The departure of Aidan Keena to parent club Hearts, ending a successful loan spell that most Pars fans would have hoped to have lasted for the full season, has deprived new head coach Stevie Crawford of his most potent goalscoring threat. Scoring goals has been a problem for Dunfermline all season, with only 22 scored in 21 Championship games. Compare this to last season, when after the same number of League games we had scored 37 times. The irony of our top scorer of the past 2 seasons, Nicky Clark, scoring against us for the only goal of our game against Dundee United on Saturday, was not lost on anyone who has concerns over this season's Pars team and their inability to convert possession and decent form into goals.
With 6 goals, Myles Hippolyte is our top scorer this season. More often played as a winger than a centre forward, Hippolyte's half dozen goals have come in a total of 1509 minutes on the pitch - almost 17 full 90 minute games. He averages a goal every 252 minutes, or just under 3 full games per goal.
Aidan Keena's absence will be a blow to the team as he had the best goals per minute average in the squad. Five goals in 873 minutes averages out at just better than a goal every other full match. In total, Keena made 14 appearances and his goal return, while not in the same bracket as Stephen Dobbie or Lawrence Shankland, is reasonably impressive and will be hard to replace.
Andy Ryan, now long-term injured, had a respectable return of a goal every 193 minutes, despite failing to score in his last 6 appearances before his injury. Brothers Louis and Jackson Longridge complete the group of players on 5 goals. Louis, a player whose best position still seems to be undefined, is another who made a bright start to the season but he was able to score in just one of his last 11 appearances pre-injury, when he scored twice in an Irn Bru Cup game against Alloa in October. Jackson Longridge has a healthy goal return for a fullback, and it is to his credit that he features on this list. His goals per minute ratio is obviously not as high as certain other players but has scored more than the combined totals of Kallum Higginbotham (2 goals this season), Aidan Connolly (1 goal) and Robbie Muirhead (none) - these 3 players being wingers/attackers whose goal returns have been well below what we might have expected from them.
There are of course many factors that go into how many goals are scored. Creativity, willingness to shoot, confidence, injury to key players, bad luck, failure to adequately replace natural goalscorers such as Clark.... and many other issues.
We needed a greater goalscoring threat before Keena's return to Hearts and while a centre forward is key to a team's success - look at Ayr United with Shankland, and also question how Queen of the South would fare without Dobbie - we need a bigger contribution from the whole team, both in terms of scoring goals and also creating chances. Stevie Crawford will be very conscious of the need to add at least one player, goalscorer or creator, who will help the team to find the net on a much more regular basis between now and the end of the season.
Here are the goal statistics for the 2018/19 Pars top scorers. For the purposes of this article, I have not included any players with less than 3 goals.
Ratings for each player's performance in yesterday's game v Dundee United.
LEE ROBINSON 6.5 No chance with the United goal. Gave an assured performance throughout.
JAMES CRAIGEN 5 More interested in arguing with the referee at the free kick which lead to the game's only goal. Out of position when the ball was cleared then delivered back in for Clark to score.
DANNY DEVINE 5.5 Couple of slack moments. No doubting his attitude but doesn't spread confidence.
LEE ASHCROFT 6 Committed but still nowhere near last season's level.
JACKSON LONGRIDGE 5.5 Needs a challenge to his currently guaranteed starting slot. A long way off his early season form.
MYLES HIPPLOYTE 7.5 My man of the match. Alternated between the right side of a midfield 5 with moving forward when we switched to 4-3-3. Huge improvement from last week. His run in the second half when he controlled the ball with his head was a highlight.
TOM BEADLING 5 Anonymous - must impose himself and be much more visible in games such as this.
JAMES VINCENT 6.5 The team's dominant midfielder, in the first half especially, but loses a point for missing the target with an excellent opportunity from inside the penalty box.
JOE THOMSON 6 As always, Joe runs all day. Needs support from team mates to release the ball to as he lacks trickery to get past players in attacking positions.
KALLUM HIGGINBOTHAM 6 Often had to resort to right footed flicks on the left wing instead of using his left foot. The creative focal point of the team but it's not really clicking for him at the moment.
AIDAN KEENA 6 Feeding off scraps and didn't connect properly when trying long range shots. We're not getting the best out of him, which is not his fault.
