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......