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


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

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Match review: Aberdeen versus St Mirren

 

A cold but sunny Aberdeen hosted the opening fourth round Scottish Cup tie early this afternoon as the Dons defeated the Buddies

They will find out who they play shortly after the conclusion of the Edinburgh Derby. Alas, the Saints have fell short of the stage they reached last season when they were eliminated by Celtic in the quarter-finals.

Incidentally, it was a on-loan Hoops player that scored in the winner as Ryan Christie netted twice. In addition, a screamer from Gary Mackay-Steven and an Adam Rooney penalty was enough to see the Premiership side comfortably through against their Championship opposition who netted through Gavin Reilly.

Derek McInnes made two changes to the starting 11 from their last fixture – also at Pittodrie – on the 30th of December, a 0-0 draw versus Heart of Midlothian: Kári Arnason (groin strain) and Scott McKenna out for Mark Reynolds and Greg Stewart. As a result, the Dons’ manager changed formation from 4-4-1-1 to 4-2-3-1. Niall McGinn made bench for the first time since returning to the club on January 1st, and Stevie May returned to the matchday 18 after a month out with a knee injury.

Jack Ross elected to field the same 11 that earned him a two-goal victory in Dumbarton. However, Mark Hill and Ryan Flynn were debutants in the Saints squad after signing earlier in the week; Ethan Erhahon and Nathan Flanagan dropped out. Adam Eckersley, who had been absent since Christmas took Gary Irvine’s place on the bench.

In the first real meaningful action of the tie, Stelios Demetriou went to ground in an ill-advised challenge on Greg Stewart. It came as he broke into the box after Christie ran towards the Buddies defence and played the right winger in. Rooney stepped up and nestled it into the bottom left as Craig Samson’s dived to the other way.

Stewart again was causing the Paisley outfit’s defence problems as he displayed a couple of well-placed skills to get the better of Liam Smith and forced Samson into a decent save.

A couple of minutes later, the Saints showed their attacking threat as Joe Lewis made a comfortable save. However, it was little to no avail as 18 minutes in, Graeme Shinnie flicked the ball on into the box for Mackay-Steven who cut it back to an unmarked Christie to roll it past the helpless shot-stopper.

As time moved on to the second quarter of the match, Aberdeen’s domination bore out in the stats as they had 68% possession, and a majority of it was outside their own half.

The lack of time on the ball never affected the confidence of the away side as they looked to hit play in the ball into the wide areas and pass it into the box. They finally got the reward for their endeavors as Reilly netted as he reacted quicker than Mark Reynolds to a tame parry from the Englishman to keep in interesting for the neutral.

Andrew Considine performed a late and robust challenge on Kyle Magennis and was rightly the first player booked and was fortunate to stay on the park for a similar lunging challenge in the opening five minutes of the second half.

St Mirren’s defence had been all over the shop, as Demetriou made a mess of a header and Shay Logan pounced to clip the ball across the goal as Christie rose highest to head it past a very busy Samson.

There was almost an immediate reply as Reynolds made a mistake in not leaving it to the onrushing goalkeeper and made a mess of his clearance, only to pass it to a Buddies attacker than narrowly missed the target with the rushed lob.

Any hopes of a comeback from the second tier side were killed off after the first whistle of the second half. In what was the goal of the game and probably the round, Mackay-Steven nicked it past the stranded left back and on entry to the box thumped it across Samson and into the postage stamp of the goal.

While the away fans did not have much to cheer about in the game they got to see the Flynn and Hill play together for the last 15 minutes and were in good voice during throughout.

Similarly, the Dons were enjoying a lackluster 25 minutes just through the sheer presence of McGinn playing his first game in red since the final of this competition in May. It was almost a dream return within five minutes, as he was unmarked, but sent his scissor kick shots went narrowly past the post.

The Dons qualified as expected, and McInnes will be hoping that they can go one better this time around and lift the Scottish Cup, a trophy that has eluded the north-east club since 1990.

