Fifth plays seventh in what will be a chilly Highland evening, with both teams looking for a win to end recent winless runs. Inverness are specialists at avoiding defeat but have drawn too many games, while Dunfermline need to rediscover the spirit shown in the last League meeting between the sides at the Caledonian Stadium in April.
Here is the current Championship table:
Despite being only 5 points off the promotion pack - largely due to so many teams taking points off each other, pulling the division together with few gaps yet to develop - there is a definite air of despondency in the Pars team and support. The team's form has been uninspiring, while the manager has yet to show any signs of being able to fire up his underperforming squad. Saturday's tepid display in the defeat to Dundee United characterised recent form; there is a fragility within this group of players and a lack of bite, an unwillingness to fight for a result. There is talent - early season games showed that much - but a winning mentality must be developed otherwise this could be a very long, hard season.
Team, formation etc
With the above comments in mind, the team I have selected for this evening's game has a slightly more physical edge to it than recent lineups. The defence almost selects itself, given the lack of options (Mark Durnan and Lewis Martin are injured), but in midfield I was glad to see Tom Beadling complete his first 90 minutes of first team football this season at the weekend, and he will hopefully progress from that and be a big influence on the team. Alongside Beadling, I would reinstate Malaury Martin, who is technically the team's best footballer.
The wings have been a major problem lately, with no player making a decent claim for a sustained run in the team. AJ has stuck with Louis Longridge for too long - we still don't know exactly what his ''best'' position is, so I would move him to the bench for tonight's game. Kallum Higginbotham has had 2 run-outs in reserve games and has had a further week's training since last week's most recent reserve game. I would start him tonight, even though he may not last the full game. We need his skill and aggression back in the team, and also to reunite the right wing partnership with Ryan Williamson. On the left, I would select Myles Hippolyte, partly for his height: we need a mixture of taller players in the team, so I would select Hippolyte and Beadling rather than Joe Thomson and Aidan Connolly; Inverness are a tall, physical side and we need to counter that effectively.
Up front, Faissal should be rested. I have selected Andy Ryan and Aidan Keena - we need a new approach to our goalscoring problems and Keena deserves a chance to show what he can do. Having seen Robbie Muirhead in reserve games, I do not feel he is the answer.
Preferred Pars line-up:
INVERNESS CALEY THISTLE
Undefeated in the past 21 League games stretching back to last season, Inverness have drawn too many games (including their last 5) and although conceding 10 goals less in the League than Dunfermline, have won the same number of games as the Pars this term: 3.
The goalless draw at Alloa on Saturday did not please Inverness boss John Robertson. Always one of Scottish football's most candid managers, Robertson looked back on the game at Alloa and his team's recent form:
"Alloa deserved to win the game. We didn't get going - we didn't pass, we didn't move. We spoke to the players at half time about what we needed - on and off the ball - and while we improved in the second half, it was nowhere near to the level you need to win games.
''It's another draw and in the past we've been disappointed at dropping points, today is a point gained as we didn't deserve anything from that performance. I apologise to the Inverness fans who travelled down because we were nowhere near at it. We put a wee bit of pressure on them at the end but it would have been daylight robbery if we'd come away with all 3 points.
''We need to start winning games. That's 10 games and 7 draws. We need to find a way to unlock defences, whether it's a formation change or a personnel change."
Seventh plays fourth in this Championship game at East End Park tomorrow, with an improved Dundee United side hoping to maintain their unbeaten start under recently-appointed manager Robbie Neilson. Dunfermline are looking for just a second home League win of the season and badly need a positive result to prevent a gap developing under the top 4 teams.
Here is the current Championship table:
Tomorrow's game against United will bring a different type of challenge to a Pars side which was able to dominate possession in the last League game, at home to Queen of the South, last Saturday. United are unlikely to concede the ball as much as a Queens side that were happy to occasionally hit on the break. That their only shot at goal gave them a 1-0 win merely added to the frustration in the EEP stands and put manager Allan Johnston under pressure once again. Recent results may have improved but performances have been well below the standard required of a serious promotion contending team. We need to see a return to the form showed in the second half of the opening day win at Tannadice, or the Betfred Cup game against Hearts, which even in defeat produced a spirited and commendable Pars performance.
