Seventh plays fifth in tomorrow's Championship match at East End Park. Two wildly inconsistent teams with aspirations of a top 4 place meet, both needing a win to make a positive start to what will be a busy month of December.
Here is the current Championship table. Dundee United play leaders Ayr United at Tannadice this evening.
With just 1 win and 1 draw from 7 home League games this season - scoring just twice in those matches - things must change, and quickly, if this season is to be rescued from what could be a mediocre midtable slog, or an even more unwelcome look over our shoulders at the teams below. Apathy has replaced anger in the EEP stands, with enthusiasm draining with each negative home result. The Pars fans certainly did all they could to lift the team in the most recent home game, against Falkirk, but it ended in an all too familiar loss, with manager Allan Johnston repeating the same post-match comments that we have heard all too often, centering on lack of goals and failure to finish off teams when dominating possession.
Team, formation, etc
Out: Kallum Higginbotham (suspended), Andy Ryan, Aidan Connolly, Louis Longridge (injured); Mark Durnan (just returned to training after injury). Tom Beadling has trained this week but will clearly require reserve games before being considered for a first team start.
The defence will almost certainly remain unchanged but it's in midfield where there are decisions to be made. Missing 2 wingers - Higginbotham and Connolly - we may have to settle for Myles Hippolyte and Robbie Muirhead on the flanks. Both players have played the majority of their careers out wide but neither has convinced in that position - and nor have they done enough to play up front. Unless there is a change of shape tomorrow (4-3-3) we can expect to see Hippolyte and Muirhead starting on the right and left midfield.
Centre midfield has more options than any other area of the squad. I would retain the same central pairing that started at Ross County last week - Joe Thomson and Malaury Martin. James Craigen, James Vincent and - eventually, when fully fit - Tom Beadling are also contenders.
In attack (and let's hope that is the correct word to use), with Andy Ryan injured and Hippolyte and Muirhead more likely to be used as wingers, that leaves Faissal El Bakhtaoui and fit-again Aidan Keena to start. Keena was not fit enough to start last week's game but will almost certainly be in the team tomorrow. As I said last week, we are very light on decent options up front. Keena has shown promise in his limited game time, while Faissal played reasonably well at Ross County last weekend. They are probably our best pairing and will at least provide pace and movement.
Preferred Pars starting 11:
A loss, 2 wins, another loss then a draw - Morton's last 5 League results are indicative of their season as whole - good enough to stay within touching distance of the top 4, safe from any relegation worries but very inconsistent. Their most recent match, a 3-0 win over League 2 Peterhead in a Scottish Cup 3rd round replay on Tuesday, came after the teams drew 1-1 in Greenock last Saturday.
Morton manager Jonatan Johansson praised his team after the midweek win, achieved after a delay in travelling and a game played in horrendous weather: ''They showed character and put in a great team performance. Set pieces were important and we also defended well as a team.
''I liked Robert Thomson's physicality, in his first start of this season, and as a team, as a defensive unit, I am very proud. To come and get a clean sheet is very good."
Morton will be without Gary Oliver, out for 2 months with a broken collarbone. Midfielder Kyle Thomson left the club this week, having made just one appearance since his move to Greenock in the summer.
Third plays seventh in the Highlands tomorrow with the home side keen to make up ground on the top 2 clubs in the division, while visitors Dunfermline look to extend a good away record in what has otherwise been a disappointing League campaign so far.
Here is the current Championship table:
The dismal home defeat to Falkirk a fortnight ago signalled the start of a 2 week gap between games for the Pars, a period that for some would have been an opportune time to bring in a new management team, given the team's underwhelming season and a particularly poor home record. Had results at East End Park mirrored the team's away form, then the game this weekend may have been a top of the table fixture; Dunfermline have gathered 11 points from 6 away games, but only 4 points from 7 home matches. The Pars board, led by chairman Ross McArthur, have stuck by their manager - a case of either supreme loyalty, belief, or on the flip side of that argument - blind faith or lack of funds to fire him.
As fans of the club, we all want our manager to succeed. Allan Johnston is a decent guy and it is hard to bear any ill will towards him. However, the team are currently 15 points off the top of the table and less than a handful of points from being involved at the wrong end of the division. Ultimately, that's what matters.