Aberdeen:

Lewis;
Logan, O’Connor, Reynolds (84′ Off), Considine (31′ Y);
McLean (45′ Y), Shinnie (c);
Stewart (79′ Off), Christie (18′, 33′), Mackay-Steven (47′, 66′ Off);
Rooney (8′ Pen).

Subs: Rogers (GK), Harvie (84′ On), Ball, McGinn (66′ On), Wright, Maynard, May (79′ On).

St Mirren:

Samson;
L. Smith, Baird, Davis, Demetriou;
McGinn (c), McShane (56′ Off);
Magennis, C. Smith (76′ Off), Morgan;
Reilly (25′, 65′ Off).

Subs: Stewart (GK), Eckersley, MacKenzie, Flynn (56′ On), Hill (76′ On), Mullen (65′ On), Sutton,

Referee: Don Robertson.

Man of the Match: Ryan Christie.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

 

Match preview: Dunfermline Athletic versus Greenock Morton

The Championship’s fourth and seventh-placed sides take to the field this weekend in the Scottish Cup as they aim to equal their efforts in last season’s competition by reaching the fifth round.

Athletic have already won at Hampden this season as they progressed to this stage through a 4-1 victory against Queen’s Park in November. Whereas the Renfrewshire outfit gained straight passage to the fourth round by finishing in the 2016/17 Premiership playoffs.

It has been 38 years since these sides last met in the cup, and 61 years since the fixture was staged at East End Park. Although, they are much more familiar opponents in league competition having shared a division in three of the last four seasons.

Interest will be peaked as both teams made a signing today. Dunfermline with the acquisition of ex-Bairn James Craigen and Greenock with the former Northern Ireland U21 goalkeeper Connor Brennan.

Kickoff time, ticket prices and where to watch

Match information:

Saturday 20th, 15:00 at East End Park.

Ticket prices:

Adults £15, Concessions £10, U12s £5

Team news

Greenock Morton:

Lee Kilday and Ross Forbes (fitness)
Jamie McGowan (injured)
Jai Quitongo and Robert Thomson (doubt)

Dunfermline:

Aaron Splaine (injured).

Referee

Alan Muir.

Games reffed with either side:

Dundee United 2-1 Greenock Morton (2Y).

What Greenock Morton are saying

“Of course, you want to try to remain in the competition as long as you possibly can. It is great. There is nothing better than being in the hat for the next round. There is always that wee bit of excitement when the draw is getting made and if you’re not in it there is a sense of disappointment and you have got a whole year to wait before it comes round again. You are a bit flat for a few days if you are not in the competition.” (Jim Duffy, manager)

What Dunfermline Athletic are saying

“We play each other enough, without playing each other in the cup as well, I think everybody says that. The players know each other inside out they play each other that often. Hopefully we can get the result, get through to the next round and see where it takes us. You are hoping for somebody to do something to make the difference. The games we have played against Morton recently have all been really tight. There is not been much between the teams. They have got a lot of good players and they are really dangerous at set-pieces, with the height they have got – guys like O’Ware scored a lot of goals last season and again this season. So, we know we are going to have to defend well.” (Allan Johnston, manager)

Former Greenock Morton players

Declan McManus (2014-15 and 2016).

Former Dunfermline Athletic players

Robert Thomson (2013).

Ross Forbes (2014-15).

Last six meetings

Championship:

21/11/17. Dunfermline Athletic 1-1 Greenock Morton.
25/03/17. 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

Dunfermline Athletic 1-0 Greenock Morton

Odds

Dunfermline Athletic: 1.32
Draw: 2.35
Greenock Morton: 2.50

Best bet

Dunfermline Athletic to win: 1.32


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

Caledonian Sleepers barreling up the Championship

On the 23rd of September, Inverness suffered their fifth defeat in the opening seven games of the league season when they succumbed to a 2-1 defeat in Dumbarton. This left the Caley Jags eighth in the table, having conceded 16 goals.

