After revamping the Pars' first team and reserve squad with younger players, manager Stevie Crawford captured experienced midfielder Paul Paton yesterday. Several weeks ago, after the releasing the bulk of out of contract players from the season just ended, the manager stated that he was aiming to sign young and hungry players plus at least 2 ''older heads'' with good attitudes to help guide the more youthful new recruits. Paul Paton fits that description perfectly, having turned 32 in April and with over 450 appearances in his career for his previous clubs.
Paul began his career with Queens Park, making his debut aged 18 and playing 107 times over a 3 year period. He then moved across Glasgow to Partick Thistle in 2008. He was a first team regular in all of his 5 seasons at Firhill, making 183 appearances. By the time he left Thistle, he was just turned 26 years old and had made almost 300 appearances in the Scottish League.
Tannadice was his next destination and during a 3 year stay he played 95 times for Dundee United, before signing for St Johnstone and then Plymouth Argyle. He has also been capped 5 times by Northern Ireland, qualifying for the Irish team through his father.
Moving to Falkirk last summer, Paul was arguably a victim of Paul Hartley's scattergun approach to signing virtually a whole new squad of players, most of whom barely resembled professional footballers. It was clear when watching Falkirk last season that Paul Paton was a frustrated figure, one of the few reliable players in what was otherwise a very poor squad, even after Hartley's successor Ray McKinnon had a January clearout and replaced Hartley's duds with a new set of slightly better duds.
As the photo above shows, Paul captained Dundee United for part of his time at the club, a role he may well take on at Dunfermline - he is certainly the type of character that would be ideal to lead the squad and perhaps allow Lee Ashcroft to focus on his own game without what at times has seemed to be the burden of the captaincy. This is no criticism of Lee - there have been other players, Andy Smith among them, whose own form slumped after being made club captain, and in 2018/19, the season he was appointed captain, Lee Ashcroft undeniably played well below the standard he had set in the 2 seasons prior to that.
A hard working, honest player, Paul Paton described his style of play when signing for Plymouth in January 2018: "I have come down here to work hard, I like to make tackles, keep things simple and let the good players play."
These are attributes that will be welcomed at Dunfermline, and as a leader and the squad's most experienced player, he could prove to be as important off the pitch as on it over the coming season.
Goals were in short supply for Dunfermline in season 2018/19, with the club's top scorer Myles Hippolyte finding the net 6 times, only 2 of which were in the League. The team finished the season as lowest scorers in the Championship, averaging less than a goal per game. It was clear that this summer's transfer activity had to include the addition of at least one first team ready striker, to add to the forwards already in the new-look squad. Yesterday, Stevie Crawford added such a player when Kevin Nisbet joined from Raith Rovers.
22 year old Nisbet scored 34 times in the season just ended. Raith lost out on promotion to the Championship after defeat in a play-off with Queen of the South. This triggered a clause in his contract which allowed him to speak to other clubs.
Kevin Nisbet's career started with Partick Thistle as a youth team player. He joined East Stirling - then of League 2 - on loan in the 2014/15 season and scored 6 goals in 11 games. On returning to Firhill, he made 25 appearances, mainly from the bench, and had further loan spells at Dumbarton and Ayr United. Then came his move to Kirkcaldy last summer and 34 goals in 45 appearances over the course of the season.
The video below shows many of Kevin's goals for the Wee Team. The video was made by the YouTube uploader and has been linked from their YouTube channel - I have no claim to the content or creation of the video):
Raith Rovers chairman Bill Clark had this to say about the striker earlier this week: ''He had a clause in his contract that allowed him to talk to other clubs if we didn't go up to the Championship.
"He has activated that clause, but this does not prevent Raith Rovers from claiming training development compensation from whichever club he goes to.
"We know three Championship clubs are interested in him, we've talked to all three of them, and his agent is involved as well.
"At the moment it's a question of will one of these clubs pay the compensation we're looking for. He's a really nice young lad who fitted in well, enjoyed his time here and scored a lot of goals for us. It just wasn't quite enough to get us to the Championship but we thank Kevin very much for his contribution.''
One of two arrivals from the Wee Team today, centre half Euan Murray has signed up for 2 years at East End Park. The defender, who had been at Stark's Park for the past 2 seasons, also captained Raith for a spell in 2018/19.