Team, formation etc
Mark Durnan (recovering from hernia operation)
Tom Beadling (not near game-ready after his latest injury)
Louis Longridge (going for an operation according to Allan Johnston)
Aidan Keena (returned to parent club Hearts after picking up a dead leg against Falkirk, and still unfit)
While the defence largely picks itself - although there could be a case to involve a now fully fit Lewis Martin, who can play anywhere across the backline - it is in the midfield and forward positions that decisions will be made for this week's lineup. Assuming we retain the 4-4-2 formation, I would expect Kallum Higginbotham to keep his place on the right wing. The other 3 midfield positions are very much up for grabs. The central 2 positions could be occupied by the same 2 players that started the last 2 games - Malaury Martin and Joe Thomson. James Vincent and James Craigen could come into contention, as would Tom Beadling if he is ever match fit for any period of time. As much as I rate Malaury Martin, I would bring in James Craigen for this game as the Ross County team are known for being physical, and Martin has shown that he can be out-muscled - a sad comment on the Scottish game, perhaps.
On the left midfield, Myles Hippolyte did very little against Falkirk. I would bring back Aidan Connolly on the understanding that he stays out wide and is not used as a striker at any point, something Allan Johnston has tried in recent games.
Up front, With Aidan Keena out injured, and Andy Ryan out of form, that leaves Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Robbie Muirhead and Hippolyte (if used as a striker) to choose from. This really should be the time for Muirhead to be given a chance but I have not been impressed by him in reserve games or in his brief substitute appearances for the first team. A pairing of Faissal and Myles Hippolyte could start, with Ryan and Muirhead on the bench. We are desperately short of options in attack.
Preferred starting 11:
Pre-season title favourites County go into tomorrow's game without as many as 6 first team regulars. Already out are long-term absentees Michael Gardyne and Liam Fontaine. They could be joined by Billy McKay, Ross Draper, Iain Vigurs and Callum Morris. Vigurs was on crutches earlier in the week; Morris, who only returned to training on Monday, broke his wrist during his first session back. McKay and Draper are both carrying injuries but could still be in contention depending on their speed of recovery.
County co-manager Stuart Kettlewell told local media: “We’ve had a few problems this week. Iain Vigurs picked up a problem in training. Billy McKay took a whack and Ross Draper is also struggling. We can’t put a timescale on any of them, but some may have a chance for Saturday.
“We’re looking at a lot of big players on the injury-list again. For this time of year it is unusual, but we’re not going to beat ourselves up about it. Young Tom Grivosti came in and played excellently against Motherwell Colts (in the Irn Bru Cup), so as much as we have a few injuries to deal with, we’ve a couple of guys ready to take advantage.
“Tom has been the prime candidate from the younger batch here who are pushing through and doing well.”
Seventh meets tenth in this weekend's derby at East End Park. Dunfermline can extend the current unbeaten run against Falkirk to a fifth game, while aiming for what would be just a second home win in the Championship this season. Falkirk are rooted to the foot of the table in what has been a dreadful season for the club - long may it continue!
Here is the current Championship table:
There has rarely been a more straightforward win against Falkirk than in the most recent fixture between the teams, when the Pars won 2-0 at the home of our rivals last month. That game was followed by 2 defeats and a draw before last week's win at Alloa. This uneven sequence is why the team are still in the wrong half of the table, in 7th place; only 4 points off the top 4 but having scored the least number of goals, and with the worst goal difference, of the top 7 teams.
The team have, however, shown promise in the past 2 outings - the draw at Inverness and then the previously-mentioned game at Alloa. Goalscoring is still a concern but there is enough ability in the team to see off Falkirk before we have a week off next week due to the scheduled game against Ross County being moved because of the Highlanders' participation in the Irn Bru Cup.
Team, formation, etc
The team that ended the game at Alloa last week - with the exception of Aidan Keena replacing last week's sub striker Faissal El Bakhtaoui - would be my lineup for tomorrow's game. This would see the right wing combination of Ryan Williamson and Kallum Higginbotham reunited for a first team start together for the first time in several months - injuries to both players plus Ryzo's involvement with the Scotland Under 21 squad has deprived the team of 2 of its best players, who also combine better than any other duo in the squad.
The rest of the team should stay the same - Keena to start up front, with Faissal coming off the bench. As mentioned in the Wishlist article here, I would like to see AJ utilising his subs as he did last weekend, giving players time to make an impact.
Tom Beadling, Mark Durnan and Louis Longridge are still unavailable through injury.