Since then, Mark Ridgers has only been beaten nine times while accumulating eight clean sheets in all competitions (15 matches) as they returned to their best position (6th) since the completion of matchday one. Welsh internationalist, Owain Fôn Williams was present for the first two clean sheets of the run versus Peterhead and against Queen of the South.

During their unforeseen revival, John Robertson’s side has suffered defeat three times in four months, twice against table-topping St Mirren and once against the Buddies’ Renfrewshire rival, Greenock Morton. This has seen them go from eight points from the playoffs to just three.

How Robertson and his coaching staff have started turning defeats into draws or better is by focusing on the defensive part of the game. Across the opening seven matches of the Championship season, the average score was Inverness 1.57-2.28 opponent, a deficit of 0.71, in the last 15 matches the average score read as Inverness 1.20-0.60 opponent. The crucial part is that they managed to reduce the goals conceded per game by 1.68.

The changes in personnel have certainly made a difference. The first example being Joe Chalmers move into midfield has seen the goals conceded per game drop by 0.37 from when he plays full back. Since Carl Tremarco’s return to left back, it has fallen by 1.54. His absence through injury until March will be tough to counteract unless a replacement – not Riccardo Calder – is found this month.

Collin Seedorf and Matty Eldson removal from the defence has been a positive change. Caley lost 5-1 to Dunfermline Athletic in the single match they played together.

They conceded 3.50 goals per Seedorf start at right back whereas with David Raven it was 0.80. Raven has now left the club, meaning Robertson needs to fill two vacant starting berths at full back.

One player that was brought in to shore up the defence near the end of August was Coll Donaldson. The former Dundee United centre back took the starting berth from Eldson who was conceding at 2.00 a game, it is down to 0.66 when he is on the field from the first whistle. Eldson has since returned to Middlesbrough at the end of his loan.

Donaldson has formed a good partnership with the nearly ever-present Brad McKay. The former Jambo has only missed the 0-2 defeat against St Mirren. Incidentally, Donaldson was absent in the 1-0 defeat to the buddies in December). In the 10 games, they have been paired in the middle of the defence they have conceded just once from open play, two of the goals came from converted penalties, (1-0 v Greenock Morton the first in a 2-3 win against Brechin City) neither of which they were at fault for.

Another note is that captain, Gary Warren has yet to keep a clean sheet in any of nine league starts and it is a wonder if at 33, his role is as a backup option for the remaining 16 months he is contracted at the club.

The frequency of the change in shape of the starting 11 has also differed in an upturn in fortunes. Robertson fiddled around with the formation every time in the opening seven games with five different setups. Since then it is seven times but four different formations.

In order of highest points per game and clean sheet percentage:

(Flat 4-5-1)
W: 2 D: 1 L: 1 (St Mirren)
F: 5 A: 2
CS: 3 

(4-4-2)
W: 5 D: 2 L: 3 (Dumbarton, Dundee United, St Mirren)
F: 15 A: 5
CS: 5

(Offensive 4-3-3)
W: 1 D: 2
F: 4 A: 3
CS: 1

(3-4-1-2)
D: 1 (Greenock Morton)
F: 1 A: 1

(4-1-3-2)
L: 1 (Greenock Morton)
F: 0 A: 1

(Defensive 4-3-3)
L: 1 (St Mirren)
F: 2 A: 4

(4-2-3-1)
L: 1 (Livingston)
F: 1 A: 3

(Defensive 4-4-2)
L: 1 (Dunfermline Athletic)
F: 1 A: 5

Of the last four formations, the bottom three were utilised in the first seven games of the season and the 4-1-3-2 only lasted 22 minutes as Carl Tremarco was sent off.

A flat 4-5-1 which has the capability of morphing into an offensive 4-3-3 seems to be the best way that Robertson can setup his starting 11. Something along the lines of:

Ridgers;
Raven, McKay, Donaldson, Tremarco;
Mulraney, Polworth, Trafford, Vigurs, Doran;
Bell.

