Scottish Championship - Saturday 03/12/16 - KO 3.00pm - East End Park
Odds (Skybet): Dunfermline 19/20; Draw 5/2; Ayr United 5/2
Familiar opponents due to both teams being in the same divisions since season 2013/14, Dunfermline and Ayr meet tomorrow at East End Park with the visitors ahead of the Pars in the Championship table but with the gap narrowing compared to a few weeks ago. Last season, Dunfermline finished 18 points ahead of Ayr in League 1. As one of only 2 part-time clubs in the Championship (Dumbarton being the other), Ayr were second favourites for relegation this season, after winning promotion through the play-offs. The form they have shown in the opening 14 games, particularly in a 4 game period in October when they won 3 and drew 1 game, has resulted in their odds on being relegated lengthen, and they are now rated by most bookies to finish 7th in the division - the position they currently occupy.
A run of 3 consecutive defeats for Ayr was ended with a draw against Raith Rovers in the most recent League game on 22 November. The single point gained from those 4 games has seen the gap between Ayr and the Pars reduce from 7 points to 3, and a Dunfermline win tomorrow would see the Pars move above Ayr on goal difference.
After Ayr's Scottish Cup game at Brechin was postponed due to the weather on Saturday, they won the midweek rearranged fixture 1-0 with a goal from Irish striker Andy O'Connell. Ayr manager Ian McCall had this to say after the game: "We deserved to win but we didn't play well. It wasn't pretty and at times it was too slow. 1-0 was a fair reflection as we hit the bar and the post."
Here is the current Championship table:
After conceding just 1 goal in the previous 3 games, Dunfermline defended poorly as a team in the 5-3 win at Buckie last week. The back 4 were given little protection or help by the central midfield, who allowed their non-league opponents to drift past them at will, and also - due to Nat Wedderburn's error - directly cost one of the Buckie goals. The Pars have won 3 League games this season from 14 games, and 2 of those games saw 3 goals conceded (the 4-3 wins against Dumbarton and St Mirren) so it is clear that to achieve anything, the level of defending must return to the standard shown for most of November, prior to the Buckie game.
Pars line up: the manager's selection
Injured players: Andy Geggan, David Hopkirk, Gavin Reilly, Ben Richards-Everton and Ryan Williamson.
Manager Allan Johnston has to decide whether to bring Jason Talbot back into the team, after giving Conner Duthie a first start of the season at left back last week. The remainder of the defence almost picks itself. In midfield, the manager's favourite Rhys McCabe will be up against John Herron for the midfield slot alongside Nat Wedderburn. On the wings, Joe Cardle remains out of favour, and with Paul McMullan playing so well last week, and Kallum Higginbotham impressing after coming on as a second half substitute, it could be that Michael Paton will drop to the bench. Up front, Farid El Alagui could replace the Moff, alongside regular starter Nicky Clark.
Preferred Pars line-up (with squad numbers):
With the players available, I would bring Talbot back in, and have Herron alongside Wedderburn in central midfield. On current form, McMullan and Higginbotham should start on the wings. I would bring Farid into the team alongside Clark up front.
Photo by Pars Review.
Tomorrow: Game Day image and full match report/opinion, photos and Pars player ratings.