Preferred starting 11:
Inheriting a shambles from former boss Paul Hartley, Falkirk manager Ray McKinnon has struggled to oversee any improvement in his team's results since taking over. Limited to signing out of contract players, McKinnon has largely had to make do with Hartley's signings, and must be counting down the days until the January transfer window opens. Ex-Hearts midfielder Prince Buaben joined on 1 October, after being without a club since the end of last season.
McKinnon had this to say to local media this week:
"I’m using all my contacts from when I was running courses for the SFA and you come across a lot of coaches and different people. I know Duncan Ferguson at Everton and players are being mentioned to us.
"It’s not just about contacts. It’s about the best quality of young players being available to come to Scotland. A lot of teams in England look at clubs to send their players out to the Championship clubs – Premier League sides can send their best youngster out to Aston Villa for example. They might think of the next level down to League One for some – they can go to Sunderland there. So you need to be very careful of what sort of players are available to come to Scotland. We are working hard between now and January to see what we can source.
“The club made a statement about there being funds there which is great and very supportive and we are appreciative of that. We have just got to make sure that if we can use it that we use it wisely. We need to bring players in that are better than what we’ve got and get the right balance in the team. We are looking at changing the dynamics of the team and that’s what we will work on for the next eight weeks.”
McKinnon added to his squad this week with the signing of former Portsmouth and Partick Thistle rightback Mustapha Dumbaya, although the Falkirk manager stated that the player, given an initial 8 week contract, is still short of match fitness.
Ninth plays seventh in this week's Championship match at the Indodrill Stadium in Alloa. Dunfermline have found Alloa difficult opponents this season, with a goalless draw in the League fixture at East End Park on 15 September, and a 2-2 draw in the Irn Bru Cup last month, which was followed by Alloa winning the penalty shootout at the end of the 90 minutes to progress to the next round.
Here is the current Championship table:
Dunfermline ended October with 1 win from 4 League matches and occupying seventh place in the table. Such is the competitive nature of the division, there is still a closeable gap of 5 points between the Pars and the fourth place that would secure involvement in another promotion play-off come the end of the season. However, the gap between Dunfermline and the teams below (including tomorrow's opponents) is slender and we should expect some improvement in the months ahead from Partick Thistle and Falkirk, currently eighth and tenth.
Aidan Keena's 2 goals at Inverness gave the team a huge boost and the teenage on-loan Hearts striker will lead the Pars attack tomorrow. Goals need to come from other areas however; of our central midfielders, only James Vincent and Joe Thomson have scored this season, and they have just 1 goal apiece. Our top scorers are on 5 goals - Myles Hippolyte, Louis Longridge and Andy Ryan.
Team, formation, etc
Five changes were made to the team that faced Inverness - some through choice and others (Tom Beadling and James Vincent, replaced by Malaury Martin and Joe Thomson) through injury. James Craigen, who had been ineffectual in right midfield against Dundee United last weekend, moved to right back at the expense of Ryan Williamson. While I look forward to the eventual reuniting of the Williamson/Higginbotham right wing combination, I would retain Craigen in defence for the immediate future. The other changes were all largely successful - the biggest success obviously being Aidan Keena, with 2 goals on his first start for the team. Beadling and Vincent are expected to miss tomorrow's game and so I would select the same 11 players to start the match. I would like to see Higgy get some much needed game time from the bench for at least 20 minutes.
Preferred starting 11:
As Dunfermline have experienced in games against Alloa this season, the Wasps are a well-organised side that have made themselves difficult to beat, while lacking the creativity required to win a greater number of games. Being the only part time club in the division, avoiding relegation will be a successful season for Alloa and their manager Jim Goodwin, who completed 100 matches in charge last weekend. Goodwin reflected on his time in charge of the club and his hopes for this season, speaking to local media:
''I'm very lucky to have been given the opportunity 2 years ago. I'm delighted to be here - I'm really enjoying my time here. I've got great backroom staff, great people up the stairs but more importantly I've got a great group of players that are now starting to believe that they are more than capable of competing at this level. People wrote us off before a ball was kicked, expecting us to be detached but the fact of the matter is, we're more than matching the opposition. I can't fault the players' effort - they give me absolutely everything and if they carry on doing that, they'll be fine.
''My ambition is to go full time but I'm not in any hurry - I'm 36 years old and very young when you consider some of the other managers that are out there. I'm loving life at Alloa at the moment. If I'm here for another hundred games then fantastic - it would mean I'm doing something right. It's a great place to be, I've got a great relationship with the chairman - he knows I want to go full time but at the same time this is a great place for me to learn. The longer I'm here, the more I'll learn."