Would have been the strongest line-up before the start of 2018. Yet, the absence of two Scottish Cup winners at full back will be a hard void to fill with only Joe Chalmers as the other recognised full back at the club. 

How to rectify that is ridding the excess around the squad. For example: they have five goalkeepers on the books and could do with finding a suitor for Fôn Williams whilst retaining Ryan Esson as backup until his contract expires at the end of the season. Robertson can also rectify some of the mistakes he made in recruiting by finding clubs for Collin Seedorf and Felitciano Zschusschen and address some of the depth issues plaguing the side in their pursuit for the playoffs.

If, the recruiting is better in the mid-season transfer window and their new style of play does not get found out then the Caley Jags can stabilise and attempt to finish a respectable fourth, which would have been acceptable after their relegation from the top flight.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

 

Match preview: Dunfermline Athletic versus Dundee United

Second plays third as this weekend’s biggest fixture takes place in Fife.

The Terrors are still one of two teams that Athletic have failed to beat since their return to the second tier: Hibernian – last year’s champions – were the others. 

It will not come easy, as United will want to restore some faith into onlookers after their embarrassing defeat to Falkirk last Saturday. For the Pars, even if they put in a lackluster performance, it will not matter a jot as long as it comes with three points and make it four league wins in a row for the first time since April 2, 2016.

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:

Saturday 13th, 15:00 at East End Park.

Team news

Dunfermline Athletic:

Aaron Splaine and Sean Murdoch (injured).

Dundee United:

Fraser Fyvie and Scott Fraser (injured).

Referee

Bobby Madden.

Previous games refereed involving either team this season –

Dunfermline Athletic 5-1 Peterhead (2Y, 1 Pen).

What Dunfermline Athletic are saying

“They always seem to have a hoodoo over us so hopefully we can put that right by getting a result especially when we are at home. There has not been much between the two teams but you need to be at your very best to get a result against United.  You cannot afford any passengers, everybody has to play at the very best they can play because when you look around their whole squad they have a lot of good players. They have brought in Craig Slater who I know really well from my time at Kilmarnock. He is a top young player. It is going to be a tough game but one at home and that should give us a big advantage with the crowd that we bring and the atmosphere at the game as well.”(Allan Johnston, manager)

What Dundee United are saying

On losing to Falkirk: “That was the hardest punch in my career since I was a manager, even as a player I never lost like this. You feel from outside that you are useless. You try and try but you see it does not work. Every new experience is one you have to learn from. You have to show that you will not go down. I am a fighter and I want to show to the players we have to stand up. They made this mistake but that they are in charge and can still challenge this. We are Dundee United. I do not allow anybody to joke with Dundee United.” (Csaba László, manager)

Line ups last time out

Table

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 21.52.04

Complete fixture list

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 16.59.56

Former Dunfermline Athletic players

Paul McMullan (2016-17)

Former Dundee United players

Callum Morris (2014-16)

Last seven meetings

Championship:

10/09/16. Dunfermline Athletic 1-3 Dundee United
08/11/16. Dundee United 1-0 Dunfermline Athletic
28/01/17. Dunfermline Athletic 1-1 Dundee United
11/04/17. Dundee United 1-0 Dunfermline Athletic
30/09/17. Dunfermline Athletic 1-3 Dundee United
02/12/17. Dundee United 2-1 Dunfermline Athletic

Challenge Cup:

12/11/16. Dunfermline Athletic 0-1 Dundee United

Keys to the game

Lazlo had opted for a 4-4-1-1 all through his first four league matches as manager, taking 10 points from a possible 12 with two clean sheet and conceded twice. Since the half-time postponement at Palmerston, it has been a 4-2-3-1, it has not worked as well as the two banks of four as they won once – a 3-0 victory with its debut against Livingston – lost twice and leaking eight goals (they did set up in a 4-4-2 when they beat Brechin City 4-1).

