Looking at the current Pars squad and how they have performed individually and as a team.
Today - the midfield
With manager Allan Johnston preferring a 4-4-2 formation in almost every game, the Pars midfield falls into 2 categories: central midfielders and wingers. The summer of 2016 saw Josh Falkingham allowed to leave the club, and new contracts offered to 2 players (Rhys McCabe and Lewis Spence) who were unable to break into the team in season 2015/16 due to Falkingham's good form (Johnston's own words). The early weeks of this season saw a central midfield of McCabe and Andy Geggan, with new signing Nat Wedderburn struggling with injury. Spence made one appearance and was then loaned to Brechin City.
Rhys McCabe was not in the best of form in the opening weeks of the season, unable to impose himself on games and lacking accuracy with his passing. Gradually, he began to improve, and without being outstanding, the months of November and December saw him in the best form of his time at Dunfermline, although he has since lost his place in the team to Wedderburn. Andy Geggan (pictured below) began the season in goalscoring form in the League Cup, but a series of yellow cards in League games, and poor displays in central midfield, saw him moved to right back where he showed better form, despite a tendency to back off the opposition attacker. There is no denying Geggan's will to win but he has not made the step up to the Championship as hoped.
Lewis Spence is a hardworking young midfielder who is currently out of the first team squad, and having enjoyed a run of games on loan at Brechin, it would be no surprise to see him loaned out again. Nat Wedderburn provides defensive cover in the centre of the pitch. After 3 League Cup appearances in July, injury prevented him from returning to the first team until the end of October. Not the most mobile of players, he has demonstrated what he can bring to the team in the past few weeks, and the most recent 2 games (at Ayr and home to St Mirren) have been his best performances for Dunfermline so far.
John Herron has, perhaps, been the best performing Pars midfielder this season. Signed on loan from Blackpool on 31 August, had an excellent game in his first start for the team at home to St Mirren, but suffered an injury the following week at Ayr. Since his return in November, he has started weekly. Significantly, the team have only lost once in the 11 games he has played. Herron has the ability to open up play in midfield and combines well with Wedderburn, the pair's different styles working well together.
As a former winger himself, Allan Johnston's Pars teams have almost always featured 2 wide players. Joe Cardle, so outstanding in League 1 last season, was expected to be one of Dunfermline's main players in 2016/17 but after scoring a hat-trick in the opening League game against Dumbarton, he has found life difficult against higher quality opposition. He has only started 2 League games in the past 10 weeks, and one of those was due to Kallum Higginbotham serving a 1 game suspension. Michael Paton is another of last season's regulars who has been used sparingly this term. After missing pre-season training and the opening League Cup games due to a summer hernia operation, Paton has been in and out of the team, and while clearly a talented player, the manager has preferred the pacier and more direct options available to him in the squad.
Kallum Higginbotham (pictured below) has been the team's talisman in the past few months. A maverick talent who is also a hard worker with a great attitude, all that prevents him becoming a truly great player is, perhaps, not scoring enough goals. He is critical to Dunfermline's season and has been one of Johnston's best signings. Paul McMullan was signed on loan from Celtic and after featuring as a substitute for much of the first few weeks of this season, has now been a regular starter over the past 2 months. A throw-back to the old fashioned winger that Scotland once produced regularly, McMullan has impressed through his direct running at his opponent, and his ability to play on either wing.
Tomorrow: the forwards
Photos by Pars Review