Team, formation, etc
Last week's team was unchanged from that which drew and then lost a penalty shootout to Alloa the week before in the Irn Bru Cup. Allan Johnston rarely makes changes, or not to any great extent, but there is a need to refresh the team, which has become predictable and stagnant. Having seen fringe players lose at Falkirk in the Reserve League on Tuesday, very few made a real stake for a first team place, which was very disappointing; while many fans have called for Tom Beadling and Robbie Muirhead to play against United tomorrow, neither player impressed against Falkirk reserves, and if judged on that alone do not look better options than the players currently in the first team. So while there is a need to refresh, options are limited.
Ryan Williamson had a decent game in the reserve match and should come back into the first team tomorrow. Last week we had nothing on the right, with makeshift rightback James Craigen lacking pace to get up the wing, and right winger Louis Longridge continually drifting infield. Kallum Higginbotham has played 45 and 70 minutes in the last 2 reserve matches but is not yet fit enough to start a first team game; the sooner he and Williamson reunite on the right, the better.
If Mark Durnan has fully recovered from his recent injury he should replace Danny Devine in central defence; I would change the wide areas with both Louis Longridge and Aidan Connolly benched and replaced by James Craigen (moving back into midfield) and Myles Hippolyte. I would be very surprised if AJ made those changes.
Up front, I would give Aidan Keena a start alongside Andy Ryan.
Preferred starting 11:
After dispensing with circus clown Csaba Laszlo, United have picked up 4 points from 6 under new boss Robbie Neilson. With 3 ex-Pars in the United squad, including 2 who rejected new contracts with Dunfermline (Nicky Clark and Fraser Aird), there is an added spice to the match. United's form has undoubtedly picked up and they will benefit from having a competent manager in the dugout, something they haven't had for quite some time.
Robbie Neilson had this to say in the lead up to this weekend's game:
“Obviously Dunfermline did well in the Betfred Cup and then they had a great start to the season against Dundee United at Tannadice winning 3-2. I watched a bit of the game before I came in here and it was a great performance. It has been a bit sticky since then.
“I think they have found it a wee bit difficult to get some momentum. But this league is difficult. I watched their game against Queen of the South on Saturday and they probably deserved to win it. But they lost a poor goal towards the end and dropped three points.
“It is going to be a tough game as it always is down there. I would like to think we will take a very good support to East End Park and if we display the same energy as we showed the previous two Saturdays, then there is a good chance of getting a result.”
Fifth plays sixth in tomorrow's game at East End Park, with a Pars side that has conceded just 1 League goal in the past 4 Championship games coming up against the player with the best goals to game ratio in all European football this season, Stephen Dobbie. Both teams exited the Irn Bru Cup last week but while Dunfermline's recent League results have shown a gradual improvement, Queens have hit a sticky spell with their last League victory coming back on September 1st.
Here is the current Championship table:
The disappointment of effectively throwing away a victory in last weekend's Irn Bru Cup loss to Alloa, going out after a penalty shoot out following a 2-2 draw in a game we largely controlled, will hopefully act as the catalyst for a more clinical performance tomorrow, securing a win that would keep the Pars in touch of the top 4. After a poor run of results in August and early September, the Dunfermline team have been tighter at the back in recent Championship games. The past 4 League games have resulted in 2 draws and then 2 wins, with the team unbeaten over 90 minutes in the past 6 League and Cup fixtures. Despite this improvement, there are still deficiencies that bubble under the surface: the 2 defensive errors that handed Alloa both their goals last week, plus a lack of clinical edge in front of goal.
Team, formation etc
Ryan Williamson is available again after being away with Scotland Under 21s. Kallum Higginbotham and Lewis Martin both made their returns from injury in the team's midweek Reserve Cup game against Motherwell, with both players featuring in the first half and requiring more game time before being ready for the first team. Mark Durnan, who missed the Alloa game with a groin injury, could be fit for tomorrow, with AJ stating that the player is still feeling "a niggle''. Tom Beadling continued his recovery from a long term injury absence with 90 minutes against Motherwell reserves.