Losing Fraser Fyvie and Scott Fraser for the season has hurt them. Although, loan signing Craig Slater should be able to fill in for the former Hibernian midfield, the creativity and goal threat of Fraser will be hard to replicate. Fortunately for them the transfer window is open. Sam Stanton would be the best option for their plight at present, and the one player the Pars would not want to see lined up as a number 10 on Saturday.

The key to their success is playing Dunfermline a their own game and that is how to hit on the counter. Alternatively, this does not detract from plan A, but starving the home side of the ball early on will make the East End faithful restless and they will voice their opinions.

Athletic should be able to exploit the right flank if James Keatings (traditionally a centre forward) and Jamie Robson (a left back by trade) are stationed there once again. That means Joe Cardle – who is hitting form again – and Jason Talbot causing problems with Declan McManus drifting out there to try and really bamboozle the 20-year-old full back.

Prediction

Dunfermline Athletic 0-0 Dundee United

Odds

Dunfermline Athletic: 1.60
Draw: 2.25
Dundee United: 1.80

Best bet

Under 2.5 goals: 1.15


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

Why Michael O’Neill is the perfect candidate for the Scotland managerial vacancy

In November, the Scottish FA made an official approach to the Irish Football Association in Belfast to enquire about the possibility of Michael O’Neill becoming the next Scotland manager.

It came less than 48 hours after Northern Ireland were eliminated from World Cup qualification by way of a penalty incorrectly awarded to Switzerland, who subsequently scored through Ricardo Rodríguez in the first leg on Thursday.

The former midfielder, who was capped 31 times for his country through the late 80s to mid 90s ended up managing his homeland 15 years after his last cap. What he achieved was remarkable as he led Norn Iron to their first European Championship, held in 2016 and their first major tournament in 30 years (World Cup 1986 held in Mexico). Making him their second greatest living manager behind Billy Bingham.

He has been blessed in some senses to have a number of the best players (Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley, Johnny Evans, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Davis) to wear a green and white jersey. However, that does not diminish the achievement of navigating the nation through their lowest ebb – under his own leadership – to their highest level, if not ever, then atleast since 1986.

In the September of 2012, 10 months after O’Neill had taking charge they were ranked 129th (their worst placing ever) along with Gambia in the FIFA rankings. The central African nation had never qualified for a World Cup or their own confederation’s tournament. That placing came off the back of his first official games in charge, a 2-0 defeat in Moscow followed by a one-all draw with Luxembourg at Windsor Park.

Following that was Niall McGinn spoiling Cristiano Ronaldo’s 100th Portuguese cap by taking a sharing the result, but they could only back that up with David Healy’s 36th and final goal for Northern Ireland in the 96th minute to salvage a draw in Belfast against Azerbaijan.

During the next couple sets of fixtures, there was a single goal victory and clean sheet against Russia that sandwiched in-between home defeats to Israel and Portugal. The most embarrassing result of the O’Neill tenure followed with a 3-2 loss in Luxembourg after leading and bringing it back to two all.

A month later they were held scoreless and left Baku pointless. Qualification for World Cup 2014 ended with a one all against Israel, as only Luxembourg finished below them in the group.

However, in qualifying for Euro 2016, his side lost once (away to Romania) as they topped the group on 21 points. It was a remarkable turnaround as they entered France ranked as the 25th best side in the world.

In the last 10 years, Scotland have struggled for marquee results after the victorious double header against France which has now past that decade long threshold. A two-all draw with England and a single goal win over Slovakia is as good as it has got the Tartan Army in meaningful games against sides ranked better than Scotland’s average FIFA ranking, 41.

Contrasting that to Northern Ireland who earned two wins and three draws against a similar level of opponent in the last two campaigns, including Ukraine as they qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2016. They also took 12 points from the bottom two seeds, something Scotland have failed to do since the World Cup 2002 qualification and has been the real reason that the nation have failed to make a tournament in many a year.