CALLUM SMITH 5 Chased around the United defenders but did little of any consequence.
AIDAN CONNOLLY 4 Failed to get the ball into the box when given multiple chances to do so. What we'd give to have Fraser Aird or an on-form Joe Cardle in that position.
MALAURY MARTIN 5 Cultured but just doesn't suit the type of game we play in this country.
Here is Ben's matchday vlog for today's Dundee United/Pars game.
Click below to watch and please subscribe to Ben's YouTube channel here: goo.gl/wVbBnL
In these 3 videos, Ben looks at the departure of Allan Johnston and what changes could follow (on Wednesday), and then today discusses Stevie Crawford's appointment as head coach with Greg Shields as his assistant.
Click below to watch and please subscribe to Ben's YouTube channel here: goo.gl/wVbBnL
The DAFC directors today made a long overdue decision by sacking manager Allan Johnston and his assistant Sandy Clark. After weeks of tepid performances, the board's loyalty to their manager finally ended following the draw with Alloa, that saw Dunfermline throw away a 2-0 half time lead, changing formation to try to contain our part time opponents in a second half that will go down as Johnston's last, and one of his worst.
Johnston's CV will rightly claim that in all of his full seasons in charge of the club, he improved our League position. From winning League 1 in 2016, to last season's top 4 Championhsip position, on the surface it seemed to be continuous improvement. This season would almost certainly have ended that run, had he been left in charge, with the club currently languishing in seventh place in the Championship, having won just 2 League games at home all season. Anger in the stands had turned to apathy and attendances were beginning to fall. There was no sign from the manager that he had the ability or the personality to turn things round. Instead, he became more stubborn and would never once take personal responsibility for a poor result.
As fans, ultimately we want our club's manager to succeed, for his success is ours. What we also look for is someone to believe in. Johnston was something of an introvert and had no connection with the fans. This meant he had very little goodwill stored up for periods when his team struggled. The board kept faith in him long after most of the supporters lost theirs. I stated in November, after the home defeat from Falkirk, that he should have been released then: we had a 2 week break before our next game, which would have given a new manager time to prepare for games to come and also to assess the squad in advance of the January transfer window. However, we plodded on with Johnston in charge, going nowhere fast.
Stevie Crawford has taken temporary charge but I do not see him as a candidate for the job on a permanent basis. He strikes me as more of an assistant than a manager. Predicting the next boss without being aware of potential candidates' availability means that I can only give a preference, not knowing if certain people are willing to either change clubs or give up a full time job outside football.
I would like to see Lee Bullen be given his first permanent manager's role. Bullen has been a coach at Sheffield Wednesday since 2011, initially with the youth team and then, in 2015, as assistant manager to boss Carlos Carvalhal. Following Carvalhal's departure in 2017, Wednesday's next manager Jos Luhukay kept Bullen on as coach. When Luhukay was sacked last month, Bullen had a 4 game undefeated spell as interim manager, before retained as part of new manager Steve Bruce's coaching team, although Bruce did bring in 2 other coaches as his number 2 and 3.
As a former Par, Bullen would also have a good degree of popularity amongst the Dunfermline fanbase. So too would Stewart Petrie, who has done an excellent job at Montrose but who has a full time job away from football. Alloa manager Jim Goodwin would complete my trio of preferred candidates. He too has a job outside football but may have ambitions to manage full-time.
Thanks to AJ for his efforts over the years. I hope his break from the game allows him to analyse the good and bad from his time with Dunfermline and that he emerges a better all-round manager at his next club.
As for his replacement: it's Bullen for me.
Ben has filmed 2 videos today, with his reaction to AJ's departure and also who might be in line next for the Pars job. You can watch both videos below or by visiting Ben's YouTube channel here: goo.gl/wVbBnL
23 years ago today, I walked into a newsagent on my way to work, the same routine I had every day back then. It was a Monday and that weekend I had been at Love Street, Paisley, where I watched the Pars lose 2-1 to St Mirren. It had been a disappointing day, the result a blow to our promotion hopes, and the game was still on my mind when I left home for work, knowing that my work colleagues would remind me of the score during the morning tea break.
