Ranking Dunfermline Athletic’s transfer business this season

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.

Keeper

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.

Defence

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.

Midfield

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.

Attack

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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Match preview: Livingston versus Dunfermline Athletic

Tomorrow afternoon in West Lothian both teams share the sole second tier fixture due to being eliminated from the Scottish Cup by lower Championship opposition.

This fixture was due to be played on December, 30th. However, due to the severe wintery weather it made the pitch unplayable. The only positive of being dumped out the cup is that it has allowed it to go ahead on another Saturday as Athletic catch up on their game in hand (if Dunfermline had progressed against Greenock Morton, it would have been the Ton playing Livi in the league).

Kickoff time, ticket prices and where to watch

Ticket prices:

Adults – £18
Concessions – £12
U16s – £5

Match information:

Saturday 10th, 15:00 at Almondvale Stadium.

Team news

Livingston:

No news.

Dunfermline Athletic:

Aaron Splaine and Sean Murdoch (injured).
James Vincent (match fitness).

Referee

Greg Aitken.

Games reffed involving either side:

Falkirk 0-2 Livingston (3Y, 1R)
Dunfermline Athletic 2-1 Brechin City (2Y)
Inverness Caledonian Thistle 1-1 Livingston (5Y, 1Y/R)

 

Line ups last time out

 

Former Livingston players

Jason Talbot (2008-15)

Former Dunfermline Athletic players

Scott Robinson (2016)
Shaun Byrne (08-16)
Gregor Buchanan (14-15)

Last six meetings

Championship:

21/10/17: Dunfermline Athletic 3-1 Livingston
05/08/17: Livingston 1-1 Dunfermline Athletic

First Division:

30/03/13: Livingston 1-1 Dunfermline Athletic
26/01/13: Dunfermline Athletic 0-1 Livingston
08/12.12: Livingston 2-1 Dunfermline Athletic
22/09/12: Dunfermline Athletic 4-0 Livingston

Keys to the game

The Lions can prey on Athletic’s weaknesses just by playing their natural game. Hopkin likes a direct approach from his squad, and that can mean launching long balls into the channels that force the centre backs out to deal with them, scavenging on the loose ball and pepper the goal from there. 

While Lee Miller is closer to the end than the start of his career, he can provide a good base in which to attempt win headers, hold up the ball and allow Ryan Hardie to do the running for the pair. The on-loan Rangers centre forward has netted in each of his two league starts.

The Pars came a cropper the last time they came up against an experienced head (Stephen Dobbie) and an energetic Premiership loanee (Chris Kane).

Prediction

Livingston 1-1 Dunfermline Athletic

Odds

Livingston: 1.25
Draw: 2.50
Dunfermline Athletic: 2.52

Best bet

Both teams to score: 0.81

Table

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You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

Dunfermline Athletic’s mid-season transfer window: yay or nay

Transfers in – Winter

GK: Lee Robinson, 31 (Queen of the South)

Afore his arrival at the club, Robinson would have been remembered for slipping and allowing a tame shot roll past him and into the net in Dunfermline’s 1-0 win at Palmerston Park on the finale of the previous Championship campaign.

That would be his last start until the derby against Falkirk, in which he put a man of the match worthy performance as the Pars became victors at East End Park

He brings second tier experience with 133 of his 177 appearances within the league and is starting cover for Sean Murdoch who has been sidelined since the turn of the year.

Last time out, the stats bore out that he was the worst starting goalkeeper in the division. However, to get someone of his ability as a stop gap and be second choice – when Murdoch is match ready –  to one of the better shot stoppers in the division was a good acquisition. Considering he is a marked improvement on David Hutton.

Verdict: Yay.

AM: James Craigen, 26 (Falkirk)

Craigen came from University life to playing in the Premier League in just a few short months as he combined studies with a professional career to secure promotion with the Jags in 2013.

