Yesterday, Pars Review put a poll on Twitter asking fans about the number of new players needed to improve the current playing squad. This is on the basis that we retain our Championship status. We are still just 4 points off the relegation play-off place, which seems incredible given that we have lost only 2 League games since November. However, our goal difference is better than any of the teams below us, and we have a game in hand over 2 of the teams who are immediately below us.
In the same way that Morton consolidated their Championship place in 2015/16, after winning League 1 in 2014/15, and this season have made a promotion bid, the Pars will be looking to do the same next season, after last season's League 1 title triumph, and this season's return to the Championship. The team's form has fluctuated, with excellent recent performances at Hibs and Morton in between dire home displays against Queen of the South and Ayr. At their best, Dunfermline can compete with the current top 4 clubs, but the squad will require some changes to produce wins in games that have been drawn this season.
The Twitter poll is shown below. I would agree with the majority vote.
The Hibs and Morton away games set the standard for how the team can perform. I have approached this article with that in mind, taking a positive view of how well these players can play, and not based on how poor they have been in other games. To compete at the top end of the division next season, I believe that the current first 11 are all capable and should all be retained if possible. Players such as Paul McMullan are on loan and in McMullan's case out of contract with his parent club, Celtic, at the end of this season.
Greater strength in depth is required. New signings should not just be marginal improvements on the current substitutes, but players who are on the same level - or better - than the current starting 11, and who will put greater pressure on the current team than the players who are squad members this season, few of whom have made a strong case for being part of the team. Some are decent subs and are good options as cover - I would retain Rhys McCabe and Michael Paton from this season's regular substitutes. Others are not good enough, and some have another year left on their contracts, and so may remain because they would struggle to secure full time football with other clubs. Loaning certain players out, if possible, would be a good option. Any new signings should then be players who would put in a strong challenge for a first team place. Despite my criticism of the team in recent match reports, I believe the starting 11 are good enough to challenge for a play-off place next season, especially if they are supplemented by a stronger group of players than the current substitutes.
In reality, some players will move on, others may be retained due to their contracts still having a year to run. I have listed the players who are out of contract this summer and who I would retain or release; also listed are players under contract until 2018, and others who are on loan. Of the players contracted until 2018, I have indicated whether they should stay or whether a deal to release them (which would involve renegotiating the final year of their contract) or loan them out should be considered. I am aware that this might not be possible in reality.
Contracts ending summer 2017
David Hutton - release
Callum Fordyce - release
Andy Geggan - retain
Callum Morris - retain
Ben Richards-Everton - release
Jason Talbot - retain
Ryan Williamson - release
Midfielders & Wingers
Kallum Higginbotham - retain
Rhys McCabe - retain
Michael Paton - retain
Lewis Spence - release
Nat Wedderburn - retain
Michael Moffat - retain
Contracts ending 2018:
Sean Murdoch - retain
Lee Ashcroft - retain
Lewis Martin - loan out if possible
Midfielders & Wingers
Joe Cardle - release/loan out if possible
Nicky Clark - retain
David Hopkirk - release if possible
John Herron - retain
Paul McMullan - retain
Gavin Reilly - return to parent club
New signings needed in the following areas:
Goalkeeper (mainly as number 2 to Sean Murdoch)
Right back (competition/cover for Andy Geggan)
Centre half (or 2 centre-halves, including 1 who can cover at left back)