In the mid 1990s, the internet had yet to become the main source of people's news. If you hadn't been listening to the radio, or made a point of listening to the scheduled news updates on tv and radio (or at a push, read Teletext), you relied on the day's newspapers for your source of what had been happening. That morning, January 8, 1996, I was surprised to see the face and name of my football team's captain on most of the front pages. As I moved closer, surprise turned to shock and disbelief. Norrie McCathie, Dunfermline Athletic's captain, had been found dead in his home, along with his girlfriend. He was 34 years old.
Norrie had already been at East End Park for 10 years by the time I started supporting Dunfermline. Signed by Pat Stanton from Cowdenbeath in 1981, Norrie had been a midfielder and it was there he featured in his first couple of seasons with the Pars, usually wearing number 8. It wasn't until the arrival of Jim Leishman that Norrie was converted into a central defender, switching roles and shirt number, from then on the club's number 4 and the cornerstone of everything that developed in the Leishman era. Together with his great friend John Watson, Norrie became the on-field driving force that every manager craves for. The heart of a lion, the determination to succeed, to never, ever give up: qualities that would see Norrie retain his place in the Pars defence as managers came and went. They all kept Norrie in that number 4 shirt: after Leishman, Ian Munro, then Jocky Scott; then, in another golden period to rival Leishman's era, the 1990s revival under Bert Paton, who would be Norrie's final manager.
Norrie was everything that his legend suggests: a leader, first and foremost. He was a decent footballer who made up for anything he lacked with his fantastic attitude. A man who made Dunfermline his home and owned businesses (partnered with his friend John Watson) in the town. Rarely has someone been so part of the fabric and the identity of a town. Every single time he lead out the team, I believed in him. I knew this guy was the real deal and I loved what he represented.
The Paton years saw Dunfermline battle for promotion to the Premier League but often miss out agonisingly in the period before a top 4 finish gave you a second chance in play-offs. How Norrie would have loved to have lifted the trophy, as his deputy Craig Robertson did, in May 1996. After his passing, his number 4 shirt was retired for the season, but the spirit of Dunfermline Athletic stayed strong. Bert and Dick were a tremendous management duo, while senior players including Craig Robertson and Ian Westwater took over the onfield leadership and lead the club to the title and promotion. Those of us who were at Tannadice in the penultimate League game could almost feel Norrie's presence - battling with 10 men to a 1-0 win that set us up for a last-day victory at home to clinch the title. When Westie caught the ball right under the bar at the end, under great pressure from Dundee United's players, we cheered as if a goal had been scored. His team mates all congratulated him. In amongst them, the biggest pat on the back might have come from an unseen number 4, there in spirit, making sure his boys got the job done, still the captain, forever the captain.
Above: the Norrie McCathie Stand holds up number 4 with Pars stripes either side to mark the 20th anniversary of Norrie's death, in January 2016. Below: the players line-up in a specially commissioned 1995/96 away kit, the final Pars kit worn by Norrie, before the game against Cowdenbeath, January 2016.
Ratings for each player's performance in yesterday's game v Alloa.
LEE ROBINSON 6 Little chance with either of Alloa's goals. Made a good diving save in the first half.
JAMES CRAIGEN 5.5 Anonymous for most of the match until he was subbed due to injury.
DANNY DEVINE 5 Flapped about like a fish on the floor of a trawler when the ball went passed him to Trouten for Alloa's opener.
LEE ASHCROFT 5.5 In the team through past reputation - simply not a leader.
JACKSON LONGRIDGE 5 Failed to cut out and then prevent Trouten's second goal. Has had a huge dip in form since the opening games of the season.
TOM BEADLING 5 Another player who did a disappearing act for most of the game.
JAMES VINCENT 5.5 Was there to do the usual breaking up of play but had a second half to forget.
JOE THOMSON 6.5 As always, the team's hardest worker. Never hides.
AIDAN KEENA 7 Excellent turn and shot for the first goal. His shot forced Parry's save which led to the own goal for our second.
MYLES HIPPOLYTE 4 First touch: diabolical. Gives away fouls constantly. Blasted a free kick nearly into the street.
KALLUM HIGGINBOTHAM 5 Decent first half but his performance and legs both gave way in a dismal second 45.
