Only a dramatic, and highly unlikely, set of results can prevent the Pars from topping Betfred Cup group D after tomorrow's final round of matches. A defeat to last placed Stirling Albion, a Dundee win and a significant swing in goal difference would be required and all evidence so far suggests all those factors will not combine. A draw would be enough for Dunfermline to win the group but all concerned with the club will look towards a fourth straight victory and securing a seeded place in the knockout stages.
The return of Faissal El Bakhtaoui saw a change in personnel at Brechin in midweek, with Joe Thomson moving to the bench and Louis Longridge playing a deeper role than the attacking position he occupied prior to that game. The same 3-5-2 formation was retained and will almost certainly be preferred again tomorrow against Stirling. AJ has the option of playing the same starting 11 but with the first League game next weekend in mind (Ryan Williamson and Kallum Higginbotham are both suspended for that match, at Dundee United) the manager may choose to start with Lewis Martin and/or Aidan Connolly who are both possible replacements for the suspended players next week. Up front, Andy Ryan may start, having scored 3 goals in limited substitute time during the Betfred group games.
Stirling Albion were League 2 promotion contenders for much of last season but fell out of the playoff places in the final weeks of the season, eventually finishing sixth, the same position they occupied in 2016/17. The Binos' Betfred Cup campaign began with 2 defeats, against Brechin City and Dundee, followed by a 2-0 win at Peterhead on Tuesday. Manager Dave Mackay commented after the win at Peterhead:
“I think we played pretty well and contained Peterhead for the best part. We forced Peterhead into playing a lot of long balls and towards the end they had a lot of set-plays, which I thought we dealt well with considering we struggled against Peterhead last season, conceding a number of goals. That was a pleasing aspect but our shape and our workrate off the ball was good and we looked a threat every time we went forward.
“Our front four did really well, not just the scorers Peter MacDonald and Mark Stewart, but also Kevin Fell and Neil McLaughlin and we have still Darren Smith to come back as well. We had five first-team players missing but we showed we have decent depth to the squad and players challenging for positions.”
I was at the Stirling v Dundee Betfred game 2 weeks ago and although Dundee won 4-0, Stirling were well in the game until tiredness and some good finishing by Dundee late in the game. Stirling are a well-organised side but rely more on hard work than flair.