How much longer does this go on? Just as the manager repeats the same post-match comments week after week (today's gem being ''we need to defend better and score more goals''), his team continue to give the same level of performance, devoid of passion, skill and fight. There's just nothing there.
Three changes were made to last week's starting 11: Ryan Williamson, Tom Beadling and Myles Hippolyte coming in, with James Craigen moving from fullback to right midfield, and Malaury Martin, Aidan Connolly and Andy Ryan dropping to the bench. Hipployte had a good run and shot after 5 minutes that was to be Dunfermline's best piece of play in the entire game. United keeper Ben Siegrist did well to save Hipployte's effort; he was then relatively untroubled until an injury time save from Pars sub Andy Ryan, saving the striker's shot with his legs. Once again we did not test the opposition keeper enough.
The opening goal, in the 24th minute, came after a soft foul was awarded against Faissal El Bakhtoui, apparently for tugging a United player's shirt. From the resultant free kick, Fraser Aird flighted in a ball that was headed in by Paul McMullan, the smallest man on the pitch. It seemed as though Ryan Williamson had left McMullan unmarked and in the seconds after the goal, captain Lee Ashcroft made his feelings clear to the fullback - not for the first time this season.
The second half felt like a repeat of so many other home games this season. We were disjointed in defence and attack. Lee Robinson tried to pick a fight with Aird, doing his familiar brushing past the opponent then stopping to argue - a petulant child looking for trouble. Concentrate on the game!
The second United goal came from Billy King. Jackson Longridge gave the ball away, to McMullan, who passed to King, who worked his way into a shooting position and drilled the ball past Robinson.
Faissal then tried an overhead kick in the centre circle which found a United player. Quite what that was about is anyone's guess.
Ryan Williamson then conceded a penalty in the 81st minute. McMullan took the kick but shot well wide of Robinson's post. Dunfermline, meanwhile, continued to lump balls upfield to sub Ryan and Faissal (Hippolyte had been shifted to the wing by this point). Aidan Keena, given 10 minutes last week, was an unused sub, as was Robbie Muirhead, a player signed for reasons unknown, never used in the first team for weeks, unimpressive in the reserves, a waste of resources.
Surely something has to change.
Dunfermline fielded several first team fringe players in today's SPFL Reserve League game at Falkirk but went down to a 2-1 defeat. There were several positional changes, all in attack, during the game (as listed later in this article). At times it seemed that the switches were being taken to extremes - for example, Robbie Muirhead played in 3 different positions and had a total of 5 switches between those roles throughout the course of the game, moving to and from both wings and as a central striker. Kallum Higginbotham continued his recovery from injury but Lewis Martin (who, like Higgy, made a first start after injury in last week's reserve game against Motherwell) was not in the squad.
Falkirk came closest to taking an early lead when a Tommy Robson shot was saved by Pars keeper Cammy Gill after 7 minutes. In the 16th minute, Falkirk striker Marcus Haber hit the post. The opening goal came 10 minutes later when Stuart Morrison fouled his opponent in the box. Joe McKee sent Cammy Gill the wrong way from the spot.
Ryan Williamson then had a good run up the wing that resulted in a corner after the Falkirk defence cleared his cross. The game was scrappy with the Pars midfield struggling to make much of an impression.
Half time: Falkirk 1, Pars 0.
The second half was barely a minute old when Cammy Gill made a good reaction save to prevent Falkirk doubling their lead. Tom Beadling, who failed to impress throughout the game, was booked for dissent after the referee did not award a foul for a challenge on Beadling just outside the Falkirk penalty box. Soon after , Beadling blasted a shot well over the bar.
Falkirk then hit the post with an O'Hara header after 58 minutes; their reserve team was a much more cohesive unit than their first team. They went 2-0 ahead after 83 minutes when Dennon Lewis finished after some slack play in the Pars defence.
With 5 minutes remaining, Myles Hippolyte took a pass from Robbie Muirhead and scored to cut the deficit to 1 goal. The Pars pressed for an equaliser but were unable to threaten the Falkirk goal again.
On the basis of this performance, Ryan Williamson should be in contention for a first team return on Saturday. Of the younger players, Paul Allan did well at left back. The midfield duo of Beadling and Thomson didn't do enough to make a serious claim for a first team place against Dundee United. Kallum Higginbotham is still regaining fitness, while Robbie Muirhead still needs to do much more to expect a first team start. Myles Hippolyte was the pick of the Pars attack and took his goal well.
Full time: Falkirk 2, Pars 1.
The Pars wingers interchanged positions several times during the game. Striker Lewis McCann remained up front throughout but was partnered by 3 different players, who in turn also switched wings for various periods of time. These are all the switches; I did not record the duration of each change but they are actual changes and not merely players taking up a position and moving back seconds later:
Higginbotham - from right wing to front 2; Robbie Muirhead, who started the game as a striker, moved to right wing.
