Dunfermline and Forfar Athletic will face-off on Saturday afternoon at East End Park as the Loons look towards League One survival whereas the Pars are celebrating being third-tier champions.
It will have been two weeks since Allan Johnston’s side was anointed champions with five matches to go. Almost four and a half thousand fans in the stadium were hopefully, but not expectant that Cowdenbeath could travel to Balmoor and inflict Peterhead to not only their second defeat at home but two losses in 20 league games.
As unlikely as it was the Blue Brazil made the journey north and got the three points, thanks to Grieg Spence’s 16th of the campaign. In tandem with a Faissal El Bakhtaoui hat-trick against Brechin City, this saw Dunfermline saunter over the line and return to the second tier for the first time in four years.
It was not only Colin Nish’s men that were jubilant that evening. Gary Bollan’s Forfar gave their home support something to cheer about, as they ran out 3-1 winners against Ian McCall’s faltering Ayr United. The Angus based outfit along with their local rivals City have turned their fortunes around and are steadily picking up points and closing that gap to safety with each passing weekend. For example, the Loons defeated the Blue Toon 2-0 last time out and sit two victories away from fifth place.
In the four previous encounters, the Pars have won on aggregate 15-2 and along with games against Brown Ferguson and Darren Dods’s relegation-threatened sides are the favoured whipping boys of Johnston. However, do not expect it to be an easy game for Athletic, even though they have not dropped points against them.
In Bollan’s first game in charge, his side scored twice in a 4-2 defeat. It was the second and last time that Dunfermline had conceded that number in an away league fixture. The squad has had a massive overhaul since that meeting on Boxing Day. They have a different back four along with a new strike partnership. Only five players from the 13 used in the victory against the Honest Men played in the year ending loss at Station Park.
The problem with Forfar – apart from the obvious that they lose too many games – is that they draw too many as well. Only Peterhead’s 11 eclipses the nine that the Loons currently have from their 32 results. The three teams around them have lost more, conceded more and scored less, but the most important stat for Stenhousemuir, Cowdenbeath and Brechin is they have all won more. Of defeats by one goal, the Sky Blues have the highest percentage, but of wins by the same margin, they also have the lowest, meaning more often than not they are in a tightly fought contest.
They are grinding out more results now due to the two forwards brought in over the new year in the guise of Andrew Ryan and Steven Craig. At 35, Craig is 14 years older than Ryan. But, the pair has gelled with 12 goals and three assists in the 10 matches they have played together.
Centre-half Ben Richards-Everton will miss his first league minutes due a sixth caution a fortnight ago and will not face the duo. To remedy this headache Johnston has four options to replace the towering Englishman. However, two of them are unorthodox. It is possible for either full-back, Jason Talbot or Shaun Rooney to move into the centre. Both players have stated their comfortableness to play their, although their best position is out wide.
Craig Reid is the most sensible option when you look at he is experienced and imposing enough to play there and has stood beside Brad McKay in their stints at the club. McKay also prefers to be on the left of a two, but with Richards-Everton being left-footed he has always been stationed on that side. Lewis Martin has been used at both full-back positions, but last season he was mainly an LCB. He could be utilised seeing as he has overcome his recent health problems and regained fitness through the Development League.
Other than Callum Fordyce, Dunfermline has no other injury worries as Reid trained on Thursday after the swelling in his knee subsided. Forfar also has good news on the injury front with starting right-back Euan Spark back after his shoulder issue and midfielder Martyn Fotheringham got a run out with the Development side in midweek.
Both sides will set-up with a flat 4-4-2. There may be one or two different team selections as Johnston said midweek:
“It is a good chance to give some others a chance, go and play and express themselves without a lot of pressure. Hopefully, they will put on a good performance.”
Rooney, Reid, McKay, Talbot;
Paton, Geggan (c), Falkingham, Cardle;
Wallace, El Bakhtaoui.
Spark, Rodger, O’Brien (c), Kennedy;
Kader, Swankie, Hodge, Denholm;
In terms of what to expect from this part-time Athletic side, Johnston said:
“They have a bit of pace about their team.”
Now when you think back to Dick Campbell’s side it was very slow methodical, two lines of four with two good wingers and the other six being cloggers and successfully ground out results. That was the formula that seen them make the playoffs two seasons on the bounce. So, it will be interesting to see if they bring more to the table on Saturday. Regardless, the Pars should have enough just to edge out their northern rivals.
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