In the four and a half years since he was partially responsible for Partick Thistle staying in the top flight before dotting about in the Championship for playoff outfits Raith Rovers and Falkirk.

The reason he became available to Dunfermline was that he had fallen down the pecking order after Paul Hartley arrived and Allan Johnston was keen to bolster his options in midfield, saying:

“James is a player I have admired since he was at Partick Thistle in the Premier League. I had watched him in the playoffs last season, when he scored in both legs against Dundee United and I had enquired about him then but he had extended his contract with Falkirk.”

While he can play left, centre or right of midfield. His attributes fit that of an attacking midfielder. It is likely he will rival with Dean Shiels and James Vincent for meaningful minutes in the latter third of the campaign.

His signing was necessary to give Athletic a different dynamic and experience of the Premiership playoffs and how to perform in them.

Verdict: Yay.

Loans in – Winter

DM: Tom Beadling, 22 (Sunderland)

The Australian from Barrow, England had just 180 minutes of professional league football behind him from League One, Bury before arriving north of the border. While he is inexperienced outside of the reserves and age group level, he has worn the captaincy numerous times during his time in Premier League 2 and U21 PL over the last five seasons.

Beadling, said:

“I can play centre half or in the middle of the park. A big part of my game is to get on the ball as much as possible, so hopefully the fans will get to see that from me.”

If that is true, while being a more mobile, ball-winning type of player, he will be the perfect partner for Nat Wedderburn in the centre of the pitch and with him being out of contract at the end of the season, it can perhaps be a trial period to see if he is capable of playing at the level Dunfermline want to achieve. This is likely to be the best signing of the window.

Verdict: Yay.

AM: James Vincent, 28 (Dundee)

Before being moved south from Tayside, Vincent had only played in the Premiership in Scotland with 75 starts for the Dees and formerly Inverness Caledonian Thistle when John Hughes brought him north in the summer of 2013 from fifth tier Kidderminster Harriers. 

The 2015 Scottish Cup winner was brought in to bolster the options in the centre of the park after a lack of game time under Neil McCann. However, after Craigen’s arrival it seems odd to bring in another player to play a similar role, especially with Dean Shiels is also on the books.

Verdict: Nay.

LW: Daniel Armstrong, 20 (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

Whenever the young attacker steps on the pitch for Dunfermline, it will be his first game outside of Premier League 2 and the Youth Cup.

Armstrong is most likely to have the role that David Hopkirk held before his departure and that is an option as a two flanked winger who brings more pace to the side than Kallum Higginbotham or Michael Paton would.

His arrival likely puts Fraser Aird as a backup right back in the depth chart and marginalises Paton’s game time going forward while being the preferred sub for Joe Cardle.

Verdict: Nay.

 


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Match preview: Greenock Morton versus Dunfermline Athletic

Tomorrow, the Ton will look to haunt the Fifers, a fortnight after eliminating the Pars from the Scottish Cup. They will be looking to secure victory again to leapfrog them in the Championship table.
Jai Quitongo netted in the 85th minute to secure passage to the fifth round for the Inverclyders and set up a home date with Dumbarton next week. Instead of wallowing away, Athletic will face Livingston in a rearranged fixture following a postponement in late December and remain on course for the Premiership playoffs.
Six points splits Livi in third and Inverness Caledonian Thistle in seventh and with an assortment of spare games to be caught up on, nobody can feel secure in their position apart from the leaders, St Mirren. Dunfermline will be hoping to make their position a little more secure starting with this match against a team they have failed to beat since April.
 

Kickoff time, ticket prices and where to watch

Match information:

Saturday 3 February 15:00pm at Cappielow Stadium.

Ticket prices:

Adult: £20

Concession (over 65s, students, 17-20 year olds): £17
Child (12-16): £7
Child (under 12): £0

Team news

Greenock Morton:

Lee Kilday and Ross Forbes (fitness).
Robert Thomson (doubt).