Euan began his career with Motherwell, making 3 appearances as a teenager, before joining Arbroath - playing just once - and then Clyde, where he made 5 appearances in the first half of the 2014/15 season.
In January 2015, aged 21, Euan made the move to the Solomon Islands to play for Western United. Located in the South Pacific, 1300 miles north of the coast of Australia, the move to the Islands was suggested by an agent who got in touch with Euan's dad, who commented at the time: ''Euan has been combining part time football with a job as a barman. Out of left field an agent suggested Western United. Euan was intrigued by this and the potential offer. Within 24 hours of the initial contact with the club's scout he was on a plane heading to the Pacific region. Euan and another player - Rash Ahmed from England - became the first British players to sign and play in the Solomon Islands.
''Their signing has created a big stir there and both of them have even been guests of the British High Commissioner to the country''.
The adventure lasted 4 months before Euan returned to Scotland in April 2015 and played one more game for Clyde. In the summer of that year he signed for Stenhousemuir. The season that followed was the first of his career that he was selected regularly, playing 32 games in total for the Warriors.
England was his next destination, splitting the 2016/17 season between playing for Barrow and then Southport.
Two summers ago he came back north to join Raith Rovers, making 90 appearances in the seasons that followed. Primarily a central defender, he came also play in both fullback positions. Versatility is key in the trimmed-down Pars squad for the season ahead but I would expect to see the player used mainly in central defence. He is at a good age to develop his game further and will hopefully be the defensive partner that will allow Lee Ashcroft to regain his best form.
One of the key Pars summer signings arrived at East End Park today when Stranraer midfielder Kyle Turner joined Dunfermline. The highly rated 21 year old has signed a 2 year deal and perfectly fits the description of young, hungry and talented that Stevie Crawford used to outline the type of player he wants to bring to the club. This is an excellent piece of business.
Kyle made his debut for Stranraer - his only senior club - at the age of 17 in September 2015. Playing 20 games in his first season, he then went onto make 37, 41 and another 41 appearances in the seasons that followed. Encouragingly, his goalscoring record has improved with each passing season, and he also has a combative side to his game judging by the 13 bookings he collected in 2018/19.
Kyle, born in Paisley in November 1997, is the son of former St Mirren midfielder Tommy Turner. He had a trial at West Bromwich Albion in May 2018 and has also been scouted by Aberdeen and Dundee United.
The video below shows one of Kyle's goals for Stranraer this season. It can be seen after 32 seconds (video owned by Stranraer FC, linked from their YouTube channel):
Thankfully, both Dunfermline and Stranraer were able to come to an agreement over the development fee that the League 1 club were due for the player. With Stevie Crawford's budget reduced for the coming season, it was vital to find middle ground in such a deal. It also shows how much the manager rates the player, as any type of cash deal these days is rare.
On the same day that the club came to an agreement to terminate Myles Hippolyte's contract, the signing of a young, talented player underlined the difference with last summer's disastrous recruitment by Allan Johnston - which included handing Hippolyte a 2 year contract. Attitude is every bit as important as ability, which is why the signing of Kyle Turner is to be welcomed. We have the makings of an energised team for next season, a team that will give their all on the pitch, which is all we can ask for.
''Is that the way I want us to play? Absolutely not'' - Stevie Crawford: one of the many encouraging comments to come out of last night's meeting at East End Park, which featured Ross McArthur, Stevie Crawford and Greg Shields, speaking openly and answering questions from the fans who attended. The style of play last season was a major issue for many, not least the management team. What was made abundantly clear was that there were serious issues with the squad, in terms of attitude. Obviously, nothing was specified, no names mentioned. However, the chairman and manager both made it clear, more than once, how big a barrier they faced in basically persuading several players to do their jobs, show pride and apply themselves.
