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.
Whether or not you regard the Betfred Cup as an extension of pre-season, the real thing is most definitely back tomorrow evening at EEP in front of the BBC cameras with Dunfermline hosting newly-relegated Dundee in the opening game of this season's SPFL Championship. Both clubs will be aiming for promotion, although the Pars camp have noticably avoided setting any targets in public, the type that can backfire should the team subsequently underperform.
The Pars' summer clearout has been a case of so far, so good, with the new-look team topping their Betfred Cup group and scoring 13 goals in the process. As stated often here and elsewhere, the youthful nucleus of the squad will inevitable lead to results fluctuating, meaning that patience - a commodity not too well-known amongst football fans in general - will be needed: the team have shown in the few games they have played together that when on their game, they can be formidable; but they are also capable of an off day, as evidenced in the defeat at Edinburgh City.
As fans, we can take heart from the enthusiasm in the squad, a stark contrast from the shameful group some of the players who wore the black and white last season, the bulk of them thankfully gone - wasters who pulled out of tackles and were not worthy of the jersey. The new signings have injected life, vitality and new belief into the club. We may struggle at times but we can look forward to seeing a squad that will never let us down in terms of effort. No scapegoats this season: let's all get behind what Stevie Crawford, Greg Shields and Jason Dair are trying to achieve. Enjoy the ride, even if there are bumps in the road.
The team for tomorrow's game will almost certainly be that which started against East Kilbride last weekend, except for Andy Ryan replacing the suspended Kyle Turner, unavailable due to bookings picked up last season when at Stranraer.
Expected starting 11:
Dundee replaced former Pars boss Jim McIntyre with veteran defender James McPake in the days before the final Premiership game of last season, with the club already relegated. McPake, who had announced his retirement from playing due to injury, was promoted from the coaching staff into his first management role.
The Dens Park club are second favourites to win the Championship this season, with average odds across all major bookies of 17/5 - compared to title favourites Dundee United, rated at an average of 7/4. Dunfermline are rated fifth favourites at 10-1.
After attending Dundee's Betfred Cup game at home to St Mirren on Sunday (you can watch Ben's vlog of the game here), I was impressed by their strength - particularly in central defence - but felt they lacked guile in attack. New signing Danny Johnson will be their main threat and scored the game's only goal.
Match report will be posted in the hours after the game tomorrow.
All photos on this page were taken by Pars Review.
The final set of Betfred Cup group fixtures take place this weekend, with much to play for between Dunfermline and opponents East Kilbride. After an excellent start to the group, the Pars lost to Edinburgh City in the third round of fixtures. A draw will be enough for Dunfermline to top the group but an East Kilbride win would see the Lowland League side finish first, which not many would have predicted before the first ball was kicked earlier this month.
Here is the current Betfred Cup group H table:
Wins over St Mirren and Albion Rovers made Dunfermline strong favourites to progress to the knock-out stages of the Betfred Cup before last week's loss in Edinburgh. The Pars still have an advantage over our group rivals: a draw would see us finish on 7 points and with a significantly better goal difference than any other team in the group. East Kilbride must win; while Albion Rovers, in fourth place, can match the Pars' potential 7 point total but lose out on top place through the previously-mentioned goal difference. There will, obviously, be no talk of going for a draw tomorrow; a win over East Kilbride will be the only target.
Dunfermline have enjoyed positive starts to the past 2 seasons through winning the Betfred Cup group ahead of top division opponents Hearts (2017/18) and Dundee (2018/19). Tomorrow represents a chance to complete a hat trick of group wins. While last weekend's result was unexpected, it need not derail what has otherwise been a very encouraging beginning for Stevie Crawford's rebuilt squad. The manager has made minimal changes in the past 3 games: the same starting 11 faced St Mirren and Edinburgh City, while the game in between, the 6-0 win over Albion Rovers, saw Kyle Turner and Lewis McCann replace Andy Ryan and Josh Coley, the same 2 players who then replaced Turner and McCann in Edinburgh.
A good start to the game, similar to the opening against Albion Rovers when the Pars went a goal ahead after 3 minutes, will settle any nerves that may creep in the longer the game remains goalless. From keeper Ryan Scully through to whichever strikers are selected (Kevin Nisbet, plus either Ryan or Turner, the latter who can also play in other positions), the team have the quality to win the game but will need to show the same level of application as in the first 2 group games.
East Kilbride lost out on a place in League 2 for season 2019/20 when they were defeated over 2 legs by Highland League winners Cove Rangers in the play-off semi finals in April. 'The Kilby', Lowland League winners, have shown they have the ability to compete at a higher level with their results in the Betfred Cup this month: after a disappointing start, losing 1-0 at home to Albion Rovers, they drew 0-0 with Premiership St Mirren, and won an extra bonus point after winning the penalty shout out - a feature of drawn games in this competition. East Kilbride then travelled to Ainslie Park, Edinburgh, and defeated Edinburgh City 1-0 on Tuesday evening.
Three ex-Pars will return to East End Park tomorrow with East Kilbride: defender Craig Reid, midfielder Graeme Holmes, and the club's assistant manager, former full-back Jim Paterson.
