a game littered with blunders, Lang has to start tomorrow.
There has been no word on Ryan Dow's fitness, after the winger missed the Arbroath game through injury. He would go into my starting 11 if fit. Paul Paton would drop out, with Kyle Turner moving to central midfield. Greg Kiltie would start on the left wing.
Up front, had Lewis McCann not been with the Irish Under 21 squad this weekend, I would have given him a start in his natural position - striker, not a converted winger. There is no need to reinvent McCann as a left winger as we now have several of those in the squad. In his absence, Andy Ryan partners Kevin Nisbet in a team designed to attack.
Dunfermline travel up the Angus coast tomorrow in the fourth week of games of this season's Championship, looking for a first League win of the campaign. Opponents Arbroath, newly-promototed and managed by former Pars player, coach and manager Dick Campbell, have started the season well. Rated favourites for relegation before a ball was kicked, they have collected 4 points from their opening 3 games, including an important win last weekend at Alloa.
Here is the Championship table; this evening, Inverness play Morton and the Dundee derby takes place at Tannadice. Tomorrow's games see Partick host Ayr United and Queen of the South take on Alloa, in addition to the Pars' trip to Gayfield.
After winning the Betfred Cup group, and an encouraging display in the opening League game against Dundee, Dunfermline then took deserved credit for the defensive resilience shown in the narrow loss to Celtic at Parkhead in the last 16 of the Betfred competition. Prior to and following the game at Celtic Park were a pair of League games that saw the team fail to capture anything like the free-flowing form that they have shown they are capable of in other matches: a draw at Queen of the South and the disappointing nature of last week's home loss to Dundee United when, despite the good play of the opposition, Dunfermline rarely posed any real attacking threat, eventually going down 2-0.
Tomorrow's game is against one of only 2 part time sides in the division but will not be any less of a challenge than other fixtures against full-time outfits. Dick Campbell, the oldest manager in the 4 SPFL divisions, has retained the nucleus of the team who he guided to both the 2016/17 League 2 title and last season's runaway League 1 title.
The Dunfermline squad for tomorrow's match will be along familiar lines. No new faces have yet been drafted in - with the transfer window closing soon, there is still no sign of the winger we were said to be interested in several weeks ago. The trialist winger from Wednesday's Fife Cup reserve team win, 18 year old Vinnie Steels, did well and may yet join up to challenge for a first team place, but there is still a need to add more quality and experience to the squad, to supplement the mainly youthful core of the first team pool of players.
As has been the case in all games this season, Stevie Crawford has to decide whether to go with 2 strikers up front - Kevin Nisbet and Andy Ryan - or play Nisbet plus Kyle Turner in a 4-4-1-1 formation, Turner playing behind rather than alongside the main striker. There are other options - the second half of last week's game against Dundee United saw Dunfermline line up in a 4-3-3 formation, which allowed Turner to be played in the left of the midfield 3. We must find a way to accomodate Turner's talents in the starting line up - a substitute last week, he is simply too good a player to be benched, and has been utilised in different positions during his appearances either from the start or from the bench this season.
The other main selection question for tomorrow is in central defence, where fit-again Danny Devine could replace Stuart Morrison. With Euan Murray out for at least another 6 weeks, Devine's experience could be useful, after the defence looked particularly vulnerable in the United game. Tom Lang is also available as a central defensive option.
Possible Pars line-up for tomorrow's match:
After the diversion of last week's memorable trip to Parkhead in the Betfred Cup, it's back to League business tomorrow for a Pars side looking for a first win in the 2019/20 Championship after draws in the opening 2 games. We face familiar foes Dundee United who are once again aiming for promotion back to the Premiership and who have started the League season with 2 wins.
Taking the lead in both League games but ultimately having to settle for a point in each game has given Dunfermline a solid start to the Championship season. We can claim with some justification that we were robbed of a win against Dundee in the opening game by a pair of contested penalty rewards that gave the opposition a pathway back into the game. This was followed by a strangely disjointed display in the next game, at Queen of the South a fortnight ago. The resilience shown in the mainly backs-to-the-wall game against Celtic will have given the players confidence but a different approach will be required against Dundee United. We will have more possession of the ball than against Celtic and despite our poor record against United (one win in the past 22 meetings), there will clearly be a far greater expectation of winning the game than we ever realistically expected last week.
Expectation should be tempered with realism that the players in the squad are still evolving, with several starters having played less than a dozen games, either in senior football (Stuart Morrison, Josh Coley plus most of the subs bench) or at Championship level (Aaron Comrie, Kevin Nisbet, Kyle Turner). Mixed in with the younger players are a group of players in the 23-26 year age bracket (Ryan Scully, Lee Ashcroft, Lewis Martin, Tom Beadling, Andy Ryan) plus ''older heads'' Ryan Dow (28) and captain Paul Paton (32). It's a good mix of players that also includes a promising crop of teenagers pressing for involvement, among them Matty Todd, Lewis McCann and Paul Allan. Add to that other players such as Danny Devine and Tom Lang, who due to injury (Devine) and the good form of others (Lang) have not featured in competitive action so far.
