Dunfermline Athletic and Dundee United face off in what is a must-win Betfred Cup tie for the Fifers this Sunday at Tannadice.
In their most recent outing, the Pars succumbed to defeat via Inverness 5-1 in what was the heaviest home defeat Athletic have had in nine years and seen the Caley Jags leapfrog them into second place. The table-topping Tangerines will go into the game having had seven days rest, and coming off the back of a penalty win at the Caledonian Stadium after the match finished one each. It was the Taysiders second victory from spot kicks after defeating League Two Arbroath by the same method.
Allan Johnston knows anything less than a win from his side will see them eliminated from the competition and will likely see their competitors progress to the last 16 as one of the better runners-ups.
Keys to the game
United have sauntered to joint top of Group C with their only real impressive performance coming in a home bodying of fourth tier Cowdenbeath. Ray MacKinnon’s squad are the consensus pick to finish second in the Championship this season, and will provide an intriguing test for the Pars as a barometer of where both teams are at this early stage of the campaign.
The away side need to be defensively disciplined as a number of goals in their last outing were gifted to their Premiership opposition, and while 5-1 flattered Inverness, they were deserved winners.
Both sides are looking to get the ball wide and find their respective centre forwards in the box. While the Tangerines edge that battle in terms of quality, it is also one of the Pars strongest areas on the field. It is going to come down to who can get the better of their full backs, and again United will likely be able to cause more havoc due to Blair Spittal’s ability in particular.
Andy Geggan’s absence cannot be understated, the stand-in captain has chipped in with four goals and scored in all three of the BetfredCup matches. His bite and determination in midfield, coupled with Nat Wedderburn looks a promising partnership, perhaps the strongest since the Jimmy Calderwood era. It will be interesting to see who partners Wedderburn in the midfield, and how they cope with the two of Stewart Murdoch and Willo Flood. If they can overrun them, then it may push the homers back and render Spittal ineffective.
Dundee United Signings
Goalkeepers: Cammy Bell (Rangers).
Defenders: Lewis Toshney (£82k – Raith Rovers).
Midfielders: Stewart Murdoch (Ross County), Willo Flood (Aberdeen).
Forwards: Cammy Smith (Loan – Aberdeen) Nick van der Velden (Willem II), Tope Obadeyi (Kilmarnock).
Defenders: Euan Spark (Dundee United), Lee Ashcroft (Kilmarnock).
Midfielders: Nat Wedderburn (Inverness Caledonian Thistle).
Forwards: Gavin Reilly, (Loan – Heart of Midlothian), Kallum Higginbotham (Kilmarnock), Paul McMullan (Loan – Celtic).
Kickoff time, ticket prices and where to watch
Saturday, 15:00pm, Tannadice.
All Stands: Adults £15, Concessions £5.
Live on BT Sport, starting at 14:30pm.
Dundee United: Zwick (GK), Souttar, Dillon, Telfer, Johnson, Spittal, Anier.
Dunfermline: Gill (GK), Fordyce, Paton, Lochhead, McMullan, Smith, Thomas.
Key Dundee United player
Blair Spittal: The winger was linked with a seven-figure transfer to Hull City in the January of this year. Sounds familiar to a certain Andrew Robertson, who came through the Queen’s Park youth academy at the same time. He was a rare bright spark in what was a dismal squad that was relegated last term. He should run amok in the second tier, much like he did for the Spiders in League Two. At 20, this can be his real breakthrough season, and attract some big clubs down south into looking to recruit his services, especially if he gets the Taysiders back into the top flight. If he comes up against Ryan Williamson, he could have a lot of joy exploiting him into making mistakes just as Billy King did earlier in the week and send his side into the next round.
Key Dunfermline player
Joe Cardle: The fan favorite has yet to display the level of performance that was the East End Park faithful was accustomed to last season. In what is a must win game versus a key opponent for the Pars in this Championship campaign, it will take one of their most experienced players – and captain for the day – to grab a hold of this tie and drive Athletic towards victory. The English-born winger will likely be pitted against Lewis Toshney, and will give him the opportunity to show up the defender who the Arabs paid good money for. That will not be easy, but the backline is the weakest area for Ray Mckinnon, who is still not sure of his defensive personnel ahead of the start of the league campaign.
What Dundee United are saying
“We know it will be a test for us on Sunday but this is also a chance for us to put down a marker.” (Cammy Bell, goalkeeper)
What Dunfermline are saying
“We want to win the first game and do really well against them. We know that it is going to be difficult because they have quality players.” (Allan Johnston, manager)
Last five meetings
Tue 22 Sept 2015: Dundee United 3-1 (AET) Dunfermline.
Sat 31 Mar 2012: Dundee United 3-0 Dunfermline.
Sat 29 Oct 2011: Dunfermline 1-4 Dundee United.
Sat 20 Aug 2011: Dundee United 0-1 Dunfermline.
Tue 28 Oct 2008: Dundee United 1-0 Dunfermline.
Dundee United 3/4 Draw 3/1 Dunfermline 16/5 (McBookie)
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