For the game tomorrow, I would select Durnan if fit. Danny Devine, who was at fault for Alloa's second goal last week, would continue in central defence if Durnan has not recovered sufficiently. The only definite change I would make to last week's starting 11 would be to bring in Myles Hippolyte up front to replace Faissal El Bakhtaoui. I have consistently backed Faissal this season but with no League goals, a change has to be made at some point. Faissal has undoubted talent but does not look like a goal threat at the moment. Hippolyte, who has said that playing as a striker is his preferred position, would start in my team alongside Andy Ryan. As noted above, Devine's inclusion depends on the fitness of Durnan.
Preferred Pars line-up:
QUEEN OF THE SOUTH
The incredible goalscoring form of Stephen Dobbie - 24 goals in 16 games this season, with the best scoring rate per game in Europe - has masked Queen of the South's recent poor run of form, with no wins in their last 4 League games and an exit from the Irn Bru Cup last week at East Fife. Dobbie has scored 75% of Queens' League goals and is clearly the team's pivotal figure but when marshalled well by the opposition, as in the East Fife game, the chances of succeeding against the Dumfries side rise considerably. Only 6 players have scored for Queens this season in all League and Cup games - second top scorer Lyndon Dykes has 5 goals, and the team's non-Dobbie goals add up to 13, just over half of Dobbie's own total.
Speaking after the defeat from East Fife last week, and referring to Queens' record against Championship opposition and also against lower division teams in the Cups this season, manager Gary Naysmith had this to say:
"I want them to be hurting as much as I'm hurting. That's 2 weeks now that I've said it - you're not going to win games playing well for 20 or 30 minutes and in the last 2 games that's what we've done. We've only played well for parts of the game and it's not good enough. We need to get it right and get a reaction from the players. We have to start keeping clean sheets. It's a worry - I don't like the fact that we've played against Ayr, Inverness and Ross County - the 3 top teams in the Championship and got 3 clean sheets, yet when we're playing East Fife or Stranraer, or Crusaders or Alloa, that we're conceding twos or threes. It's the same players that are playing and the same formation. Every game's difficult in the Championship but it's more difficult when you're giving away that goals that we are and it needs to stop.''
A Pars win over holders Inverness in the opening round of this season's Irn Bru Cup - with practically a reserve team - was followed up with a weekend away in Hertfordshire and a penalty shoot out win against Boreham Wood. Suddenly, the competition has become relevant, with many top end Championship teams already eliminated and a real chance of winning a trophy developing. Alloa make a second visit to EEP in 4 weeks after the dire goalless draw in the Championship game on 15 September. We can only hope for a much better game along with progression into the next round - even those of us who initially derided the Irn Bru Cup.
The 0-0 draw (followed by success in a penalty shoot-out) against Boreham Wood in the last round of the Irn Bru Cup began a sequence of games where the Pars defence tightened up, after shipping goals with worrying regularity (by the start of September we had the second worst goals against record in all 4 SPFL divisions). After Boreham Wood came a turgid 0-0 slog at home to Alloa, followed by a 1-1 draw at Morton - their goal being completely avoidable, a goalkeeping error - then 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Partick Thistle and Falkirk. The goal conceded at Morton is the only opposition goal in the past 456 minutes of Pars football; and while we have hardly been prolific in front of goal ourselves, the first priority for any team with ambitions to win more games than they lose is to stop conceding goals. That may sound obvious but it was the key to our revival last season and there are signs of a repeat this term.
Pars team, formation etc
Allan Johnston stated yesterday that he would play an experienced team this weekend, with possibly a couple of changes. This would not reflect badly on any players dropping out of the starting 11 that defeated Falkirk so convincingly; the Irn Bru Cup gives the manager a chance to give certain players, including those returning from injury, game time. Who misses out tomorrow is a difficult decision, as to accomodate Tom Beadling would mean 'resting' James Vincent or Malaury Martin; while in defence, Danny Devine could be involved, at the expense of either Mark Durnan or Lee Ashcroft.
Ryan Williamson is unavailable due to international duties with the Scotland Under 21 squad.
I would make just one change - bringing Beadling into the team. Vincent (who I rated our third best player against Falkirk in the 'Ranked' article here) would make way but might expect to be back in next week against Queen of the South in the Championship.