Dunfermline Athletic:

Aaron Splaine and Sean Murdoch (injured).
James Vincent (match fitness).

Referee

Gavin Duncan.

Games reffed involving either side:

Greenock Morton 0-2 Dundee United (2Y).

What Greenock Morton are saying

 (Jim Duffy, manager)

What Dunfermline Athletic are saying

“We have to take our chances. We have got to be organised for the counterattack because they caught us on the counterattack again. Setpieces are massive as well because guys like Tom O’Ware score a lot of goals from corners and free kicks. Last year he scored well into double figures so it is probably one of their biggest dangers. Going forward they have a lot of pace, a lot of energy, they cause teams problems with the way they play. They defend really well so it is going to be a hard game. We are going to have to make sure that we go there, put in a really good performance and hopefully be the start of a run that could propel us up the table. If you look at the games coming up, they are against teams round about us so it is really important that we pick up three points. It makes a massive difference because at this time of year results are critical.” (Allan Johnston, manager)

Line ups last time out

Former Greenock Morton players

Lee Robinson (2007-08)
Declan McManus (2014-15 and 2016).

Former Dunfermline Athletic players

Robert Thomson (2013).

Ross Forbes (2014-15).

Last seven meetings

Scottish Cup:

20/01/18. Dunfermline Athletic 1-2 Greenock Morton.

Championship:

21/11/17. Dunfermline Athletic 1-1 Greenock Morton.
11/09/17. Greenock Morton 3-2 Dunfermline Athletic.
29/04/17. Dunfermline Athletic 3-1 Greenock Morton.

25/03/17. Greenock Morton 0-1 Dunfermline Athletic.
10/12/16. Dunfermline Athletic 2-1 Greenock Morton.
17/09/16. Greenock Morton 2-1 Dunfermline Athletic.

Prediction

Greenock Morton 1-2 Dunfermline Athletic

Odds

Greenock Morton: 1.50
Draw: 2.50
Dunfermline Athletic: 2.10

Best bet

Dunfermline to win and both teams to score: 5.00

Table

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Complete fixture list

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You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

A dee becomes a temporary par

This morning at East End Park, James Vincent, signed on loan until the end of the season after becoming surplus to requirements at Dens Park.

Vincent signing was necessary to bolster the midfield options with his game being suited to play as an attacking midfielder, a role that nobody that was already at the club fits with as much ease as the Englishman.

The former Caley Jag needs game time having featured rarely in this campaign even though he started each of the last 14 Premiership games from February to May. His last two starts came against Hibernian and Aberdeen in mid to late August with his last appearance being a 68-minute substitute in Dundee’s one all draw with Kilmarnock on September 23.

Before being moved south from Tayside, Vincent had only played in the Premiership in Scotland with 75 starts for Dundee and formerly Inverness Caledonian Thistle when John Hughes brought him north in the summer of 2013 from fifth tier Kidderminster Harriers.

Vincent said: “I am delighted to be at the club, the process has been on the go for a while, but glad to get it over the line. It was an easy decision to sign, it is a massive club with ambitions to get into the Premiership. I am looking forward to meeting up with the players now and getting started.”

With St Mirren 18 points ahead – having played a game more – and Dundee United with enough of a bumper over the rest of the chasing pack, the aim for Dunfermline is finishing third and entering the playoffs healthy and with as much momentum as possible.

The Pars are one signing away – a ball-winning-midfielder – from having a full complement that can conceivably enter the Premiership. That may mean moving Conner Duthie and Scott Lochhead on – as they seem to have no place in this squad and are out of contract in the close season – and loaning out promising centre forward Callum Smith to a League One outfit. Since the article discussing the signing of James Craigen, Grant Gillespie has become available after leaving Hamilton Academical and would seem to be the perfect fit next to Nat Wedderburn in the middle of the park.


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Match Preview: Dunfermline Athletic versus St Mirren

Tonight, Friday night football descends on Fife to facilitate the contractually obligation the SPFL has with its television partners as the whole nation can watch the Championship’s form sides of 2017.
 
Last season’s first and second contest was televised on BBC Alba as both teams were toiling to avoid the threat of relegation. 13 months on, the Buddies and the Pars are contending for promotion with Jack Ross’ outfit in pole position and Allan Johnston’s men looking to finish comfortably in third.
 
Kickoff time, ticket prices and where to watch
 
Ticket prices:
 
SRJ Windows South Stand: Adults £20, Concessions £14
All other stands: Adults £18, Concessions £12
Away Stands: Adults £18, Concessions £12, U12s £5
 
Match information:
 
Friday 26th, 19:45 at East End Park.
 
Where to watch:
 
BT Sport 1 coverage starts at 19:30.
 
Team news
 
Dunfermline Athletic:
 
Aaron Splaine and Sean Murdoch (injured).
Joe Cardle (suspended).
 
St Mirren:
 
No news.
 
Referee
 
John Beaton.
 
Previous games refereed involving either side:
 
Dunfermline Athletic 3-1 Falkirk (2Y, 2R)
Dumbarton 0-1 Dunfermline Athletic
 
What Dunfermline Athletic are saying
 
“They have got a lot of good players. For me their best player by far is the boy Morgan. That is why he has got a move to Celtic. He has been really consistent this season and probably been the difference between the majority of the teams this year. That is probably why St Mirren are top of the league. We will not focus on just one player. Obviously you have to be aware of what he brings to the team and what he is good at. Every club has really good players, we are the same as well – we have a lot of players who can hurt teams. We know that we have to put in a really good performance to go and get a result.” (Allan Johnston, manager)
 
What St Mirren are saying
 

“Dunfermline and us are probably similar, I would say, in terms of our squads ability wise. We have the confidence now we are top, and hopefully that continues. It is a game apiece just now head to head and they have some good players and they have added some new additions in January as well which will definitely strengthen them. It is a big ask going there and winning but it is one we are confident we can go there and do.” (Jack Ross, manager)

 
Line ups last time out
 

Former Dunfermline Athletic players

Gavin Reilly (2016-17)
Josh Todd (2016 trial)
Jack Ross (2010-11)
Jamie Langfield (2004-05)

Former St Mirren players

Allan Johnston (2009-10)
John Potter (2005-11)

Last six meetings

24/06/16. Dunfermline Athletic 4-3 St Mirren
19/11/16. St Mirren 0-1 Dunfermline Athletic
14/01/17. Dunfermline Athletic 1-1 St Mirren
11/03/17. St Mirren 0-0 Dunfermline Athletic
16/09/17. Dunfermline Athletic 3-0 St Mirren
16/12/17. St Mirren 1-0 Dunfermline Athletic

Keys to the game

Jack Ross seen fit to change his formation to a 4-2-3-1 after suffering a heavy defeat to the Pars in September. Since then they taken 33 points from a possible 45, winning six of the last seven. Allan Johnston has rarely varied from his 4-4-2 formation.

Lewis Morgan and Ryan Williamson have shared the pitch for the Scotland U21s and will once again face each other in a positional battle. The Buddies left winger has returned to St Mirren Park after he moved to Celtic for c.£300,000 near the start of the mid-season transfer window, and that was of little surprise as he is the best young talent this division had to offer. Williamson will have his work cut out to contain him, as defending is not his strong point. However, he can put Morgan under pressure by pushing up the park and cutting crosses back into the box, a trait that he excels at as one of the big creators in the Pars squad (second most assists in the squad).

Harry Davies’ return at centre back has seen the Renfrewshire outfit’s goals conceded per game drop from 1.46 to 0.44. The clean sheet percentage with the Englishman starting has risen from 23% to 55%. He played every minute in the last meeting between the two.

