The decline of the rebuilt 2019/20 Pars continued yesterday at East End Park with a defeat by Alloa in the Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup. For a second consecutive week, Dunfermline lost to part-time opposition and regardless of the merits of the competition just exited, there can be no hiding from how poor this performance was.
A new 4-3-2-1 formation was tested with loan signing Greg Kiltie going straight into the starting 11. Kiltie was one of 5 changes made by Stevie Crawford: in came Cammy Gill, Tom Lang, Matty Todd, Gabby McGill and Kiltie. Out from last week's team went Ryan Scully, Danny Devine, Josh Coley and Kevin Nisbet, plus Lewis McCann, who was absent on international duty with Ireland's under 21s. The line up was a mix of regular starters plus other players requiring game time. The formation was not a success: there was little width; the midfield 3 were either posted missing (Tom Beadling), playing too deep (Paul Paton) or not first team-ready (Matty Todd).
In goals, Cammy Gill was given the opportunity to impress, but failed to convince. Gill may have been selected regardless of Ryan Scully's form - the Challenge Cup being a good breeding ground for squad players - but this game represented a real chance for the second choice keeper to make a claim for a start in the League, given Scully's poor displays of late.
After a scrappy opening period, Dunfermline took the lead in the 29th minute. Gabby McGill broke upfield, released Kyle Turner, who then played a pass across to Greg Kiltie, who shot home from inside the penalty box. The team could not replicate the quality of that move during the hour that followed. Neither could they take advantage of the loss of Alloa keeper Neil Parry to injury a few minutes after the opening goal. Parry's replacement was 20 year old Chris Henry, making only the third appearance of his senior career.
Gill, more vocal than Scully but lacking presence in goal, was largely responsible for Alloa's first goal, which came five minutes before the break. A cross from the left was pawed downwards by the Pars keeper, a rarely seen method of effective goalkeeping. The ball bounced towards Lang, who was caught out and unable to clear, leaving Alloa forward Robert Thomson with a chance to score, which he took. The teams went into the half time break level.
Eight minutes into the second half, a familiar theme returned to East End Park when Alan Trouten scored for Alloa. Last season, Trouten scored more goals at the Pars' stadium (5) than any Dunfermline player. He added another goal yesterday with a well-placed finish to put the visitors 2-1 up.
Substitutions were then made: Andy Ryan and Kevin Nisbet replaced Matty Todd and Gabby McGill. A minute later, there was a third change made but this time not by choice, when Lang was injured and had to be withdrawn. Josh Edwards came on at left back, with Lewis Martin moving to central defence. Stuart Morrison and Danny Devine, who had partnered Lee Ashcroft in the middle of the defence in the previous 2 games, remained on the bench.
The formation remained the same, although more loosely, with Andy Ryan taking a position somewhere on the right side. Just as at Arbroath last week, there was no pummeling of the opponents' goal. Dunfermline had more possession but a series of shots blasted over and crosses played too long or behind the goal meant that the Alloa reserve keeper had a relatively easy time of it, only required to catch the occasional high ball, usually unchallenged.
In injury time the otherwise anonymous Beadling hit a shot that struck Trouten. Appeals for a penalty were waved away by referee Steven McLean. By this point, Alloa were down to 10 men, after Blair Malcolm, himself a 76th minute substitute, had to go off injured, with the visitors having made all their permitted substitutions.
Last season, Alloa knocked the Pars out of this competition on penalties after the game ended 2-2. This time, their 2-1 win saw them record a first victory in 90 minutes at East End Park since 1977. In 35 year old captain and centre half Andy Graham, they had the game's best player, the type of veteran that (including 32 year old Paul Paton) the current Dunfermline team lacks. The drive to play youth, however well-intentioned, is having a detrimental effect on results and performances. One or two older heads are needed to guide the core of young players who have ability and may well go onto have good careers at Dunfermline or elsewhere. As a collective, however, they are not yet ready to compete at this level and to secure positive results against opponents who are little more than well-organised workers. This is not said with hindsight: I have repeated this often, even during the League Cup group games when the team topped their group. I have also urged for patience to be applied and that is still the case. Ultimately, however, results have to improve.
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