RYAN WILLIAMSON 5.5 Got a couple of crosses in but defensively still looks suspect. Nice lad but needs a confidence boost from somewhere.
Here is Ben's matchday vlog for today's Pars/Alloa game.
Click below to watch and please subscribe to Ben's YouTube channel here: goo.gl/xdsTRA
The build-up to our next game, against Alloa on Saturday, starts here.
A full match preview will be posted tomorrow.
Here's some of the highlights and lowlights of the 12 months just gone by.........
PLAYER OF 2018
With some many of the 2017/18 squad leaving the club at the end of the season, and others who have spanned the whole calendar year not always featuring regularly in the first team - through injury or simply not being selected - choosing the best overall player is open to debate. Those who played regularly throughout the year - Lee Robinson, Ryan Williamson, Lee Ashcroft, Kallum Higginbotham, James Craigen, James Vincent - have had periods where their form has shaded. So was there a player who was so outstanding for either the January - May period, or July - December, to deserve the award for the whole of 2018? I'd answer no to that question, and for consistency over the whole 12 months, my selection is Lee Robinson. Lee Ashcroft's form dipped for at least 3 months in the autumn/early winter, while others such as Higgy have been in and out of form throughout the year. There was a temptation to select Jackson Longridge based on his performances since joining DAFC in July but ultimately it's Robinson that I feel was our top performer over the year.
Jackson Longridge's piledriver at Alloa is a strong contender but for me, Fraser Aird's run in from left midfield that ended with a curling shot into the far right corner against Brechin in April was the most outstanding Pars goal of 2018.
21st April 2018: deep into injury time, we are 2-1 behind to Inverness, who would move above us into the fourth promotion play-off place with one further League game remaining, should they hold on. Substitute Joe Cardle has a free kick on the Pars' right, which he plays into a crowded box of players. Nicky Clark gets his head to the ball to score a precious equaliser, and bedlam follows.
Obviously, losing the play-off game at Tannadice after playing so well was a huge blow. Added to that particular game are the collective results that the team have had this season - we are capable of much better than seventh place and that has to go down as a big disappointment.
Over the summer period, it was very disappointing to see the departures of key players including Callum Morris, Nicky Clark and Fraser Aird to other clubs in the Championship.
This part of the review cannot end without a mention of Faissal El Bakhtaoui's return to DAFC. A signing that was met by genuine excitement by many (myself included), he has struggled badly, scoring just once in the Championship - and that was a penalty. If his loan deal can be ended early - and it's a big 'if' - he could be set to return to Dundee this month, something I never thought I'd suggest a few months ago.
The midfield trio signed in January transformed our season - from the weakest area of the team to arguably the strongest. James Craigen, James Vincent and Tom Beadling all made a positive impact, although it's a shame that Beadling has missed so much football with injuries - now fully fit, and could be a big player for us in 2019.
Despite the strong claims those 3 players would make, I'm giving this to Jackson Longridge. He has provided an attacking threat from the left back position and has been the standout performer of this season, since signing for the club in the summer. Lee Robinson, my player of 2018, also signed in January but while I have chosen Robinson for the best player spanning the 12 months, in my view it's Longridge who will prove to be our best signing of 2018, moving forward into the new year and (hopefully) seasons to come.
BEST STARTING 11
Every player who played during 2018 is eligible for this ''best of'' Pars team. With a 4-4-2 line-up, here is my best starting 11. Some players naturally miss out as others were marginally better in the same position (no shoe-horning players in, out of position, for the sake of it!). I have selected Tom Beadling despite him playing far less games than other such as James Vincent and James Craigen, as I feel he is a better player and should be included on that basis. Here's the team:
SPECIAL MENTION FOR.......
While the single best moment of the year was the equaliser at Inverness, the weekend away at Borehamwood will live long in the memory. Ironically, the game itself - an Irn Bru Cup tie with no goals, and the Pars winning a penalty shoot-out - was poor, but the weekend was a great couple of days away. I left work (back when I was doing shifts in my previous job) just in time to drive through to East End Park at 9.30pm on the Friday evening, where my son Ben was already on the supporters' bus. We left soon after and had an overnight drive down through England to our destination, just outside Watford, north of London. A great experience for the 48 hours between leaving and returning.