Higginbotham moved back to right wing; Muirhead back into attack.
Muirhead moved to left wing; Myles Hippolyte moved to attack.
Higginbotham: right wing to left wing; Muirhead in turn moved from left to right.
After Brandon Luke replaced Kallum Higginbotham (on the left wing), he was moved to the right wing five minutes later; Muirhead then moved from right to left.
It's like watching the same mediocre movie on an endless loop. More possession than the opposition but no end product. Urgency only showed when falling behind to opponents who would have been delighted with a point. Manager who is unable to motivate and whose substitutions are detrimental to the team's chance of success.
No changes were made to the starting lineup - another indication of Allan Johnston's limitations, sticking with what he knows. Keeping faith with a striker who hasn't scored a League goal all season and who has 2 goals against Brechin and none in his other 13 appearances this term.
The first half was typical of the turgid dross that we have been served up with in recent weeks. A misdirected shot from Louis Longridge was the best opportunity in the opening 45 minutes. Queens were toothless, Stephen Dobbie a peripheral figure. We had most of the ball and as usual there were some attractive flicks and passes around the area between 30-40 yards from the opposition goal.
The second half began with Lee Ashcroft's header being tipped over by Queens keeper Alan Martin. Then Faissal somehow missed from a yard out, when a perfect cross evaded his head - he was to play some neat football in areas that didn't matter and was eventually substituted.
The substitutions. Just as in the game at home to Queens last season (losing 5-2), when Allan Johnston played several players out of position, he did so again today. Perhaps not as many as in that game, but showing similarly muddled thinking. 71st minute: Faissal off: Myles Hippolyte on. To play on the wing, leading to Wee Aidan Connolly to move from the wing into attack alongside Andy Ryan. This experiment lasted for 8 wasted minutes. Connolly made zero impact in his striker role. 79th minute: Johnston took off Ryan and replaced him with Aidan Keena. We now had the 2 Aidans up front. The minutes ticked by. 84th minute: Queens score with their only shot of the game. Hippolyte was then told to go up front and Connolly returned to the wing, or somewhere near the wing. 'Right winger' Louis Longridge often drifted across to double up with Connolly somewhere near the left wing, while on the right side, James Craigen was the only option, playing at right back but offering no attacking threat. Ryan Williamson was the logical replacement but he remained an unused sub. 85th minute: the manager withdrew the tiring Malaury Martin. Instead of pushing an extra forward on (Robbie Muirhead), Martin was replaced with Joe Thomson, another central midfielder.
It was a mess.
It's time for change - recent results, when we defeated a poor Partick team thanks to a bad defensive error, and then won against the worst Falkirk team ever, should not mask the dire quality of play. The manager repeated the same tired old lines in his post-match interview. Something about working hard, being more clinical, etc, etc.
Tuesday's Reserve Cup game against Motherwell was played at Stirling Albion's Forthbank Stadium. Here is Ben's report and photos from the game.
There is also a short vlog of the game on Ben's Twitter page: twitter.com/1885Ben
Dunfermline exited the Reserve Cup at a dreach Forthbank Stadium against a Motherwell side that exposed defensive slackness to progress into the next round. Fielding several first team fringe players, the Pars (wearing last season's away kit) opened the scoring in the third minute after the ball broke off a Motherwell player to Kallum Higginbotham inside the box. Higgy played it across to Robbie Muirhead at the back post for a tap-in.
Motherwell equalised in the 24th minute. Broque (unusual name) Watson took the ball to the by-line and hit a shot-cum-cross that trickled past Cammy Gill. Motherwell's second goal came after a quick attack, the ball played from their right to left. Muirhead was covering for the out of position Josh Robertson at left back but lacked the pace to keep up with his opponent. A low cross was put over for Connor Sammon to finish at the back post, with 33 minutes gone.
The first half ended with Motherwell on top and Dunfermline restricted to possibly 10 minutes of pressure overall.
Kallum Higginbotham and Lewis Martin, both playing their first games after injury, were substituted at half time. Aside from setting up the Pars' only goal, Higgy offered our best attacking outlet, and was also very vocal - the 'leader' in the team. The two players were replaced by Matty Todd and Gregor Jordan.
Two minutes into the second half, Motherwell went 3-1 ahead. From a corner kick, the ball was played to Adam Livingstone, 25 yards from goal, and hit shot evaded Gill and found the corner of the net. The scorer was given too much time to line up the shot, one of several goals that could have been prevented by tighter marking. Sammon then made it 4-1 in the 61st minute from close range, again unchallenged when in a position to score.
The game's final goal came after 79 minutes. Another corner was squared to the edge of the box, a cross then floated in which Gill came for but was beaten to by Christian Mbulu who headed his side's fifth.
A disappointing performance especially with so many first team squad players in the team. Muirhead, played on the left, does not convince as a winger, while the other fringe players did little to make AJ, watching from the stand, consider them for Saturday's Championship game against Queen of the South.
