Dunfermline's next test in what is a predictably challenging Championship campaign comes against the second favourites for the division title, Dundee United, at East End Park on Saturday. Both clubs were among the pre-season favourites for the title but after 4 games, have only registered 1 victory each. With neither club in the division last season - the Pars promoted from League 1, and United relegated from the Premiership - it was the Tayside club who were expected to be Hibs' closest rivals for the top position in the league. There is every chance that may still be the case, although the gap between first and second could be greater than anticipated.
United's relegation followed a dreadful season that saw 2 managers sacked. Former player Ray McKinnon was their choice as their third boss in less than 12 months, with his work with Raith Rovers - qualifying for a promotion play-off place last season - convincing the United directors that he was the best option to take the club back to the Premiership. The board have backed their new manager in the transfer market, with 11 new players signed over the past few weeks, including Willo Flood (now in his third spell at the club), Cammy Bell and Tony Andreu, the latter on loan from Norwich (see article on this blog: http://www.parsreview.org/blog/focus-on-the-foe-tony-andreu ). As often happens, such wholesale changes require time for new players to become familiar with each other and their new manager, and United have made a slower start to the season than hoped for, with 5 points from a possible 12. Leaders Hibs have maximum points after the same number of games played. The League table below shows how the first 4 games have gone:
The clubs have met already this season, in a Betfred League Cup group game at Tannadice on 31 July, when United won 2-0. The teams that start the game on Saturday will contain new signings made since that game, and Dunfermline will, significantly, have Andy Geggan available, with the captain missing the Betfred game due to suspension.
Pars boss Allan Johnston has options available throughout the team. With Sean Murdoch only just returning to light training, David Hutton will continue in goal. Ryan Williamson is relatively unchallenged for the right-back slot, partly because Jason Talbot's suspension will see Lewis Martin at left-back. In central defence, Lee Ashcroft appears to be, deservedly, an automatic choice with the only question being which player will partner him. Callum Fordyce may retain his place after playing at Brechin in the Challenge Cup last week, although Ben Richards-Everton could return, after being rested last week to give Fordyce game time.
In midfield, there are 4 players competing for the 2 wide positions. Joe Cardle is surely certain to start on the left. Paul McMullan and Kallum Higginbotham can play on both sides, while right midfielder Michael Paton might be favourite to begin the game in his familiar role, linking up with Ryan Williamson. This would still leave McMullan and Higginbotham as excellent options from the bench. The 2 central midfield positions will see Andy Geggan plus one other; Nat Wedderburn may lack match sharpness to start the game, with Rhys McCabe likely to play beside Geggan. New loan signing John Herron is another contender, while Lewis Spence was an unused substitute at Brechin last week, leaving him behind several players for a starting position.
Up front, there are more options available than at any point so far this season. Farid El Alagui may need more training and Under 20s games before he starts a first team game, but he offers something different in terms of physical presence and could make an impact from the bench later in the game. The front 2 from last week - Gavin Reilly and Nicky Clark - will probably start the game, with the Moff on the bench. The other forward/attacking mdfield option, David Hopkirk, is still injured.
Possible Pars starting 11, with squad numbers: