A game that could possibly be Dunfermline's biggest test of the season takes place tomorrow at EEP with Hearts the visitors in the Betfred Cup second round. The teams were paired together in the same competition last year, in the first round group stage, with the Pars topping the group and Hearts is disarray under previous manager Ian Cathro. Both teams have changed personnel since then, and both clubs have made good starts to the season. A big crowd is expected and a great cup tie could be witnessed by all those inside the stadium.
After the setback of last week's home defeat by Ross County in the Championship, tomorrow's game against Hearts provides Allan Johnston with another early season challenge. After the away win at Dundee in the Betfred Cup group stage, coupled with the long overdue victory at Tannadice in the League opener, Dunfermline have enough quality to trouble difficult opponents. Hearts, however, are a step (or 2, or 3) up again: the Pars will need to be on top form and also avoid unforced errors if we are to get anything from the game. Slack defending was the key to last week's defeat and Hearts will be quick to punish any defensive dithering.
The midweek win at Inverness in the Challenge Cup, with 11 different players starting the game compared to the line-up against Ross County, may have given AJ food for thought regarding selections for tomorrow, but I would expect the manager to name a team along familiar lines. Danny Devine, missing against Ross County through injury, is fit again, while Tom Beadling played 60 minutes against Inverness - as a central defender - but lacks enough game time after 4 months out injured to be considered for a starting slot tomorrow. Here is the team I expect to start; Joe Thomson would be the unlucky player to miss out, as I expect AJ to play James Craigen in midfield, with Jackson Longridge shifting back to the left wingback role after playing in central defence last week due to Devine's injury:
Top of the Premiership, having just defeated Celtic last week, Hearts are a different proposition than the disjointed lot that we faced 12 months ago. Taking nothing away from the Pars performance that day, it is obvious that under Craig Levein, Hearts are more organised and simply better managed than under the hapless Cathro. Levein has signed 13 players during the current transfer window, either on loan or on permanent deals, with the most notable new arrival possibly being striker Uche Ikpeazu, an exciting talent, signed from Cambridge United. Levein had this to say about the player and also his hopes for the season ahead:
“The important thing is for him is to realise he can contribute to the team in other ways. He doesn’t need to score every week, although he wants to, of course. I would like to see him score every week but he was so unselfish with his running and link-up play. The pass he put through for Steven MacLean was sublime.
“Obviously it’s early in the season and there is a long way to go. I don’t want to get carried away. Once we’ve played all 11 of our opponents then I’ll have a better idea of where we are."