The Pars face their biggest challenge so far this season in Ibrox League Cup game
Betfred Cup - Wednesday 9 August 2017 - Ibrox Stadium - KO 7.45pm
The last 16 of the Betfred League Cup sees Allan Johnston take his Dunfermline team west to visit Rangers. For the second consecutive away game in the competition, the Pars face Premiership opposition as outsiders; the previous game, at Hearts, saw Dunfermline come within minutes of winning the game in what was as good a display from a Pars team as any in the past few years. Tomorrow evening is an even bigger test.
The opposition: Rangers
After the embarrassing Europa League exit to Luxembourg part timers Progres Niederkorn in early July, Rangers found themselves with a gap of over 4 weeks before their next competitive fixture. The time in between was spent playing 5 friendlies, 3 of which were behind closed doors, games that resulted in 3 victories, a draw and a defeat.
Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha has added 10 new players to the his squad this summer. Significantly, 2 of the biggest profile signings were not in the Rangers team that lost to Progres: Bruno Alves was on holiday after playing through the summer in the Confederations Cup, and Graham Dorrans joined after Europa exit. By the time the first Premiership game was played at the weekend, both players were in the starting 11, with Dorrans getting both goals in a 2-1 win at Motherwell. The quote above was taken from Caixinha's post-match press conference.
The Pars will go to Ibrox aiming to recapture the form showed in the previous Betfred Cup game at Tynecastle. The Dunfermline display that day contrasted with the sub-standard performance in the next game, the Championship opener at Livingston, with the first half being particularly poor, and described by keeper and stand-in captain Sean Murdoch as "terrible". The Pars were without captain Callum Morris, and it is to be hoped (although not yet confirmed) that he will return at Ibrox, as much for his leadership qualities as his undoubted ability in defence. The team I have selected below is on the basis of Morris being fit to play.
Other areas of the team that could see changes are at left back, where Johnston will be tempted to play Jason Talbot in place of Lewis Martin, and in right midfield, where Fraser Aird will surely be replaced by Kallum Higginbotham. Aird was substituted before half time against Livingston for tactical reasons and as a reflection of his poor showing (although he was not alone). Higgy, who started as a striker at Livi, will likely drop back to the right wing in place of Aird.
I have concerns over the mobility of our 2 central midfielders (Big Nat and Michael Paton) for this game, but they are almost certain to retain their places, partly due to lack of alternatives.
Nicky Clark is still out injured, but the suspended Declan McManus, unavailable at Livingston, is free to play in the League Cup, before he completes his 2 match League suspension this weekend.
David Hopkirk played for an hour at Livingston and I have selected him to partner McManus up front. This is no reflection on young Callum Smith, who has done well, but I feel experience is required for the Rangers game, although Hopkirk (24) and McManus (23 last week) are hardly veterans themselves. Dean Shiels would have been my choice to partner McManus, but I feel he is still lacking fitness, based on his run-out against Livingston, and that Johnston went with Hopkirk ahead of Shiels when making the first half change.
Preferred Pars starting 11, based on the above comments:
Callum Morris photo, plus Pedro Caixinha edit, by Pars Review.
Match report/opinion with photos will be posted here around 11.30pm tomorrow evening.