Still searching for a first League win of the season, Dunfermline take on an in-form Inverness team on Saturday at East End Park. The Pars are one of 3 clubs in the division without a win, and play one of the 2 other teams, Partick Thistle, next week, in what could prove a crucial fortnight for the prospects of the team and, even this early in the season, the management. While I am in no way advocating a change in the dugout, preferring to give Stevie Crawford time to allow his squad to - hopefully - develop and progress, the team has to find a way to win, and quickly, to achieve anything of worth this season.
Here is the current Championship table. Arbroath play Partick Thistle this evening. All other games are scheduled for 3pm Saturday kick-offs.
After a promising start to the season, topping the Betfred League Cup group, Dunfermline's form has nose-dived along with results. With an almost entire squad rebuild during the summer, with mainly younger players being brought to the club, patience was always going to be required. The enthusiasm and attractive play in those early games has been replaced by a hard slog and lack of fluency in the team's play. Playing the ball out from the back, the last 3 games have seen various players plus 2 goalkeepers look out of sorts and in danger of gifting goals to the opposition. Creatively, there has been little to enthuse over, with the exception of the good link up play and finish that saw Greg Kiltie score against Alloa last week. Unfortunately, that has been an isolated example of what we all hope the team are capable of.
Team selection for tomorrow's game is impacted by injury to several players. The two central defenders signed during the summer, Euan Murray and Tom Lang, are both injured. Lang made his first start in a competitive match against Alloa last week but had to be substituted with a hamstring injury after an hour and will not be available this weekend. This leaves Stevie Crawford with a decision as to who will partner Lee Ashcroft in the middle of the defence. A possible clue was given last week when left back Lewis Martin (who was, of course, a centre half for most of his Pars career before being switched to full back) was moved to the middle when Lang went off, and Josh Edwards brought on in his natural position of left back. This was despite having Stuart Morrison - dropped after a difficult game against Dundee United - and Danny Devine - dropped after replacing Morrison in the next game at Arbroath - on the bench. I would prefer Martin alongside Ashcroft. Morrison is still raw and Danny Devine is Danny Devine.
In goals, Ryan Scully, himself not in the best of form, should come back in for Cammy Gill, who did not impress against Alloa.
The midfield has been a problematic area in the past month. Paul Paton has been dropping deeper and deeper, leaving gaps in the middle of the pitch. Tom Beadling has been largely anonymous. Matty Todd, given a start against Alloa, is another young player who is not ready for a regular first team start. Ryan Dow is injured, Josh Coley out of form. On the plus side, Harry Cochrane is available and should start but his fellow Hearts loanee, Anthony McDonald, will again miss out with the back injury he sustained shortly before his loan deal began.
Depending on what formation the manager chooses, we have various options up front but need to find the right blend. Andy Ryan has been disappointing this season and I would prefer to see Greg Kiltie, who did well in his debut match last week, play behind a front two of Kevin Nisbet and Lewis McCann. One up front has not been a success in recent weeks and although the coaching staff have used McCann on the left, I would select him in his natural position of striker in a partnership with Nisbet.
Once Euan Murray, Tom Lang, Anthony McDonald, Ryan Dow and longer-term injury absentee Joe Thomson are fit, the manager will have a much more competitive squad to select from. Central defence is a concern in the meantime. My own team selection sees the most experienced player, Paul Paton, drop out. This could be seen as a risk in itself as we lack older players to balance the youthful core of the team. This is the result of going top-heavy with players in the 18-22 age group, and we cannot select any player simply because he is older than the others. This is the time for Tom Beadling, himself hardly a veteran at 23, to step up and lead the midfield.