O’Neill managerial career started a dozen years ago with Brechin City and was at the helm for near enough 200 matches with the Angus part-timers before he left for Shamrock Rovers in 2008. In Dublin, he won the Hoops’ first league title in 16 years and led them to become the first League of Ireland side to compete in the group stages of a European competition (Europa League) as they retained their title before he left after three years to become the Northern Ireland manager.

It is those humble beginnings and defying the odds through his good managment that makes him a prime candidate for the Scottish FA to replace the man he cited as his biggest managerial influence.

One of the biggest grumbles was that Strachan drifted away from handing out callouts to a couple of uncapped players whose performances had warranted it. While they were never expected to play, it was a good experience to give them a feel of what it was like. Near the end it was the same old names and the likes of Graeme Shinnie and Paul Hanlon were looked past for players that rarely featured in the Premier League (James McArthur) or out of form in the Championship (Liam Cooper).

As O’Neill is based in Edinburgh, opposed to Strachan whose lived in England, he will more than likely have the pulse on happenings in the Premiership, where there is Scotland level players that have been overlooked because they play for unfashionable outfits.

It is imperative that the Scottish FA look for a candidate that is not ashamed of picking players from less glamorous clubs, if they are the right option. Last year, O’Neill selected Callum Morris of second tier Dunfermline Athletic and Shay McCartan of third tier Bradford City into his squad.

Now, if players are good enough to represent Northern Ireland at the Euros from Doncaster Rovers (Luke McCullough), Fleetwood Town (Conor McLaughlin) and Notts County (Roy Carroll) then why should there be sneers from a nation that has gone 10 consecutive tournaments without qualification by selected a player from Ross County (Jason Naismith) or St Johnstone (Zander Clark), if they are the right fit on form.

At the very least his appointment will bring a freshness and a proven track record of getting a national team to a major tournament. A trait that has not come with a Scotland manager since Berti Vogts who won Euro 1996 with his native Germany. Perhaps that positive mentality rather than the woe betide us attitude that looks for excuses should be one of the most important traits of the next Scotland manager’s make-up, whomever they may be.


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

Dunfermline Athletic signings (2017/18): how they have performed

CB: Jean-Yves M’voto, 29 (Raith Rovers)

The reigning Rovers’ player of the season was the first signing made four days after he making a couple of errors that led to the Kirkcaldy based outfit relegated to League One via the playoffs.

What the Frenchman brings is something different to Ben Richards-Everton and Callum Fordyce, a real physical, no-nonsense approach to defending and willing to get his head on anything to clear the danger.

As a third choice he is perfect for the role that was predicted of him; to fill in when either Callum Morris or Lee Ashcroft were not present or to come on in the final quarter of the game to see out a positive result. That has proven to be the case as he has deputised for Morris in the three games that he has missed or sat on the bench (none of them the Pars have been defeated) and came on for the last 10 minutes when Athletic were down to 10 then nine against Falkirk to maintain the draw.

What lessens his grade is that he himself was unavailable for half of the opening eight matches.

Grade on signing: B+
Grade after performance: B

CF: Declan McManus, 23 (Fleetwood Town)

Just over a month, later another former Rovers player shows up and he is one that Allan Johnston coveted since he started as Dunfermline manager. The centre forward was bestowed the honour of PFA Scotland League One Player of the Year for 2014–2015 in Greenock Morton’s title win when he scored in each of the three games he played against the Pars that campaign. That was enough to earn him a move to Fleetwood, but he would not see much game-time in the English third tier as he was loaned back to Cappielow and then Stark’s Park where he failed to hit the heights of a few seasons ago.

His purpose of the signing was to replace the aging Michael Moffat that was returning to Ayr United and fulfill the role as a foil for Nicky Clark who does his best work in the 18-yard-box. He has proven an upgrade as he has already bettered the aforementioned striker’s Championship goal tally of four and Gavin Reilly’s miserly one.