So we are out of the diddy cup, in which we fielded a reserve team that unexpectedly beat the then-holders in the first round, then began to take the competition more seriously as we progressed through another round. Today's defeat on penalties has no upside: any success has to be welcomed, for team morale and to energise the supporter base. The eventual exit was met with passivity, not anger. There is very little atmosphere at EEP these days.
There was one enforced change to last week's starting 11 - Mark Durnan was injured and replaced by Danny Devine.
After losing the coin toss, we were made to shoot towards the home end in the first half, in front of a crowd of just over 1400. Alloa began brightly but gradually we took control of the game, without actually threatening the Wasps goal. Then Alloa took the lead after 8 minutes - Alan Trouten finishing after a poor pass from Louis Longridge, back covering in defence.
Longridge made amends 20 minutes later when his shot from 20 yards beat Neil Parry in the Alloa goal. Encouraged by this, we saw similar long range efforts from Faissal El Bakhtaoui and Longridge again, both charged down by a solid Alloa defence.
The second half started well for Dunfermline when a penalty was awarded. Louis Longridge sent Parry the wrong way to put the Pars 2-1 up. This signalled another sustained period of Pars possession but little sign of the lead being extended further. Some decent football was being played but with no end product.
Alloa then had two great chances to equalise; firstly, left back Liam Dick panicked when given a glorious opportunity to shoot at goal from 15 yards, electing to pass instead; then Kevin Cawley's goalbound shot was superbly blocked by Jackson Longridge. The warning signs were there. After 70 minutes, the visitors got the equalising goal that they had threatened despite having much less possession. Dario Zanatta took full advantage of awful defending by Danny Devine. The Pars defender failed to clear the ball, then allowed Zanatta to get round him and past, crossing for Trouten to bundle in his and Alloa's second goal.
Dunfermline pressed for much of the final 20 minutes. A constant theme was failure to test the opposition keeper, with crosses into the box that were easily dealt with by the Alloa backline. Other half chances were unconverted.
And so, penalties. Lee Robinson was booked before the first kick for gamesmanship. His antics did not work in the previous round at Boreham Wood (failing to save any of the kicks then) and he again could not keep out any of today's attempts, with Alloa netting all 5 kicks. With the score at 5-4 to Alloa, Parry saved Aidan Connolly's effort and Alloa went through to next month's quarter finals. The crowd dispersed, as flat as a left-open can of Irn Bru.
A 2-0 absolute PUMPING: maybe not the most eloquent description but one that is entirely fitting. We asked for what we saw in the spirited final 10 minutes of last week's game, but spread over the 90, and we got it. It mattered not that this was the worst Falkirk side in living memory - what on earth was their former manager Paul Hartley doing in the summer, bringing in such dross? Their problem, not ours - we dealt with them professionally and could have had 5 or 6 but for an inspired Falkirk goalkeeper, the crossbar, and bad luck when a couple of decent efforts narrowly missed.
The same starting 11 that defeated Partick Thistle was named again today and from the outset it was clear that we were playing on a different level to our rivals. Falkirk's only tactic was to commit a series of fouls that should have caused referee Bobby Madden to issue more yellow cards. Our midfield bossed the game - James Vincent had possibly his best game for Dunfermline, while Malaury Martin once again oozed class - despite lacking pace, the Frenchman is sheer quality - for me, the best midfielder in the Championship.
Our domination was not reflected in the scoreline - both our goals came late in each half, the first from Andy Ryan, and the second from the pantomime villain from old Pars/Falkirk games, when he played in Falkirk blue - sub Myles Hippolyte, who also saw an effort hit the bar. The lively Pars support sang Hipployte's name, winding up the home support in the process. Ryan's goal was a header from a Louis Longridge (another ex-Bairn!) cross, while Hippolyte's late clincher came after great work by Faissal El Bakhtaoui. Quite how Faissal didn't score today is a mystery: Falkirk keeper Leo Fasan denied him 3 times, the third of which was set to be a superb goal until the tall keeper turned the shot round the post.
Aidan Connolly came close with a shot from 22 yards, Ryan shot into the side netting after making space for himself inside the box, and there were other effort that contributed to the Pars' total of 18 attempts at goal. In comparison, Falkirk had 3 attempts at goal, with only 1 on target.
This was a hugely satisfying afternoon: rarely have we dominated a game so much, especially against Falkirk. We are now outside the play-off places by goal difference - level on points with fourth place Dundee United. Just over 2 weeks ago, the upcoming League games against Morton, Partick and Falkirk were seen as pivotal for the club's hopes this season, and for the manager, who was under pressure after a series of defeats: 7 points (which could easily have been 9) later, we have made steady progress, securing some important results, in the knowledge that there is even more to come from the team, who will take great confidence from today's result and performance.