Lack of goals blighted Alloa's otherwise promising start to the season, with too many draws but few defeats. That was until last week, when they raced into a 3-0 lead at Queen of the South until a Stephen Dobbie hat trick meant the game ended 3-3. Another draw; they also achieved a creditable share of the points at Inverness after fighting back with 10 men to get a late equaliser; there have been draws too with Dundee United and ourselves. They were unfortunate not to get another point at Ross County, losing 1-0 to a late goal. So while Alloa have shown they can compete with more-fancied teams, they have still to prove that they can win.
This summer, Alloa signed striker Greig Spence for the fourth time in his career (including loan spells) but after hitting 2 goals on his debut - a League Cup game against Arbroath - he failed to score in any of the following 10 matches and was an unused substitute last week at Palmerston. Lack of firepower may prove to be Alloa's undoing this season; before the 3-3 draw last week, they had scored just 3 goals in 7 League games.
Few would have predicted that after a combined 14 League games, Dunfermline and Falkirk would have recorded only 3 victories, 2 of which came last weekend. Occupying 2 of the 3 bottom positions in the Championship, both clubs still target promotion this season - Falkirk stated as much when replacing manager Paul Hartley with Ray McKinnon - and the same message is a regular part of Pars boss Allan Johnston's weekly mantra in his pre-game interview, the latest of which can be seen here.
Here is the current Championship table:
Last Friday evening saw the Pars record a League win for the first time since the opening weekend. The game itself - a 1-0 slog against Partick Thistle - was fairly forgettable with the exception of the last 10 minutes when both teams awoke from their slumber and began to attack. Clearly we need to see more of this, spread over the full 90 minutes, for even with an improved defensive return in the past 4 weeks (one goal conceded in 4 games), the entertainment factor has been consistently low.
The reserve game on Tuesday against Dundee saw Dunfermline win 5-0 and a welcome 90 minutes for Tom Beadling - his first full game since returning from injury - in addition to game time for Robbie Muirhead, who has yet to reach match fitness since joining the club at the end of August. Beadling may not be quite fit enough to be considered for a starting place against Falkirk but his imminent return will be a huge boost for the team: the prospect of a central midfield pairing of Beadling and Malaury Martin is very promising for our ambitions this season.
PARS TEAM, FORMATION ETC
Ryan Williamson may come back into the starting 11 after returning to the squad as an unused sub last week, following a spell out injured. That would mean either a shift back to midfield for stand-in fullback James Craigen, unless the manager retains his current midfield selections, with Craigen then dropping to the bench. Midfield is certainly the most competitive area of the team for a starting slot - Joe Thomson impressed when coming off the bench last week and could feature tomorrow. The rest of the defence picks itself, and up front it would be a surprise if the current pairing of Faissal El Bakhtaoui and Andy Ryan did not start the game tomorrow. Faissal, yet to score a League goal, still remains a better option than Myles Hippolyte or Muirhead.
I would bring Williamson back into the starting 11 but change the shape of the team to a 4-3-1-2 formation rather than last week's 4-4-2, with Louis Longridge playing behind the front 2 as opposed to the right wing, where I fell he lacks the speed or aggression to get past a fullback. This would mean a more compact midfield of James Vincent, Malaury Martin and Aidan Connolly.
Here is my preferred Pars line-up:
After jumping ship from Morton in controversial circumstances, Ray McKinnon recorded his first win as Falkirk boss at Alloa last Saturday. His team still sit last in the table but will look towards tomorrow's game as a chance to cut the gap above them to a couple of points. McKinnon signed former Hearts midfielder Prince Buaben this week and had this to say about his new signing and the chances of signing other out of contract players:
“Prince has played at a good level, he is a very good footballer. He has great stature, he’s a big lad who is comfortable on the ball with bags of experience. That is everything we need at the moment. I think he’ll turn out to be a really good signing for us.
“If there are people still available that can make us better, then we’ll certainly be looking at them. There are still a lot of players out there looking for clubs and trying to do certain things, who were maybe looking to go abroad, that could be options.
“We are still looking, we need to. My job is to continually improve Falkirk Football Club and I’ll look at people at any time of the season if I think they can improve us.''