Danny Devine regained his place in defence after injury, with Joe Thomson dropping to the bench. Last week's left sided centre half, Jackson Longridge, moved back to his natural position at left wingback, with James Craigen shifting to his usual midfield role after playing at left wingback last week.
How on earth did we lose that? That was my immediate post-game reaction, as tweeted here minutes after the game ended. We saw a performance to be proud of from a Dunfermline side that looked every inch Premiership class, on top for long periods of the game, against a Hearts team that currently top the Premiership table and who defeated Celtic last weekend.
The Pars starting 11 could be seen as the strongest currently available. Tom Beadling, who is not yet fully match fit, would be a strong contender for a midfield slot. Every player in black and white made a positive contribution today.
A first half largely dominated by Dunfermline saw Faissal El Bakhtoaui hit the post with an angled shot, the closest we came to seeing a goal that the home side deserved. Hearts were being made to look ordinary - the energy, creativity and organisation in the Dunfermline side was of a level higher than we have seen for some time, spurred on by the tremendous atmosphere generated by both sets of supporters inside East End Park. For Hearts, the much-vaunted Uche Ikpeazu lurked on the periphery of the game, well-marshalled by Lee Ashcroft and his fellow central defenders.
The second half saw Hearts have more possession than they enjoyed in the opening 45, yet doing very little with the ball. It was Dunfermline who looked the more dangerous team, and Hearts were kept in the game by 2 acrobatic saves by their keeper Bobby Zlamal, firstly from a volley from Faissal after a great run and cross from Ryan Williamson; and then from a header by Danny Devine. In between those 2 efforts, Hearts scored the game's only goal, with their only serious on-target shot of the entire game. Olly Lee's shot found the net and put the Jambos ahead, undeservedly.
A late flurry from Dunfermline saw sub Aidan Connolly fail to convert a Williamson cross from close range, the ball then hitting off Faissal's legs and behind.
The final whistle blew to the sound of an appreciative home support: the team had done everything except score and had out-classed the top flight leaders. We need more days like this - the reward is there and we now have to push on and make that step up.
Ryan Williamson: what a contrast from last week! Storming runs up the wing and resolute in defence. My Man of the Match.
Jackson Longridge: a thunderous second half tackle showed his commitment - another good game from one of AJ's best signings.
Louis Longridge: King Louis was once again a classy figure in an attacking midfield role. Technically our best player.
Danny Devine dropped out through injury; no defenders on the bench and with Lewis Martin also injured, Jackson Longridge was shoe-horned into a back 3, with James Craigen at left wingback. the defence was a back 4 for the first time this season. Ryan Williamson came back into the team after suspension. The formation changed throughout the game.
Five wins out of five in the Betfred Cup and the League opener last week had given Pars fans understandable optimism going into this game against the title favourites. County are bankrolled by wealthy owner Roy McGregor and are well positioned to make an instant return to the top division following their relegation last season. They are a robust, strong, physical bunch who have an element of skill but, overall, less technical ability than the Pars squad. What County do have is strength and a well-thought out game plan. They fully deserved their win and today will be a sobering experience for everyone associated with Dunfermline.
Scottish football is well known to have a physical edge and just as last season's Championship runners-up Livingston barged their way to promotion - making the best use of their pool of players - County could well win this season's Championship with the same basic ingredients. There is no need to over-react to this defeat - it is what it is, and could be the harsh lesson that we need. We had too many players who lost their physical battle with their direct opponent, on a player-by-player basis, which added together results in a team being out-muscled. This Dunfermline squad have talent but when players such as Ryan Williamson fail to defend properly and play timidly, we become vulnerable. Williamson struggled all game and was rightly subbed, despite the opportunity to reunite the Williamson/Higginbotham right wing combination when Higgy was brought on. Instead, Allan Johnston put James Craigen to right back. Myles Hippolyte had a poor game, although being switched from striker to midfield, and back again, probably didn't help. The formation and the moving around of certain players did not benefit the team. In short, today highlighted our deficiencies, our lack of defensive options and cover, and how physically we looked very much second best.
County's first goal was a superb strike by Josh Mullin that was unsaveable; it was then matched by Louis Longridge's finish for the Pars' equaliser. The visitors went ahead just before half time when Michael Gardyne was allowed to go unchallenged by Williamson, walzting through the defence and finishing well. Lee Robinson made a great save from Gardyne earlier in the first half but the team did not heed that warning.