''We will never again sign a player who thinks he's doing Dunfermline Athletic a favour by being here'' - Ross McArthur. The chairman spoke of the need to form a squad that the fans align with. We will not win every week and success can never be guaranteed. But as the chairman said, we need a team on the park that the supporters feel proud of. The 2019/20 squad will be younger - hungry and ambitious were other words used to describe the type of player and the type of person we are looking to recruit. The manager also hopes to add 2 or 3 older players with leadership qualities, although he admitted that type of player is not easy to find. Stevie Crawford recalled the example Ian Ferguson set at Dunfermline and it was made clear that we are interested in bringing a similar character to guide and motivate the younger players - and show a good example.
''Heart and desire'' - Greg Shields emphasised those qualities as key to what he and Stevie Crawford are trying to bring to the club. Shields had prepared a very impressive presentation, focused on the young reserve players, some of whom will hopefully be the future of the club. The former fullback is a very likeable and impressive figure, speaking with real passion about his job and his plans for the reserves, and their progress into the first team.
''Every day when I get out of bed, all I want to do is make Dunfermline Athletic better'' - Stevie Crawford. The manager stated that the attitude shown in games including the defeats by Ayr United and Queen of the South in the final quarter of the season would not be tolerated. Players who don't show the correct attitude (that word again) will not be welcome at East End Park. The manager put his hand to his heart while speaking about how much he had learned from players and coaches throughout his own playing career and how important it is that players give their all. He was livid with what he was watching in many of our matches towards the end of the season.
For a full report on the meeting, which included many other subjects other than those I have covered here, the official DAFC site will have the complete minutes online over the next few days. There were live updates from Lorna Morton on dafc.net which you can read here; and Ben's review on Instagram: please click here.
Stevie Crawford's second new signing was confirmed today when right back Aaron Comrie joined Dunfermline after his release from St Johnstone. On the same day that former right back Ryan Williamson signed for Patrick Thistle, Comrie (22) agreed a 1 year deal at East End Park.
Comrie, who began his career as a youth team player at Celtic, had been with St Johnstone since 2015, making 16 first team appearances. He was loaned out to 2 clubs during his 4 years in Perth: Montrose, from December 2015 to June 2016, playing 21 times, during which he scored the only goal of his career to date, in a win over East Stirling. He also featured 16 times on loan at Peterhead in the second half of the 2016/17 season.
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright commented on the player's departure from McDiarmid Park this week: "Aaron is at the age where he needs to be playing first-team football on a regular basis and I can't promise that here.
"Aaron is a good player though and leaves with the best wishes of all the staff here at McDiarmid Park."
Right back was a problem position for Dunfermline last season, with Williamson suffering dips in form, and midfielder James Craigen initially filling in and then becoming the preferred option. The arrival of Aaron Comrie means we now have a natural fullback to fill that role in the team, and a player who fits the description of ''young and hungry'' that Stevie Crawford spoke about when outlining the type of new signings he was looking for.
Attacking midfielder Ryan Dow became Dunfermline's first new signing of the summer when he joined up today on a 12 month contract. Dow, 27, made the first senior starts of his career 9 years ago this month when he appeared in Dundee United's final 2 Premiership games of the 2009/10 season, a few weeks before his 19th birthday.
Over the following 5 seasons, which included a 5 month loan spell at Forfar in 2011, he gradually established himself in the United first team, making 28 appearances between his 2010 debut and the end of the 2012/13 season. In August 2013, Ryan spoke of his determination to become a regular in the United team: ''I see this as a massive season for myself. In the last two years or so I have been in and out of the team so I am hoping to keep my place and get a good run of games.
''I have always said that is all I am wanting not in and out. It has been frustrating over the last couple of years but it is down to me as I have maybe come in for games and not done well enough.''
The following 2 seasons saw him feature more regularly, playing 31 and 32 games. His manager at Tannadice during those 2 seasons was current Pars football consultant Jackie McNamara.
The video below shows Ryan scoring for United in 2014 (video owned by SPFL, linked from their YouTube channel):
In September 2016 Ryan signed for Ross County and went onto play 24 games that season. His second season in Dingwall saw him make 23 appearances. After playing his whole career at that point in the top division - except for that short period on loan at Forfar - it came as a surprise that he dropped down 3 divisions in 2018 when he joined Peterhead on loan. Peterhead manager Jim McInally told local press: ''Ryan had a good pre-season but I think Ross County see him as more of a super-sub type player and I know, feeling as fit as he does, he wanted the opportunity to play. I also think he wants to show people that he is fit and well and is prepared to go and do the graft.''
The loan deal was made permanent in January this year. Not surprisingly, he was one of League 2's top performers over the past season, helping Peterhead win the title.
Ryan will be a useful addition to next season's Pars squad. It is encouraging that he was prepared to go down the divisions to play football every week, which says a lot about his attitude. He now has an opportunity in the Championship to get his career back on an upwards trajectory. Able to play in midfield, on the wing or behind the main striker, his versatility will also be a positive.
Stevie Crawford made an encouraging start to the post-season with yesterday's news that 9 out of contract players would not be offered new contracts, while the 4 on-loan players would all return to their parent clubs. This is exactly what was required after a poor season characterised by lifeless performances and defensive tactics largely employed due to lack of trust in the available players. Too many players treated games in March as if they were the type of meaningless end of season game that was played out at Inverness in May. A top 4 place was there for the taking and yet we narrowly avoided relegation, helped by other teams' results going in our favour in the final 2 weeks.
As I have mentioned several times in this site, a complete overhaul was required and so it was very pleasing to see such quick and decisive action taken yesterday. Releasing fewer players would have watered-down any hopes of a new start.
Here is a run-down of who was released, plus comments on the other out of contract players who were not included in the list and so presumably will be offered new deals. I will also cover the players still under contract and what their possible futures are at East End Park.
Sean Murdoch: not so much 'released' as retired, a decision he made himself after battling long-term injury for the past 2 seasons. A good servant to the club.
Lee Robinson: no surprise here - the goalkeeper was jettisoned immediately after Stevie Crawford was appointed, with the new manager not happy that a first choice goalkeeper was allowed to work part-time. Robinson had a good clean sheet record with the club but was also his own worst enemy at times, picking arguments with opposition players and wandering far from his goal.
Ryan Williamson: A player who needs a new club and a new challenge to kick-start his career. His form and confidence dipped over the past year and while never a great defender, his attacking runs also became less frequent.
Mark Durnan: An season interrupted by injury but in truth, he was not the standard of player required to push for promotion next season.
Aidan Connolly: No lack of effort but simply too small to cut it in a physically-demanding division.
Kallum Higginbotham: An enigma whose best days in a Pars strip were behind him. Along with Williamson - a player he once formed a decent right wing partnership with - needs a new club to start again and get his form back.
Louis Longridge: a player I feared would be offered a new deal. Has ability but lacks pace, slows the game down and has a bad first touch.
Robbie Muirhead: considering Allan Johnston once resigned as Kilmarnock manager when Muirhead was sold behind his back, what on earth was going on with this guy over the past 10 months? A complete waster.
Brandon Luke: A product of the youth system who never seemed likely to break into the first team squad.
Bruce Anderson: We rarely played to Bruce's strengths, and he was left isolated up front in far too many games. I'd like to see him back on loan next season, but would Aberdeen be agreeable?
Faissal El Bakhtaoui: The excitement that greeted his return eventually turned to despair. Not the same player as in his first spell. Dundee have ruined him.
James Vincent: Did relatively well after joining the club on loan in the second half of last season, but was a huge let down this season after his loan was extended for a further year. As with Faissal, he returns to Dundee out of contract and looking for a new club. Thankfully, it won't be Dunfermline Athletic.
Ryan Blair: decent set piece delivery, but other than that, an empty shirt.
THE REMAINING OUT OF CONTRACT PLAYERS
Ryan Scully: Has the option of extending his initial six month deal. A keeper I have always liked and would hope to see him back next season.
Cammy Gill: Has to be loaned out for the sake of his career. Another year on our bench is not what he needs now or for his future development.
Andy Ryan: Out injured since November but made a late substitute appearance in the final game at Inverness. A poacher who could still do a job for the club if we adopt a more attacking approach next season.
Lewis Martin: Missed almost the whole season except for the final 2 games, so cannot be included in the general criticism of the squad. Versatile player.
James Craigen: Another versatile player but has yet to nail down a starting place in any position. Good guy, but not one to build a team around.
Stuart Morrison: One of the more promising young players who could be retained next season.
Other youth/reserve players including Matty Todd, Paul Allan and Lewis McCann should also be given new deals.
STILL UNDER CONTRACT:
To finish this squad review, I will list the remaining first team squad players who still have another 12 months on their contracts, and who I would choose to retain, and who would be free to move on if they found a more suitable deal:
Jackson Longridge, Lee Ashcroft, Tom Beadling, Joe Thomson
Move on, if possible:
Danny Devine, Myles Hippolyte, Callum Smith
A season that began with promotion hopes is now entering its final baker's dozen of games, with Dunfermline facing involvement in a different type of play-off scenario, unlikely as it may have seemed back in August, at the wrong end of the table. Early season optimism was matched by performances on the pitch with an encouraging set of games in the Betfred Cup that preceded a win at Tannadice in the opening League game.
There is no need to re-hash in any great detail what has happened since - we all know the story and there is no point dwelling on what has been a hugely disappointing season to date. Instead, we can only concentrate on the final few weeks. So what can we hope for and expect in the 13 (or for some teams, 12) games to come, both for ourselves and our opponents?
Here is the current Championship table:
Having been at the Alloa v Falkirk game at the weekend, two of the clubs directly below us in the table, I was both wary and hopeful after seeing what both teams had to offer. Falkirk have gutted the squad signed only last summer by previous manager Paul Hartley and had a complete January rebuild under Ray McKinnon. Their team, so soft against us in games at the Falkirk Stadium this season, is now flooded with players over 6 foot. They were hard but fair, and dominated Alloa physically. Alloa, the only part time club in the Championship, had tidy footballers who were not helped by their own club's decision to narrow their own pitch to the legal minimum. This was their third consecutive defeat and they lacked incisiveness. The feeling I left with was that Falkirk would finish outside the relegation/play-off positions, the 3 points that they won having lifted them from tenth to eighth, a place I would not expect them to move downwards from. Indeed, they may even finish midtable if they can maintain their current run of results. They were marshalled at the back by -ex-Scotland cap Paul Dixon, the type of experienced player that Dunfermline desperately need in defence.
Partick Thistle, another club who, like Falkirk, under-performed for much of the season, dropped to the foot of the table at the weekend, their involvement in the Scottish Cup meaning they have now played one League game less than Falkirk and Alloa. Thistle were also active in the January transfer window, with players such as Joe Cardle and Gary Harkins moving to Firhill. Their recent results in the Championship - two draws followed by two wins - mirrors Falkirk's similar upturn.
So to Dunfermline. In the same sequence of games that both Falkirk and Thistle have picked up 8 points from 12, we have gained two points. The bottom 4 clubs, separated by only 3 points, could also yet drag in Morton - the poorest team I have seen this season, currently on 29 points, 7 points off the bottom of the table. Queen of the South, a point ahead of Morton, should have no relegation worries as long as Stephen Dobbie stays fit.
Bruce Anderson's debut, with a goal and excellent link up play with Faissal El Bakhtoui, was extremely encouraging. For far too many games, the Pars forwards have failed to form any kind of productive partnership. The change in Faissal in the last game, suddenly having someone who made space and intelligent runs, was obvious, and Stevie Crawford should be given credit for playing Faissal just behind Anderson as opposed to directly alongside him.
The same concerns about a defence that is one step away from gifting a goal, and a hard working but not overly creative midfield, still exist. We are overly-reliant on Kallum Higginbotham to provide a creative spark. Higgy's form fluctuates as much as his temperament and while he has ability, his decision making cannot be relied upon, even when defending, as was shown in our last game when instead of putting his laces through the ball, he tried a flick 20 yards from our goal that lead to Ross County's winner.
Whether there is enough of the season remaining to pull Morton into the relegation mix remains to be seen. After seeing all the bottom 5 in action recently and also based on squad changes, current form, momentum (or the lack of), I expect Alloa to finish bottom. Dunfermline will rely on Anderson's goals to keep us up, and if we can do just enough to finish eighth we should breathe a sigh of relief and look ahead to a summer clear out. Falkirk and Thistle could yet leap frog Alloa, Morton and ourselves to finish sixth and seventh.
Let's hope we start securing our place in the division with a positive result this weekend. A win would then see us just five points behind our opponents Inverness, currently in fourth......