While he had an okay start to the season – including an important goal versus Hearts to secure qualification in the League Cup – it is the last six matches in which he has shone as himself and Clark have formed a good partnership that is certainly playoff standard. In the previous seven days, he became the Athletic’s top league scorer with seven and that is what has boosted his grade.

Grade on signing: B-
Grade after performance: A-

CM: Aaron Splaine, 20 (Stranraer)

The second signing of the day raised a few eyebrows initially, but it was a good bit of business when you looked at the past between Johnston, who has managed Splaine at every club he has been too. Johnston was not a fan of Lewis Spence for whatever reason so getting his own player in to fill in as that third option at central midfield made sense. However, that starter never came, as numerous makeshifts have been stationed next to Nat Wedderburn throughout the season.

Splaine is unfortunately sidelined due to a fractured leg sustained in a Fife Cup fixture against Burntisland Shipyard and will miss the remainder of the campaign. This has left the Pars even more threadbare in central midfield as the former Kilmarnock midfielder should have always been in a rotation role, which was the case before his last three first-team games.

Grade on signing: D
Grade after performance: C

SS: Dean Shiels, 32 (FC Edmonton)

The former Northern Irish international became the fourth signing two months after the first of the pre-season came into East End Park. It made sense on numerous level, he is an upgrade on David Hopkirk (who has since departed to Derry City, incidentally managed by Dean’s father Kenny) and he had experience of performing to the highest level in the top tier in Scotland; something that few of the squad have.

He has been hampered playing as far back as he has. He has always been suited to playing off the centre forward or as an attacking midfielder where he can influence the play in the final third more often. That bares out in the stats with only one assist (Saturday versus Dumbarton) in over 1000 minutes of league football.

Grade on signing: B+
Grade after performance: B-

RB: Fraser Aird, 22 (Falkirk)

A utility player that is able to play either flank or at right back. It was a peculiar acquisition seeing as Connor Duthie was backup on the left, and Michael Paton was waiting in the wings if Kallum Higginbotham was unavailable. Aird’s only pevious experience at full back was in MLS with Vancouver Whitecaps, but Lewis Martin was capable of being the other option to Ryan Williamson.

The Canadian internationalist had a woeful time on his debut against Livingston, but redeemed himself in his next start, which was also against Livi as he put in a man of the match performance as he procured his first assist goal for the club in a 3-1 victory.

Since then though it has been intermittent appearances from the bench as he tallied less than 450 minutes across 11 games.

Grade on signing: C-
Grade after performance: C+

CF: Andy Ryan, 23 (Airdrieonians)

A five figure fee was paid for the highest scorer in League One last season. Yet, outside of the cup competitions he has been used as an impact sub (he is the most subbed on player). Although, his goals per minute is the best of any of the centre forwards at the club with two in the space of 210 minutes.

He feels like the natural successor to Nicky Clark, but with a bit more dynamism to his game. While this may have been one for the near future, it felt unnecessary at the time with other areas of the team lacking numbers never mind the quality to fill them. So, to pay a good amount of money on a backup seems like an reckless use of funds. Especially, at this level.

Grade on signing: C+
Grade after performance: C

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

The stats and the eye-test bore out that Robinson was in-fact the worst first-choice goalkeeper in the Championship. Now as a second choice that is a coup, but clubs at this level do not have the resources to be paying two first-choice keepers.

Again this seemed unnecessary as Cammy Gill was a capable backup and as an emergency, Craig Burt was a third option (he was on the bench against Dumbarton). Now that Murdoch is out likely for the month, it seems strange to be having Murdoch and Robinson in the matchday squad from February until the end of the season. As a result, Gill should be loaned out to get game-time.

However, Robinson has not put a few wrong with back-to-back clean sheets in his first two starts for the club, which had not been achieved in 14 league games.

Grade on signing: D
Grade after performance: B-


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