Dunfermline had played reasonably well in the first half but the second half was a huge letdown. No shots on target until sub Andy Ryan's injury time effort, and the only other decent effort coming from another sub, Aidan Connolly, with a free kick that went narrowly wide of the goal.
County's third, from Keith Watson after 68 minutes, killed the game and the visitors used some streetwise game management to secure the win. The physical gulf between the 2 sides was summed up by the appearance of Pars sub Aidan Connolly, a hard worker with a lot of skill, but a tiny figure next to the six-foot plussers he was up against.
Reality bites, indeed.
Lee Robinson returned to the starting lineup, the only change from last week's team. Ryan Williamson and Kallum Higginbotham were suspended and Lewis Martin, along with Tom Beadling, injured. A very young subs bench with no defenders.
After 7 long years since we last won at Tannadice, the new-look Pars side, reinvigorated and fresh, deservedly took all 3 points mainly due to a second half performance that bordered on scintillating. Deprived of 4 first team players, the team lined up with midfielder James Craigen at right wing back and ended the game with sub centre forward Andy Ryan filling in at left wingback. Every player played their part in the victory but special mention must go to Craigen (my man of the match) and Myles Hippolyte. The creation and finishing of all 3 goals were also of the highest calibre.
As has so often been the case against Dundee United, we began the better team but were unable to score the crucial opening goal. Matters were not helped by the awful refereeing of Willie Collum, who chose to book United's Edjenguele and Rabitsch for 2 identical, wild and reckless tackles on Faissal El Bakhtaoui. Clearly ordered by clown manager Csaba Laszlo to remove Faissal from play, both challenges should have resulted in red cards. Collum then booked Faissal for his reaction to the second scything.
On the stroke of half time, pantomime villain Nicky Clark put United ahead (although reports suggest the final touch came off Craigen) and celebrated in front of the Pars support. Clark had been the target of Pars' fans chants throughout the first half and took great delight in the goal.
Although Dunfermline had been the better team in the first half, there was, naturally, an air of despondency amongst the support after going behind. The team were welcomed back onto the pitch and set about making a mark on the game straight away: Myles Hippolyte's audacious shot from around 50 yards was tipped over by United keeper Rakovan. Then we scored: Faissal held the ball up well and passed to Joe Thomson whose expertly drilled shot ripped into the net in the 59th minute. United's manager was even more agitated than usual on the touchline; an unintentionally comical figure who would fit in well as a character from the Dundee-produced Beano comic.
The second Pars goal came in the 67th minute. Thomson's shot was saved but the ball fell perfectly for Jackson Longridge to head into the net. The team were well on top at this point and increased the lead further with 6 minutes remaining. Louis Longridge took possession, and with admirable composure and skill took his time to step past 2 opponents and place the ball into the net with a calm, controlled finish.
United's Fraser Aird, the other ex-Par to join United this summer, pulled a goal back with 2 minutes of normal time remaining from a free kick. By this time, Danny Devine had to go off injured, which meant Jackson Longridge moved to central defence and sub Andy Ryan took up an unlikely position at left wingback.
The final whistle was a glorious sound and the players, management and fans showed a mixture of sheer delight and relief at finally recording a win against United. This Pars team can give us a season to remember.
TEAM NEWS: In goal, Cammy Gill was given his first start in a Pars competitive game, while Ryan Williamson and Kallum Higginbotham - both suspended for next week's opening Championship game - were listed among the substitutes. Midfielder James Craigen moved to right wingback, his usual place taken by James Vincent, while Joe Thomson was given Higgy's number 7 shirt.
OPINION: Job done: a second half turnaround ensured the Pars completed Group D of this season's Betfred Cup with a 100% record and will be seeded in the knockout stages. After impressive displays in the previous group games, the first half today was surprisingly flat - or as I tweeted at half time - ''drab and lifeless". There was little to excite the crowd and while not playing badly, the team were sleepwalking, in deed of a jolt to wake them up. Stirling scored through veteran striker Peter MacDonald in the 36th minute and went in at half time 1-0 up.
The second half was, thankfully, a different story. The players collectively emerged from their slumber and began to play as we know they can - there was much to admire about the crisp, quick, incisive passing movements involving players such as Faissal, Myles Hippolyte and Louis Longridge. It was Hippolyte who equalised after 47 minutes, mercifully not flagged for a possible offside by a clueless linesman who spent the rest of the game either flagging incorrectly or waiting on the referee to tell him. The Pars striker ran through and tucked the ball beyond Cameron Binnie in the Stirling goal.