Athletic have their own defensive talisman, Jean Yves-M’Voto. Since the 30th minute of the opening game of the season, the Pars have not conceded with he was on the pitch – 339 minutes – this includes three starts and clean sheets on the spin to start 2018. When the Frenchman starts the goals conceded per game drop from 1.22 to 0.50 and the clean sheet percentage has risen from 22% to 75%.

Prediction

Dunfermline Athletic 1-2 St Mirren

Odds

Dunfermline Athletic: 1.50
Draw: 2.60
St Mirren: 1.70

Best bet

Over 2.5 goals: 0.80

Table

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Other fixtures

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Dunfermline Athletic have found part of the answer to their midfield woes

On Friday, James Criagen signed a contract until the end of the season at East End Park after his departure from rivals Falkirk.

The timing of the signature was apt, as it brought an increase in interest to an otherwise uninteresting fourth round all-Championship clash in the Scottish Cup.

Craigen, while English as has spent his whole professional career in Scotland. Firstly at Partick Thistle then Raith Rovers and finally at the Bairns before returning to Fife.

The midfielder started his youth career with a decade-long stint for his hometown team, Preston North End before being released at 18 and moving to Edinburgh University to obtain a degree in sports business management.

Going into his final year of his tertiary education, the Jags signed him and joined third tier, Forfar Athletic before returning to Firhill at the start of 2013 and playing a first-team role in securing promotion to the Premiership.

In the top flight, he continued being a first-team regular but was released by Alan Archibald at the end of the 2014/15 season and wound up at Ray McKinnon’s Raith Rovers side. The following March he pre-empted a move to Falkirk amidst his best season from a personal performance standpoint as he played an important part in helping the Stark’s Park outfit finish fourth at the conclusion of the campaign.

With Peter Houston they finished second – ahead of Dundee United – but became a bench option in the last couple of months under Paul Hartley, having made the last of his three starts in November with his departure announced on Thursday.

On his signing, Allan Johnston said:

“James is a Player I have admired since he was at Partick Thistle in the Premier League. I had watched him in the play offs last season, when he scored in both legs against Dundee United and I had enquired about him then but he had extended his contract with Falkirk. When I became aware that he had asked to move on from Falkirk on Wednesday I had to move quickly to get him as other clubs were interested.”

The Dunfermline manager leaped at the chance to sign Craigen with the lack of central midfield options in the side. Nat Wedderburn is the only fit option with Aaron Splaine sidelined for the remainder with a fractured leg. His regular partner, Dean Shiels has had to play as a number eight, a position foreign to him in his professional career. Right midfielder, Michael Paton has been shoehorned in the middle of the park for spells, and utility defender, Lewis Martin had a short stint at the start of winter.

During his career in his 140 starts, 86 of them has been in a central role (48 at attacking midfield and 38 at centre mid) and 54 out wide (30 at left midfield and 24 at right mid).

In the Championship, in his 90 starts, his output reads as:

25 at LM (5 goals, 2 assists)
12 at RM (3 goals, 1 assist)
11 at AM (3 goals, 2 assists)
11 at CM (2 goals, 1 assist)

Craigen is an upgrade on what Splaine had to offer. The only aspect that the sidelined midfielder edges his teammate in is the physical side as he is stronger and quicker. However, he does have the confidence to dribble with the ball from the centre of the park and as a result move defenders back towards their own goal. Nobody else has the requisite ability to perform that action with the success that he does.

The concern is his lack of pace, especially playing in a two-man midfield with Wedderburn who relies on his positioning to excel in the defensive phase of the game. What the squad is missing a ball winning midfielder that has a decent amount of pace about them to cover the ground. Sean Welsh would have been perfect, but he joined Falkirk earlier in the month. One name that sticks out is Hamilton Academical’s Grant Gillespie who has only played 57 Premiership minutes across three fixtures and is a very similar player to Welsh.

For a flavour of what he has to offer, here is a video of his highlights till the end of 2015


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