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.