Tuesday's 2-0 win over Arbroath marked Allan Johnston's 100th game in charge of Dunfermline. In modern day football management, 100 games is almost an eternity: consider that in Johnston's time at East End Park (since May 2015), St Mirren have had 5 different managers (go back a further 12 months and the figure becomes 7). Continuity is a rare element in football, yet it can be rewarding, and not only at the very top end of the game with Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger; in Scottish football, St Mirren's managerial revolving door has coincided with relegation from the Premiership, near-relegation to League 1, while a similar size club such as Partick Thistle, where Alan Archibald has been manager since January 2013, have risen from the Championship to become an established Premiership club, culminating in a top 6 finish last season, their highest League position in 36 years.
Allan Johnston's record at East End Park, with a starting point further down the SPFL pyramid than Archibald at Partick, has similarities: at the end of season 2014/15, Dunfermline were the lowest-ranked full time club in the 4 senior divisions, having finished the season in 7th position in League 1, the club's second season in the third tier of Scottish football. The first season, 2013/14, saw the club finish runners-up to Rangers but lose a promotion play-off final to Cowdenbeath. The second season saw manager Jim Jefferies leave the club, replaced by coach John Potter. The hardy bunch of fans, who included myself and my son, who went to Stranraer on a soaking wet day in February 2015 to see Dunfermline lose 5-1, will remember that day as being representative of that awful season. All the more reason for not falling into the trap of diminishing Johnston's achievement in romping to the title the next season. The theory that as the "biggest" club in the division, promotion was almost a given, was certainly not the case the season before Johnston arrived.
A raft of new signings joined the club upon Johnston's arrival, among them Callum Fordyce, Joe Cardle, Michael Paton and Sean Murdoch. The emergence of Faissal El Bakhtaoui, who had been at the club since 2012 but who had only broken into the first team on a regular basis in 2014/15, saw a new, exciting Pars team begin the season in scintillating form: the first 4 competitive fixtures resulting in the following victories:
25 July (Challenge Cup): 4-1 v Arbroath
1 August (League Cup): 5-1 v Cowdenbeath
8 August (League): 6-1 v Brechin City
15 August (League): 7-1 v Cowdenbeath
Soon after, on 25 August, Dunfermline defeated Premiership Dundee 3-1 in the League Cup and then took Dundee United, then a top 6 Premiership club, to extra time in the same competition at Tannadice before going down in extra time.
The League 1 title was won, and last season Johnston led the club to fifth place in the Championship, narrowly missing out on a promotion play-off place despite a poor start to the season. From November onwards, the club went on a run of just 1 defeat in 14 League games as Johnston's team, with new arrivals Kallum Higginbotham, Nicky Clark and Paul McMullan all key to his attacking formation, all making significant contributions.
Johnston is not without faults: he sticks rigidly to 4-4-2, a policy which backfires on occasion, most notably last week at Ibrox when what was already a slow centre midfield was out numbered and overrun by Rangers. He can be slow to make substitutions, except when really pushed to do so, as was the case at Livingston this season, and at Ibrox a few days later, when he made first half substitutions in games that were not going Dunfermline's way. There is a reluctance to freshen up the side during the second half of games, but that is a minor quibble in what has been a very successful period in charge: in his 100 games, he has won 51, drawn 25 and lost 24. 193 goals have been scored with 114 conceded. His teams have scored goals in big numbers: 4 goals have been scored in 6 different games, 5 goals on 8 occasions, 6 goals in 3 different games, plus the 7 goals scored in the game against Cowdenbeath, listed above. While Johnston is primarily an attack-minded manager, a club record was set in 2015/16 for minutes without conceding a League goal.
As with many things in life, his time at the club might not be fully appreciated until it is over. His managerial career started well at Queen of the South, winning League 1 and the Challenge Cup, which earned him a move to Premiership Kilmarnock. He resigned from that job after a disagreement with his directors, before joining Dunfermline 3 months later. At 43, he is still a relatively young manager but has the experience of 5 years in management, on a mostly upward trajectory. Hopefully his next achievement, during his second 100 games in charge, will be leading Dunfermline back into the top division of Scottish football.
Photo and edit by Pars Review.