Dunfermline went ahead in the 56th minute after some trickery by Faissal, juggling the ball and flicking it against the bar from an impossible angle, the ball then falling for James Vincent to head home from close in.
The team were cutting through Stirling by this point, a series of one-touch slide rule passes from player to player being very pleasing on the eye, and denied a further goal by a crowded Stirling backline. The third goal came in added on time, sub Andy Ryan's free kick striking the bar and the rebound turned in by Hippolyte for his fourth goal in the Betfred competition.
A performance that echoed the early days of the Allan Johnston era, when Dunfermline rattled in goals at will: 4, 5, 6 and then 7 were scored in a 4 game period in 2015 and this evening saw a return to that type of goalscoring form. The Betfred Cup has provided enough examples of teams from higher divisions struggling against part-time opposition this season, so tonight's emphatic win should be enjoyed and appreciated: this new-look Pars side could be on the verge of a very special season.
The team lined up in the same 3-5-2 formation as in the previous 2 Betfred games but with Faissal El Bakhtaoui up front, making his debut in his second spell with the club. Joe Thomson dropped to the bench and Louis Longridge moved to midfield after playing in a more attacking position at Dundee 3 days ago. From the start, the Pars dominated and within 15 minutes were 3-0 ahead. Danny Devine got his first goal for the club after 7 minutes, heading in a James Craigen free kick. Louis Longridge then opened his goalscoring account for the Pars a minute later, finishing well after a pass from Faissal. In the 15th minute, the French-Moroccan striker made it 3-0 with a very well taken goal. Ryan Williamson then had a shot cleared off the line and the only surprise was that it took until the 43rd minute for the next goal to come. Faissal charged down a clearance from Brechin keeper Conor Brennan and put the ball into the empty net.
Andy Ryan and James Vincent were brought on at half time for Faissal and James Craigen. Brechin were reduced to 10 men after 52 minutes when Guilliano Morena received his second yellow card. Six minutes later Ryan proved again what an instinctive goalscorer he is, shooting home after good work from Aidan Connolly, who had replaced Louis Longridge 2 minutes earlier.
Brechin scored an unlikely goal to reduce the deficit to 5-1, Dene Shields (not Dean Shiels) the scorer after 61 minutes after a mix-up in the Dunfermline defence. Ryan then got his second after 63 minutes and almost had a hat trick soon after but saw his shot well saved by Brennan.
With 4 minutes remaining, Myles Hippolyte made it 7-1 to round off an excellent performance by the team.
As a unit, the team/squad have made a very promising start to the season. What every successful team also needs is a player who is capable of lighting up a game and we certainly have that with Faissal. The weeks and months ahead will be very interesting.
A fully deserved win that puts us in a great position to win our Betfred Cup group. Of the 2 teams, Dunfermline looked more like the top flight side, and with better finishing would have won more convincingly. The Pars' game management, organisation, workrate and shape were all of a very high standard. It was a great example of how to play on the break, counter-attacking effectively while also maintaining a solid defensive unit that restricted Dundee to a couple of chances that brought out great reflex saves from Lee Robinson.
Lining up with the same starting 11 that defeated Peterhead in the opening group game on Tuesday, there was a slight tweak in formation with Louis Longridge playing just off Myles Hippolyte rather than beside him as a pair. The 3-5-1-1 worked perfectly; as mentioned above, Lee Robinson made 2 great saves that tested his athleticism - fortunately we have one of the most agile keepers in the country. The 3 central defenders (Lee Ashcroft, Mark Durnan and Danny Devine) played as a unit and adopted a no-nonsense approach to defending - making clearances quickly and effectively, no dithering on the ball and no taking unnecessary risks. Both wingbacks were involved in our goal - Ryan Williamson with a trademark bombing run down the right, putting over a pinpoint cross for left wingback Jackson Longridge who rose and powered a header into the net after 2 minutes.
In midfield, James Craigen, who never has what could be described as a bad game but often drifts around without contributing much of substance, was far more effective today, driving the team forward. Joe Thomson was a busy worker, in a Gary Mason-type role. My man of the match was the rejuvenated Kallum Higginbotham, playing on the right of the midfield 3, the team's most experienced outfield player. He produced a mature performance, playing like a captain - his attitude could never be called into question but he has found a composure that is of a huge benefit to his younger team mates.
