The new Dunfermline Athletic coaching team will be in the dugout for the first time tomorrow at a familiar venue, as we travel to Tannadice to take on a Dundee United side whose revival under Robbie Neilson has faltered in recent weeks but who are still very much in the hunt for promotion.
Here is the current Championship table:
A long overdue decision was made by the Pars board this week when they ended Allan Johnston and Sandy Clark's time as management duo, swiftly replaced by Stevie Crawford and Greg Shields. A new management structure is now in place - Crawford being referred to as head coach as opposed to manager, and while that may only be a change in terminology to some, the hiring of Jackie McNamara's football consultancy company to oversee ''football matters'' at the club would suggest that the traditional manager role will now be replaced by a set up that gives Crawford more time to concentrate on coaching while others will deal with other aspects of a manager's duties.
Of course, what this week's events have given us all - supporters too - is a chance to make a fresh start and feel better about going to games, which lately had become a slog. This has to become enjoyable again. I am behind Crawford and Shields (plus whoever comes in as a third coach) 100% - having lost all faith with Allan Johnston, I am glad we seem to have taken on an innovative approach to how the club will be managed and have not resorted to hiring a tired old face from the managerial merry-go-round.
Team, formation etc
Stevie Crawford will, at the time of writing this, have the same squad available to him as Allan Johnston did last week. No new faces, but changes are likely. My preferred lineup would see Ryan Williamson brought back in, with an injection of confidence to be the player we all know he can be. I would also bring back Mark Durnan - on the bench recently after recovering from an operation - to replace a faltering Danny Devine in central defence. Up front, where we need at least one new signing to add to the existing goal threat of Aidan Keena, I cannot justify selecting Myles Hippolyte after his performance against Alloa. So Faissal comes back in, with the same formation as last week, 4-3-3.
Here is my preferred lineup:
Robbie Neilson enjoyed an excellent first few weeks as United boss after taking over from Csaba Laszlo in October last year. A 5 game unbeaten run was ended dramatically with a 5-0 defeat at home to Ayr United at the end of November. Since then, United have won just 1 of their next 4 League games. Currently third in the division, they cannot afford to miss out on promotion for yet another season.
Yesterday, United signed attacker Cammy Smith following his release from St Mirren. Smith is Neilson's second signing in the January transfer window, after Aidan Nesbitt's move from MK Dons last week.
United were recently bought over by American Mark Ogren and this week 2 changes were made off the park, with a new managing director and a sporting director being appointed. The new United owner could be in attendance for the first time this weekend, having not yet visited Dundee since buying the club. Robbie Neilson had this to say to local media ahead of the game and the new owner's rumoured visit:
“It’s good for anybody when you’re winning, whether the owners are there or not but it would be great for them to come over and get the result that we want, start pushing up the league and get the players we want.
“I’m hoping they will be over at some point this weekend, possibly. They’ve got a long-term strategy for the club but they understand short-term football is what everybody looks at.''
Seventh plays eighth in tomorrow's Championship match at East End Park. Vistors Alloa were relegation favourites before the season began but have reached the halfway point outside the bottom 2, having achived some impressive results including last week's 2-1 win over Dundee United. Dunfermline are determined to have an extended run of positive results - currently unbeaten in 3 - with the aim still being a top 4 place and involvement in the promotion play-offs.
Here is the current Championship table. Leaders Ross County play Morton this evening.
The halfway point in the League season. Only 2 teams have a win ratio over 50%, with draws a common outcome in many games - put that down to healthy competition, or conversely, a lack of real quality, meaning everyone is capable of taking points off each other - the Pars go into the first game of the new year still hoping to achieve promotion despite an ordinary first half of the campaign. There have been encouraging signs over the past month that the team and manager are finding form and a formula that gives hope for the next 17 games. The 4-3-3 formation allows our 3 first choice central midfielders - Tom Beadling, James Vincent and Joe Thomson - to play without being forced out of position, and frees up Kallum Higginbotham to play on the left of a front 3, where his crossing and creativity have led to goals and other unconverted chances in the past couple of games.
The team's work ethic against Falkirk last weekend was pleasing, and if they apply the same high press and determination to control the game as they did last week, they will give themselves an excellent chance to record a first home in over Alloa this season, after 2 draws in League and Cup fixtures at East End Park. The last meeting between the teams ended in a 1-0 win for the Pars in Alloa.
Team, formation etc
The return to the starting 11 of Myles Hippolyte last week brought a goal and a greater physical presence in the middle of the front 3. There's no reason to change the line-up or the formation for tomorrow's game - it's currently our strongest available team.
Preferred starting 11:
Far from ''doing a Brechin'' - the previous part time team to enter the Championship, relegated with weeks remaining and without a win all season - Alloa have worked their way through the first half of the season admirably, with a points total that, if replicated in the second half of the campaign, could see them safe. Manager Jim Goodwin retained the nucleus of the promotion-winning team of 2017/18, including stalwarts Neil Parry, Andy Graham, Kevin Cawley and Iain Flannigan. Hearts striker Dario Zanatta, signed on a 12 month loan deal in the summer, has been impressive, and the return to the club of Jordan Kirkpatrick, signed this week from St Mirren - after enjoying 2 spells at Alloa between 2016 and 2018 - will strengthen Goodwin's squad further.
After last Saturday's win over Dundee United, which extended Alloa's unbeaten run to 4 games, Jim Goodwin had this to say:
"Everybody expected us to be rock bottom of the Championship and I think the only people who believed we were better than that is ourselves. Everybody wrote us off before a ball had been kicked this season and I don't think anybody is writing us off now.
"People are starting to give us the respect we deserve. I've got a group of players in there who a number of the full time teams would be delighted to have. That's full credit to the boys and it's also pleasing that we are where we are playing football in the right manner."
Commenting on the win coming after going a goal behind, Goodwin said:
"It was disappointing to go a goal down, but it is just unbelievable character that the boys have shown. I've lost count of the amount of times they have shown such great heart and determination to come back and rescue a point or secure all three.''