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.
For the second consecutive game, 2 different Dunfermline teams took the field against pre-season opposition and just as in Saturday's game (at the same venue, Bayview) against East Fife, it was the youth team who were 'undefeated' during their period in play. There is nothing to be read into that, however. These games are just slightly glorified training exercises. Last night a back 3 defensive system was tried out with 2 of the new summer arrivals - Mark Durnan (captain for the night) and Danny Devine playing alongside Lewis Martin in central defence. Ryan Williamson and Jackson Longridge were wingbacks, while there was a 3 man central midfield of Kallum Higginbotham (right side), James Craigen (centre) and Louis Longridge (left). Up front, 17 year old Lewis McCann, who scored one of the Pars' goals in the win over East Fife, was partnered by Andy Ryan.
It was McCann who was the most impressive Pars player. Physically strong for his age, he did not look out of place alongside senior team mates and he also added another goal to his pre-season tally. He was denied another by a good save from the Raith keeper and also did well in his general play.
Raith took a 15th minute lead when Grant Gillespie lashed a shot beyond Pars keeper Cammy Gill. The 'home side', playing all their pre-season and Betfred Cup games in Methil while Stark's Park has an artificial pitch laid, also included ex-Pars Nat Wedderburn and Liam Buchanan.
Dunfermline equalised after 20 minutes. Big Nat lost possession and Louis Longridge took advantage, playing in Lewis McCann whose angled shot went beyond the Raith keeper (Robbie Thomson, son of ex-Raith and Pars keeper Scott Thomson). Dunfermline were playing some good football and James Craigen was unlucky to see his shot go narrowly wide after a long series of passes throughout the Pars team ended with the midfielder just missing out on a goal. Raith were barely in the Dunfermline half but went ahead, partly due to some very slack refereeing by Andrew Dallas. Referees often allow free kicks to be taken away from where play stopped but in this case, Raith took the kick from at least 25 yards (no exaggeration) from where an alleged foul took place. The ball was flighted into the penalty box and Mark Durnan was penalised for fouling Valentine. Cammy Gill made an excellent save from the penalty but despite pushing the ball wide, Raith's Ross Matthews was quick to react and scored from a tight angle to put Raith ahead.
With Lee Robinson, Lee Ashcroft, James Vincent, Tom Beadling, Joe Thomson and Callum Smith all out of contention tonight - although all those players except Ashcroft were in the stadium, with slight injuries that were not worth risking - the team will inevitably look much different in the weeks ahead. The 3 at the back system worked well although it was noticeable that with Higgy playing inside right, Ryan Williamson was less effective as an attacking force. Andy Ryan toiled up front and was often dropping back to get the ball.
The other scorer from Saturday, Matty Todd, came on at half time and looked lively in midfield. He was joined by his team mates from the Pars youth squad after an hour, together with a new keeper and a trialist striker (both players' identities unknown). There were no further goals but it was a good chance to see the young players who will make up much of our reserve team this season. Captained for the final 30 minutes by Stuart Morrison, who has also filled out physically and looks ready to compete for a first team place, players such as McCann and Todd will also be contenders for at least a place in match day squads alongside their senior colleagues in the months ahead.
Pars starting line-up: