This Saturday, Dunfermline Athletic and Falkirk return to Championship action at Falkirk stadium in the final game of the opening quarter of the league season.
Last week, both sides were competing in the Irn-Bru Cup as the Bairns fell to divisional rivals Ayr United at Somerset Park whereas the Pars stayed at home and progressed after playing Queen’s Park of League One.
Peter Houston’s squad finally got over the embarrassment on national TV when they were defeated by Kilmarnock in the Premiership playoffs in May. They started off slow with defeats to Queen of the South and Hibernian, who are placed first and second and a draw against Greenock Morton sandwiched in the middle. However, they bounced back to win four on the bounce before sharing the spoils with St. Mirren almost two weeks ago to sit third in the table.
Allan Johnston’s team have not taken to the second tier as many would have expected and at this point will be happy with a mid-table finish with no fears of facing relegation going down the stretch. Although, if they get a victory at an established club at this level then expectations may be on a par of the manager, which is top four.
Keys to the game
Houston improved on his first season at the club by splitting Champions Rangers – who lost more games than the Bairns – and Hibernian in the league. They also defeated Alan Stubbs’ Scottish Cup-winning side in the Premiership playoff semi-final. No mean feat when you consider the budget differences between themselves and the sides from Scotland’s two biggest cities.
They kept the majority of that side together – Will Vaulks being the only major loss – and strengthened other areas of the pitch, such as the defence with the signings of Lewis Kidd and Luca Gasparotto. In addition, bringing in James Craigan for the departed Blair Alston means that this team should be aiming to repeat and keep their second spot come the campaign’s end.
That defence is difficult and is only going to be improved when Peter Grant gets up to full match fitness. This is considering that of the seven goals they conceded in the league, two of them have been in the last six (tied with Queen of the South for the best record). This highlights the need for the Pars to take the few opportunities that will come to them. One goal for every seven and a bit shots is one of the reasons they have lost as many have they have already. On the flip side, Falkirk have also scored 11, but seeing as they have conceded nine less shows why they have already got a seven point gap over Athletic.
Settling in and keeping John Baird quiet is imperative if Johnston hopes to take anything away from the Falkirk stadium, and having full belief that even against some of the toughest defences – Dundee United and Hibernian – Dunfermline can score.
LB: Liam Henderson – Hearts
CB: Luca Gasparotto – Rangers
RB: Lewis Kidd – Queen of the South
CM: James Craigen – Raith Rovers
CM: John Rankin – Dundee United
GK: Danny Rogers – Aberdeen
Dunfermline Athletic signings
RB: Euan Spark – Dundee United
RCB: Lee Ashcroft – Kilmarnock
LDM: Nat Wedderburn – Inverness Caledonian Thistle
SS: Kallum Higginbotham – Kilmarnock
CF: Nicky Clark – Bury
CF: Farid El Alagui – Hibernian
AM: John Herron – Blackpool
RW: Paul McMullan – Celtic
CF: Gavin Reilly – Heart of Midlothian
Kickoff time, ticket prices and where to watch
Saturday, 15:00pm, Falkirk Stadium.
Main Stand – Prime £20, Adult £19, Concession £13, Under 18 £7.
South Stand – Adult £18, Concession £12, Under 18 £6.
Under 12s go free.
Key Falkirk player
Like Falkirk he started off the season in a slow manner. Yet, with four goals in his last six games, you feel – like his club – he is coming to the boil at the right time. At 31, he may only have two more seasons – if he is lucky – at the peak of his powers and playing at the right end of the Championship. So, the tireless centre forward will constantly be asking questions of the Pars’ backline and if they do not have the answers he can fill his boots and look to fire the Bairns into a battle for the top spot.
Key Dunfermline Athletic player
The defender has been dependable in the last few games for Dunfermline and has established himself as the first-choice centre back for the foreseeable future. Yet, he is coming up against one of the toughest strike partnerships in this division and will need to be at his composed best if he is looking to keep them quiet. The added bonus with the former Kilmarnock centre half is that his aerial ability always makes him a threat from corners. In a tight game it may just be dead ball situations that settle the outcome whether that be a point or better.
Former Falkirk players
Farid El Alagui and Kallum Higginbotham.
Former Dunfermline Athletic players
What Falkirk are saying
“I remember going to East End Park as a fan and watching the team beat Dunfermline 3-0 with a hat-trick from Anthony Stokes. I know how much the fans love to beat Dunfermline so we’re desperate to get the three points for them. I don’t really know where the rivalry came from, but it’s definitely there and as I say we just want to win it for the fans.” (Craig Sibbald, midfielder)
What Dunfermline Athletic are saying
“That is all you could hear the Falkirk fans shouting. It has been building up over the last couple of weeks. We just need to remember that we are there to play football and to win the game. Falkirk have achieved a lot over the last few years. They have been successful, consistently over the last three or four weeks. They have a good mix of youth and experience in their team. We are looking forward to going there, we have a lot of good players and boys who have played there as well. We are looking forward to going back.” (Allan Johnston, manager)
Last six meetings
19/08/14: Dunfermline 1-2 Falkirk
27/08/13: Falkirk 2-1 Dunfermline
27/03/13: Dunfermline 0-2 Falkirk
16/02/13: Falkirk 1-0 Dunfermline
26/12/12: Dunfermline 0-1 Falkirk
06/10/12: Falkirk 2-2 Dunfermline
Last Dunfermline win 07/05/2011 (3-0), last away win 12/03/11 (1-2).
1-0 v Ayr (A)
3-1 v Dundee United
0-2 v Raith Rovers (A)
1-0 v Dumbarton
1-1 v Morton (A)
0-0 v Ayr (A)
1-3 v Dundee United
2-0 v Raith Rovers (A)
4-3 v Dumbarton
2-1 v Morton (A)
Falkirk 10/11 Draw 23/8 Dunfermline Athletic 13/4
Falkirk 2-1 Dunfermline Athletic
You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.