In attack, Louis Longridge played a tremendous pass to Myles Hippolyte for what should have been the Pars' second goal. Hippolyte was often in the right place but his display suggested he is not a natural finisher. This was the one area of our play that could have been much better - we should have been more than one goal ahead at half time and although Dundee came more into the game in the second half, we still had chances to go further ahead that we did not take.
This performance has set an early season benchmark of what we are capable of. I am confident that we can improve even further and with the addition of Tom Beadling, Faissal El Bakhtaoui and James Vincent we will have even more options. We can be optimistic for the season ahead and with a more clinical edge we will be a very difficult team to beat in the Championship.
Two late goals added gloss to the scoreline and secured 3 points for the Pars in the team's opening Betfred Cup group game. Opponents Peterhead lined up with some familiar faces, including ex-Pars Greg Fleming and Willie Gibson, plus striker Rory McAllister. The League 2 side were defeated 5-1 in the same competition at EEP last season and in the words of their manager Jim McInally, were approaching this game as a "free shot".
Dunfermline lined up in the 3-5-2 formation that Allan Johnston has preferred all pre-season. There were 3 changes to the line-up that faced Motherwell in the team's previous match, a pre-season friendly last week: captain Lee Ashcroft started after making his first appearance of the season as a sub against Motherwell. Kallum Higginbotham returned to the starting 11, while new signing Myles Hippolyte was given the number 9 shirt on his debut. Lewis Martin, Callum Smith and Lewis McCann, all starters against Motherwell, were among the substitutes. Louis Longridge, played in midfield during pre-season games, started up front alongside Hippolyte.
The first half was competitive without producing much in the way of sparkling football. Pars keeper Lee Robinson made an excellent reflex save to prevent a Lee Ashcroft own goal, the defender's header being mis-directed towards the Dunfermline goal. Ryan Williamson made a good run up the right, beat a defender inside the box but was denied a goal by a crowded Peterhead defence. One notable incident occurred when referee Steven McLean lectured Hippolyte for diving after the striker appeared to have been pulled back, only to award the Pars a free kick after a few seconds of confusion.
It was Hippolyte who gave Dunfermline the lead after 42 minutes, finishing off a move started by Louis Longridge, who played a pass to Williamson, with the wing-back's cross reaching Hippolyte's head and finding the net.
The second half saw Dunfermline play some of their best football since this largely new team was put together. Kallum Higginbotham was instrumental to the team's passing movements, enjoying a very good game in midfield, while Louis Longridge was a man of the match contender, although he should have done better with his final shot after his good close control and trickery saw him work his way past the Peterhead backline before lashing a shot over.
Peterhead's attacks were sporadic but they were given a chance to equalise from a Rory McAllister free kick. The Par defensive wall looked to be at least one player light, and in the gap presented, McAlliser shot at goal, his effort hitting the post. The ball ended up with Russell MacLean, who also hit the post with his return shot. That was as close as the visitots would come to a goal.
AJ changed the formation to 4-4-2 after replacing Lee Ashcroft and Joe Thomson with Aidan Connolly and Lewis McCann. The midfield and attackers were interchanging, their passing quick and incisive. Hippolyte moved wide then back into the middle, Louis Longridge went to the left wing and Higgy continued to dominate the ball and orchestrate much of the team's attacks.
Dunfermline then hit the woodwork when Aidan Connolly's free kick smacked off the bar. Hippolyte, who has played the majority of his career as a wide attacker, had a very good debut and looks to be a real asset, his best position appearing to be as a striker on this showing.
Connolly won a penalty when he was tripped in the box with 2 minutes remaining. Higginbotham showed confidence to chip the ball down the middle of Fleming's goal to make the score 2-0. Sub Andy Ryan then scored a fine third goal in added on time, his curled strike finding the far right corner of the goal.
The team showed signs of real promise in this game; they are not the finished article but there were many encouraging moments, particularly in the second half, to give hope for the season ahead.
A hard-fought "friendly" match that featured a few meaty tackles and an encouraging second half display from a Pars side that matched their Premiership opponents, improving as the game went on.
With the Norrie McCathie Stand closed, home fans in the main stand caught sight of the returning Faissal El Bakhtaoui in the players' tunnel before kick-off. As the photo below shows, he looked delighted to be back where he belongs.
The first half will not live long in the memory of the 901 fans inside EEP; little creativity from either side and no clear goalscoring opportunities. The Pars youthful front 2 of Callum Smith and Lewis McCann worked tirelessly for little reward.
The second half was a marked improvement with Dunfermline showing more as an attacking force, with wingbacks Ryan Williamson and Jackson Longridge more involved. It was from one great run by Longridge that the Pars should have gone ahead; the wingback's final ball was met by the trialist striker, on as a substitute, but his effort was saved by Motherwell keeper Mark Gillespie. Motherwell threatened occasionally but Dunfermline's play was the more incisive of the 2 teams. Aidan Connolly made an impact after replacing McCann for the final 20 minutes, while the defence were solid and there was a first outing of the season, for the last 15 minutes, for Lee Ashcroft. Lee Robinson was back to his assured best in goals.
This was a good test against a Motherwell side that included Cedric Kipre, Carl McHugh, Curtis Main, Ryan Bowman and Chris Cadden. The new players are bedding in well and there are encouraging signs for the season ahead. The addition of the Moroccan fans' favourite will be an even greater boost.
For once, Gayfield was almost tropical, the usual North Sea chill replaced by the relative warmth of an Arbroath summer evening. A Pars team featuring mainly under 20s players defeated a full strength Arbroath side that included ex-Pars Jason Thomson, Ryan Wallace and trialist sub Finn Graham. Dunfermline, captained by keeper Cammy Gill, included first teamers Joe Thomson and Aidan Connolly (themselves hardly veterans, at 21 and 22 years old) plus Callum Smith, a regular in the senior squad at 18 but in the same age group as most of the team that lined up to start the game.
A sparse crowd was scattered around the classic old-school ground, one of my favourite away venues. Arbroath's management team are also former Pars - brothers Dick and Ian Campbell. Dick watched from the stand while his brother coached from the sidelines.
Arbroath had the majority of the game's goal attempts and found Cammy Gill in great form - one first half save in particular was outstanding, and although the offside flag had been raised, no one was aware of that when Gill saved a Jason Thomson header.
The game's only goal came in the 39th minute after a good run and cross from Callum Smith down the right side, with midfielder Matty Todd in place to place the ball past Darren Jamieson. Aidan Connolly was involved in most of the Pars' attacking play but was also the target of the industrial Arbroath defence. The wee man let his frustrations boil over at times, angry with the robust tackling from the home side.
The Dunfermline central defence contained 2 of the team's best performers on the night: 19 year old Stuart Morrison and 16 year old Gregor Jordan. They played with great maturity and Jordan, one of the Fife Elite group who signed contracts with Dunfermline this summer, can be very pleased with how he coped against experienced opponents such as Ryan Wallace, Bobby Linn and Gavin Swankie (the latter more than double Jordan's age).
The team held on at the end after several substitutions reduced the already low average age of the line up even further, with several teenage trialists getting game time in the final 15 minutes.
Pars line up below plus some photos from the game.
After one particularly sore pre-season result last season (losing 3-0 to Raith) and feeling despondent about our chances in the season ahead - only to be proved wrong when we began the League and Cup games in good form and with positive results - I have vowed not to read too much into this term's warm-up results. Today's result possibly flattered Tranmere, when looking at the game as a whole, but there are still areas of concern after suffering such a heavy defeat to a side playing their first pre-season game, and who were a non-League club until May.
Allan Johnston named an unchanged team after selecting the same 11 players to start the previous friendly against Raith. Options were limited with the ongoing absence of Lee Ashcroft, and injuries to Tom Beadling and Aidan Connolly. James Vincent started on the bench and there was also a first run out this season for sub Callum Smith. The Pars did relatively well in the first half, having more of the ball than our visitors, but as in the Raith game, we failed to turn possession into goals, and then lost sloppy goals. The quality of our play was encouraging in the opening half but as the game went on we faded and allowed Tranmere to run out convincing winners.
Lee Robinson made his first appearance of the season but was well below the form he has showed since joining the club. One goal in particular will disappoint him, when he appeared to save a header but then carried it behind the goal-line for Tranmere's fourth goal. The 3-5-2 set-up worked reasonably well with Ryan Williamson the better of the 2 wingbacks. Centre midfield will be boosted with the return of Beadling (although he will be missing for several weeks yet) and when Joe Thomson is fully match fit. The forwards did not have the best of games - Andy Ryan has yet to find form this pre-season and Lewis McCann put in a lot of effort but missed a good chance to score when he seemed to trip over the ball - but the 17 year old was again the squad's best attacker. Game time was given to subs James Vincent, Callum Smith, Paul Allan, Joe Thomson and Matty Todd.