One player who will be missing tomorrow, and for the next 2 months, is centre half Euan Murray. The neck injury he sustained in the final seconds of the game against Queen of the South will require time to heal and although he will be missed, central defence is an area of the team where we have several options.
Most of the current starting 11 selects itself but manager Stevie Crawford will have a decision on who to play alongside Kevin Nisbet - either Andy Ryan in a 4-4-2 or Kyle Turner playing just behind the main striker in a 4-4-1-1 formation. In left midfield, Josh Coley could replace Josh Edwards in a more attacking set-up, with Edwards are more defensive-minded player which suited the type of game we faced at Parkhead.
Possible starting line-up:
And so, into the lion's den we go. Attempting to do what no other Scottish club has done since April 2016 - defeat Celtic in a cup competition - we will travel to Parkhead tomorrow to take on Scotland's champions with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.
Celtic exited the Champions League qualifying stage on Tuesday evening after gifting opponents Cluj the game. How will they react to this? Having scored 12 goals in their 2 League matches prior to their exit from Europe's top competition, they have the capability - domestically - to win convincingly and appease those fans who crave a future 10 in a row titles more than progression on a higher level that should be the true barometer of their club's development. In truth, Celtic have regressed rather than progressed in 2019 - appointing cheap option Neil Lennon as manager after Brendan Rodgers jumped ship at the first sign of English Premier League interest. Failure to reinvest in a fading playing squad - good enough to secure the treble treble but set to break up through a mixture of ageing and the departure of their best player - was laid bare on the field against Cluj.
So to the Pars. This game is obviously a huge test for a squad that will feature only 3 players who have played at Celtic Park before - Paul Paton, Ryan Dow and Lee Ashcroft. Ryan Scully has been there as a substitute keeper but none of our other players have played in Scotland's largest football venue. That in itself is indicative of the gulf in experience and stature of the 2 clubs' squads. There have, though, been 3 Pars victories at Celtic since 1997 and current coach Greg Shields played in all of them (1997, 2004 and 2005). We can only hope that he is a lucky charm and that he can contribute to another positive result, against the odds.
My hope for this game is to avoid a heavy defeat that could derail a promising start to our season. A win would be miraculous. Without being defeatist, any loss of less than a 5 goal margin would see us leave with pride intact and our share of the takings. We will have over 1000 fans in Celtic Park to back the team. Stevie Crawford has spoken this week of building up a bond between players and fans. Pars supporters have responded positively to the performances of the rebuilt squad and we will all go to Glasgow tomorrow as one: united, getting right behind the team and supporting them from first minute until the last.
The long trip to Dumfries tomorrow will reunite several members of the Pars squad and staff with familiar faces in the home side and dugout. Former Dunfermline manager Allan Johnston and his assistant Sandy Clark, who left East End Park in January, have returned to Queen of the South, where they had a successful spell as management duo earlier in this decade. Johnston likes familiarity and has implemented his well-known signing policy of bringing in players he has worked with in the past: ex-Pars Michael Paton, signed after being released by League 1 Dumbarton, and - today - Faissal El Bakhtaoui.
Dunfermline made another scintillating start to a game last Friday, going 2-0 up on Dundee in the opening fixture of the 2019/20 SPFL Championship before eventually having to settle for a point in a 2-2 draw. In 5 competitive games this season - 4 in the Betfred Cup, 1 in the League - the Pars have scored 13 first half goals, compared to 2 goals in the second half of those games. The ability to hit teams hard straight out of the traps has been successful overall: lesser teams (Albion Rovers and East Kilbride) being unable to respond, but better quality opposition (St Mirren, who at 3-0 down lost 3-2) then Dundee showed that whatever the reasons are for not replicating the first half performances, there is always a danger of being open to an opposition comeback as the game progresses.
No complaints, though - which should be the mantra for our season - allowing this mainly youthful squad a chance to develop without undue pressure. We are seeing a new beginning with an exciting group of players and while there will be bumps in the road, the journey itself will be well worth participating in.
The Pars' line up for tomorrow will almost certainly be along familiar lines: despite Danny Devine, Tom Lang and Josh Edwards being given valuable game time in the midweek friendly against Burntisland Shipyard (report here), the defence should remain unchanged, along with the midfield. Up front, Kyle Turner is available again after missing the Dundee game through a 1 game suspension carried over from his Stranraer days last season. Turner, Andy Ryan and Lewis McCann are all competing for the support striker slot up front with Kevin Nisbet, who has made such an impressive start to his Pars career.