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: