Saturday's visit to Dumfries has now become a pivotal game in Dunfermline's fading season. The Pars' poor run of results (no wins against any team outwith the bottom 3 since October) and the consistent form of the teams around us in the table has seen us drop out of the promotion play-off places and realistically have only fourth place as a target. Morton have lost just once in their past six League games; Livingston have been defeated once in their last nine games; Falkirk have picked up 15 points out of a possible 21. In contrast, we have 2 points from our last 4 games. This weekend's game against Queen of the South sees us play an opponent who destroyed us 5-2 at home in our last meeting - a game that should have seen Allan Johnston fired after a shambolic performance and a series of mid-game switches in formation and players being used out of position. As Pars fans, we all fundamentally want any Dunfermline manager to succeed. In the same way, keeping blind faith with a failing manager should not be acceptable.
Allan Johnston made 5 signings in the January transfer window and although the new midfield performed well in our last game, victories are still not being achieved. A dozen games remain in this season's League calendar and another defeat, even with almost a third of the season's fixtures still to be completed, would render the remainder of the season a hard slog to even finish above Falkirk, who at one point were well behind us and being ridiculed.
A greater sense of adventure is required, something lacking in the final stages of the game at Livi, who had been reduced to ten men and had given up attacking, happy with a point. Yet we did not put on an extra attacker, and also did not take up the option of playing centre half Jean Yves M'Voto up front to put additional pressure on the home team's defence in the last 15 minutes or so. Timidness and lack of risk taking are the hallmarks of a team, or a manager, who lack conviction and who are, essentially, fearful. Yet there is nothing to fear in this division.
I have maintained all season that even leaders St Mirren are nothing more than a very well-organised side, very well managed, and with one talisman (Lewis Morgan) plus Stephen McGinn in midfield as their outstanding players. Dundee United are a poor lot, who we can still never win against, but who are in turmoil in the boardroom and who are yet to find a manager who can even establish a level of organisation in their team in the same way that Jack Ross has done with St Mirren.
As I said in this column 2 days ago, there is no divine right to win. Arrogance is often counter-productive but we have, instead, capitulated far too often against full time opponents - we have not won away from home against a full time team all season. The last time we achieved that was the final game of last season - away to Queen of the South. A repeat of that is essential on Saturday, and it starts from the dugout. Let's take the game to them and prove, for once, that we really are "the better team", as Allan Johnston regularly claims in his post-match interviews following another draw or defeat to an opposing team.
No team has a divine right to win a competition and in most cases, only sheer arrogance would bring a supporter to believe so. What is clear is the likelihood of certain clubs winning, especially in League championships, including Celtic here in Scotland. While a one-off Cup exit is always possible, the quality and depth of Celtic's squad and their financial advantage over their rivals would make it almost impossible for them not to win the Premiership this season.
Not so in the Championship, which was set to become the most open for several seasons, with previous winners Hearts, Hibs and Rangers back in the top flight, leaving a more even collection of clubs to challenge for the title. Dunfermline topped the table in the opening quarter but have fallen away drastically, now occupying fifth place and with clubs circling round us. Seventh - or heaven forbid, eighth (meaning Falkirk overtaking us) place is a distinct possibility. There was certainly no divine right to expect the Pars to win this division but the lack of any sustained challenge, which included a period of one win in ten League games between the end of September and mid December, ended any hopes of automatic promotion. Realistically, only the final promotion play-off place of fourth in a target now, given the points gap between ourselves and the teams in the top 3, and the fact that we have played more games than some of our rivals. Here is the current table:
As I have stated many times in match reports and other articles this season, the failure to address an immobile midfield has cost us dearly over the course of the season and although there was hope with the performance of the new midfield 3 (Tom Beadling, James Craigen and James Vincent) in their first game together at Livingston, it may have come too late. Will Allan Johnston be given a chance to rebuild over the summer and try again next season, if we miss out on a play-off place? Can we even be confident if we do finish fourth, given that we have not beaten a full time team away from home all season?
Failure to achieve a top 4 place, in this most open of divisions, should see a new manager appointed at EEP this summer. That's not arrogance - it's a fair and realistic expectation for our club and if we are to progress we will require a new approach. In 1999, Dick Campbell was fired when Dunfermline were second in what is now the Championship. Almost 20 years later, mid table should not be acceptable and while we have no right to win the division, we can surely expect to put up a challenge to do so. If we accept mediocrity, that is what we will be served up with.