Betfred League Cup, Group C, final game
If Pars fans - and management - were under any illusions of how difficult the season ahead could be, today's game surely confirmed that the step up to Championship level will prove a huge challenge. Allowances have to be made for the high number of absentees from the squad - even two of the substitutes, Michael Paton and Callum Fordyce, had no chance of being involved, as evidenced by the use of one teenage sub to replace another when an injury occurred late in the game, with Paton and Fordyce unused. Of the other unavailable players, Ryan Williamson would possibly not have started today due to his at times suspect defensive capabilities - he was replaced today by Lewis Martin (pictured, right); David Hopkirk is unproven at Championship level; Gavin Reilly has yet to fully convince up front but time must be allowed for that; while two players definitely missed - Sean Murdoch (injured) and Andy Geggan (suspended) - will undoubtedly improve the team on their return. The previously mentioned Paton and Fordyce will also be valuable players in the months to come, once fully fit. The severe lack of options in attack produced a toothless display, often feeding off scraps but with no physical threat and poor support from the midfield trio of Cardle, Spence and McCabe. To make matters worse, during the 90 minutes today, 3 players went off injured: McCabe, who had a dreadful game; Wedderburn , who along with Lee Ashcroft was the team's best player; and teenage sub James Thomas, who had to be replaced late on by teenage debutant Scott Lochhead. Paul McMullan replaced McCabe, and went up front alongside Moffat, with Kallum Higginbotham dropping into midfield. Even the mercurial Higgy (seen below, with Rhys McCabe) was below his best today, although he never hid.
United looked taller and stronger all over the pitch, and from the first minute took the game to Dunfermline and dominated possession.
As the first half went on, the Pars created a couple of chances, with Ben Richards-Everton very unfortunate not to score with what looked like a goal-bound header. Three minutes into the second half, United took the lead when Simon Murray headed home from 6 yards. The Pars looked increasingly unable to get back into the game, and didn't force United keeper Cammy Bell to make a save of any real note in the final 40 minutes.
With 8 minutes remaining, Richards-Everton gave away a free kick just outside the penalty area and from the kick, Scott Fraser beat David Hutton to double the home side's lead. With this win, United progressed to the knock-out stage of the cup at the expense of Dunfermline.
Additions have to be made soon to this small, and depleted, first team squad, with the priority being at least one new striker. Questions also have to be asked of some of the manager's decisions in the summer, retaining certain midfielders who could not get a game last season, expecting them to miraculously become better players against higher quality opposition, and releasing one of the team's best players, Josh Falkingham, who the manager himself admitted had been in such good form last season that the likes of McCabe and Spence could not get a game.
Pars line -up with marks out of 10 for each player:
Photos by Pars Review. A full match photo gallery will be uploaded tomorrow.