Ainslie Park, Edinburgh is the venue for tomorrow's Betfred Cup game between Dunfermline and home side Edinburgh City, who continue to play their home games at Spartans' ground while their home at Meadowbank Stadium is being redeveloped. The Pars have won both matches in the competition so far, scoring an impressive total of 9 goals, while League 2 Edinburgh City have played one fixture, losing 1-0 at St Mirren through an 88th minute penalty.
Here is the current Betfred Cup group H table:
Anticipation and curiosity awaited the new look Pars side before last week's first competitive game of the season in Paisley. Pre-season friendlies had been promising, adding to the relief of simply having something different to look forward to, following the awfulness of last season. In the 2 games that have since been played, we have seen the team going into the half time breaks with 3-0 and 5-0 leads. Some outstanding attacking play with goals coming from 6 different players has been refreshing and has raised hopes of the team, and fans, enjoying a good 2019/20 season. As I have said before in pre-season articles, there will be times when patience will have to be shown, as the squad is very young and their form will, inevitably, fluctuate. However, so far, so good, and we go into tomorrow's game with a great chance to cement our place at the top of the group.
Two changes were made in the starting 11 that defeated Albion Rovers 6-0, with Kyle Turner and Lewis McCann replacing Andy Ryan and Josh Coley, both of whom had been impressive in the previous game at St Mirren. Rotation could come into Stevie Crawford's decision-making for tomorrow's team, together with a possible return to fitness of centre half Euan Murray. New signing Josh Edwards, who came on as a substitute in left midfield on Wednesday, may have to wait longer for a first start. Tom Lang, who has been an unused substitute in both Betfred Cup games, is another player who could be given game time tomorrow.
My starting 11, depending on Murray's fitness, would be as follows, again, with rotation in mind. No player has been ''dropped'' through poor form. I would retain the nucleus of the team that has featured so far but make 2 changes from Wednesday evening: Euan Murray for Stuart Morrison, and Andy Ryan back in the team in attack, with Kyle Turner shifting from the support striker role that he occupied against Albion Rovers, to left wing, replacing Lewis McCann. Turner is adaptable and can play on either wing, attacking midfield, or in attack.
A top of the table Betfred Cup Group H game takes place at East End Park tomorrow evening, with both Dunfermline and visitors Albion Rovers taking 3 points with away wins in their first group matches at the weekend. Rovers, who enjoyed a resurgence last season after the appointment of ex-Par Kevin Harper as manager, won 1-0 at East Kilbride on Saturday while the Pars were 3-2 winners in Paisley on Sunday.
Here is the current Group H table after the first set of fixtures, with Edinburgh City yet to play their first game:
Dunfermline's win over St Mirren gives Stevie Crawford's new look team a great chance to progress to the last 16 knock-out stage of the Betfred Cup, with games against Albion Rovers (home), Edinburgh City (away) and East Kilbride (home) to come. For the third consecutive season, the Championship Pars could top a Betfred group over Premiership opponents, just as we did last season, finishing ahead of Dundee, and the season before, when we prevented Hearts from taking first place. The energy and enthusiasm in this new group of Pars players is a start contrast from the bulk of last season's squad, and while we are favourites now to win the group, complacency will not be allowed to creep in.
With Wednesday's game being the second of three in a week for Dunfermline, there could be changes and opportunities for players including Kyle Turner, Tom Lang and Lewis McCann to start the game, or at least be given more game time from the bench. The ''strongest'' team that started both the Hibs friendly and at St Mirren - the only change being Stuart Morrison replacing the injured Euan Murray - could be selected again but squad rotation will probably be a factor behind the team selection tomorrow.
Kevin Harper was appointed manager of Albion Rovers in November 2018, with the Coatbridge club battling with Berwick Rangers to avoid finishing last in League 2. After a winless run of 12 games, Harper's team won 5 of their last 9 League games to safely pull away from the foot of the table, which led to his contract being extended to the end of the 2019/20 season. So far this summer the club have brought in 7 new players, including former Dunfermline reserve goalkeeper Ryan Goodfellow.
The Pars' first competitive game of the 2019/20 season takes place tomorrow in Paisley against a St Mirren side who narrowly avoided relegation from the Premiership 2 months ago and who have since undergone a change in manager. The game will be a test for Stevie Crawford's revamped and youthful squad. The new look team did well against Hibs in the first half of last weekend's friendly at East End Park but tomorrow represents a much stiffer test.
The summer clearout has seen over a dozen players - contracted or on loan - leave the club and be replaced by a young set from mainly lower SPFL divisions or recruits from English clubs youth systems. The only exceptions are 32 year old Paul Paton and 27 year old Ryan Dow. All other new arrivals have been 22 or under and have been largely impressive in pre-season matches. There should, of course, be a freshness when any new season is about to begin. After ridding the club of a group of non-triers and bad influences, the change this summer has been even more marked.
With youth comes enthusiasm but the team cannot rely on that alone. The new squad will need to be given time and have patience shown to them. What we have seen so far points to a brighter future but it will take time to build a winning mentality and to establish the belief and confidence that all successful teams have, and need, to achieve anything. That word patience again - no scapegoats this season, let's just get behind every player and hope that we can banish memories of last season and enjoy the football again.
The team selection tomorrow is likely to mirror the side that started against Hibs last week. Players such as Lewis McCann will be pressing for a start, but I would expect the side listed below to begin the game. We have good options from the bench, and along with McCann, Kyle Turner, Tom Lang and others will look to impress with any game time they are given.
Predicted Pars starting 11:
As one football season almost merges into the next, we begin our 2019/20 pre-season friendly schedule with a visit to Forfar tomorrow. The venue was one of my favourite away days back in League 1 - a decent stadium, well-maintained but also enough of a throwback to satisfy the football purist in me.
The game, of course, represents the first chance to see the raft of new signings brought in over the summer. Stevie Crawford has been very active, rebuilding almost the whole squad in time for pre-season training. There could still be a couple of new additions (that's just conjecture, believing we still need at least one ''older head'' and preferably another winger) but the majority of the new season's pool of players will be on show tomorrow.
The game may give us a clue as to how certain players will be deployed in the coming weeks. We have enough defenders to play a 2 or 3 man central defence, and could also see adaptable centre backs used as fullbacks, with Euan Murray and Lewis Martin candidates for the leftback role vacated by Jackson Longridge. That would leave Lee Ashcroft, Tom Lang and Danny Devine to compete for the central defensive positions. Stuart Morrison, who has played most of his young career in defence, is seen more as a defensive midfielder by the manager, while teenagers Thomas Bragg and Gregor Jordan will mainly feature in the reserves. The rightback slot will be taken by either Aaron Comrie or Matthew Bowman.
Tom Beadling, Paul Paton, Matty Todd, Kyle Turner, Paul Allan and the previously-mentioned Morrison are central midfield options, while Ryan Dow and Josh Coley operate mainly as wingers or, in Dow's case, also playing off the main strikers. Joe Thomson's long-term injury renders him unavailable, sadly. As with the wider choices in defence, the midfield has a good group of teenagers who will be mainstays of the reserve team while pushing for a first team squad place, among them Lewis Crosbie and Paul Brown.
In attack, familiar faces Andy Ryan, Lewis McCann and Callum Smith will be up against new signings Kevin Nisbet and the man with the best name in football, Gabby McGill, for a place in the team - or preferably 2 places, with last season's one up front tactic hopefully left where it belongs - in the past.
A full match report will be posted tomorrow evening.
The final round of Championship fixtures are played tomorrow, with Dunfermline travelling to Inverness. The Pars blew a chance of a promotion play-off during the current winless run of 6 defeat and a draw, and were saved the worry of a last day relegation battle due to other teams' results last weekend.
Here is the current Championship table:
Dunfermline team news, selection & preferred lineup
A season that began with a highly promising and long overdue win at Tannadice will end tomorrow at the scene of one of our most memorable days in recent seasons, when 12 months ago a 95th minute Nicky Clark equaliser put Dunfermline in pole position to secure a top 4 place, and kept opponents that day Inverness below us in the table. The promotion play-off place was achieved the following week but tomorrow's game has no such potential drama. It will be a day out for the fans and a final glimpse of many of the squad, which will surely be overhauled this summer.
Manager Stevie Crawford will be without the suspended Jackson Longridge. His replacement will be Lewis Martin, whose substitute appearance last week was his first game in a competitive match this season. The defender also played for 45 minutes in the reserves' win at Raith Rovers in midweek.
Joe Thomson, Tom Beadling and Ryan Williamson are injured. Andy Ryan may make an appearance from the bench after getting 20 minutes game time in Kirkcaldy on Tuesday, his first run out since November 10.
The team I have selected for tomorrow is decided by several factors, all listed below.
Out injured: Tom Beadling, Joe Thomson, Ryan Williamson
Available but not selected: Danny Devine, Matty Todd, Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Robbie Muirhead.
Comments: I would revert back to a 4-4-2 formation after last week's 3-5-2, although the pragmatic Stevie Crawford may choose to stay with the same shape. If we are to play wingbacks, they must get forward to far greater effect.
Ultimately, fussing over tomorrow's lineup is a waste of time. It's the final game, it means nothing - although the manager has mentioned the extra cash received from the SPFL for finishing in as high a place as possible. It's unlikely this squad will be motivated by that given their lacklustre displays when in with a chance of promotion, and preventing relegation - games that had real consequences.
We need a summer refresh and come back next season with far more attacking intent.
Preferred line-up, 4-4-2 formation:
Inverness boss John Robertson has spoken about the importance of maintaining momentum ahead of his side's upcoming play-off quarter final games against Ayr United. ''At this level, we can’t just switch on and off – we have to look to go into the play-offs with another victory,'' the Highlanders' manager told local media during the week, and he is likely to pick a strong lineup to end the regular League season. Inverness can still claim third spot and home advantage in the second leg against Ayr, and there will also be the customary claims of fringe players to be involved against Ayr if they impress Robertson tomorrow.
Match odds (McBookie):