At East End Park, Allan Johnston has retooled his squad over the last two transfer window with eight players arriving and the same number departing as his aims for the Premiership playoffs.
Through this article, the writer will examine – position by position – if these changes have improved the squad or not. Starting at the back and moving forward.
IN: Lee Robinson, 31 (Queen of the South)
OUT: David Hutton, 33 (Arbroath)
Cammy Gill played backup to Sean Murdoch for most of the season. However, when the former academy graduate was sidelined for multiple months with injury. Johnston saw fit to bring in another of his former players when he was at Queen of the South. This was to provide the necessary cover rather than risking with the youngster in the interim starting role during a very testing time.
It has paid off, and even though he has had his moments – being partially to blame – for the late winner at Cappielow a couple of weeks back. His performances have been no worse than we seen from Murdoch throughout the campaign. In fact, in his six starts, there have been four clean sheets (as many as was obtained in the first half of the league season).
Robinson has made a career starting at this level, and sharing his knowledge not only as a goalkeeper but as a qualified strength and conditioning coach should be invaluable to Gill.
Hutton never grasped the opportunity he had at the start of last season to displace Murdoch as the number one and has failed to cement consistent game time in League One as Dick Campbell has even trusted an in and out of retirement Rab Douglas over him at times.
IN: Fraser Aird, 22 (Falkirk)
IN: Jean-Yves M’voto, 28 (Raith Rovers)
OUT: Callum Fordyce, 24 (Queen of the South)
OUT: Ben Richards-Everton, 25 (Accrington Stanley)
Both departed centre-backs were the starters during the beginning of Johnston’s tenure at the club and were the foundation on which the Pars revival was built on. It was not all plain sailing though, as Fordyce would have his leg broken and miss a large section of the 2015-16 season. It can be pointed at as the part of the reason he never reached his best form when he returned in the following campaign.
The same went with Richards-Everton, a knee injury in the opening couple of months of the 16-17 season meant his last game for the club would come in a 3-1 defeat to Hibernian, seven months before his contract expired.
While Fordyce was the leader; Richards-Everton was the ball-player. It had the makings of a good partnership, but it made sense why the Scotsman wanted a fresh start to play more and the Englishman wanted to move closer to home and earn more money.
M’Voto is a different defender to both as he looks to win the ball and get pass it on to more creative teammates. He is a strong physical presence that will win the majority of his defensive or even offensive aerial duels. That is shown as the defence has looked more composed with him starting.
Aird is primarily a utility player, but for squad purposes, he fits into the depth chart as a back up to Ryan Williamson. Especially, now that Daniel Armstrong has arrived on loan.
Overall the quality of the defence has diminished, but in terms of balance and competitiveness, there has been an improvement.
IN: Aaron Splaine, 20 (Stranraer)
IN: James Craigen, 26 (Falkirk)
IN: Dean Shiels, 32 (FC Edmonton)
OUT: Andy Geggan, 30 (Ayr United)
OUT: Lewis Spence, 21 (Dundee)
OUT: Rhys McCabe, 24 (Sligo Rovers)
The only complaints about Dunfermline’s midfield last season was that it needed more of a goal threat and creativity. In terms of balance, it worked well with John Herron and Nat Wedderburn on the defensive end. They starting picking up more positive form when that duo started at the turn of last year. Yet, Herron was not retained at the expiration of his loan and subsequent release from Blackpool (only to turn up in Kirkcaldy with Raith Rovers).
It was felt that if Herron and Wedderburn were retained then bedding in Scott Lochhead more, there was only a need for another central midfielder and that would be a balance and competitive quartet. However, with Geggan, McCabe and Spence moving on – which was expected – to only have Wedderburn who has a past plagued with injury and an inexperienced Splaine as the only two natural CMs befuddling.
As a result, Michael Paton and Shiels were crowbarred in to get by. Lochhead has been shipped out on loan and not even in the squad once he returned. Also, Splaine was barely starting before he had his leg broken in a friendly with Burntisland Shipyard. That bundled even more pressure on the manager from sections of the support.
Craigen is a good acquisition, but again is more of utility player that can play on either flank or as an eight or in this writer’s opinion a 10. The issue with Shiels is that he is having to adapt to a position that is alien to him being a deep-lying playmaker instead of sitting off a centre forward, a role in which he was seen as one of the best in the top flight, six years ago.
IN: Andy Ryan, 22 (Airdrieonians)
IN: Declan McManus, 22 (Fleetwood Town)
OUT: David Hopkirk, 24 (Derry City)
OUT: Michael Moffat, 32 (Ayr United)
The improvement in this area of the pitch is a stark one. Not only have the Pars got younger (on average six years), but they have improved their striking options in terms of putting the ball in the back of the net. McManus has already outscored Moffat and while Ryan is playing third fiddle, he has been better than Gavin Reilly was at East End Park.
Hopkirk was the most used sub under Johnston and since his arrival, Ryan has held that mantle. Yet, Hopkirk was often sidelined by niggling injuries, that has not arisen with last season’s top scorer in the SPFL. You also feel that there is more to come from the former Accies striker.
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