Four players Dunfermline Athletic should sign in the pre-season transfer window

Allan Johnston signed a two-year deal at East End Park in the off-season as he aims to guide his Pars side towards promotion by May 2020 with an overhaul in personnel to his squad.

Regardless whether the former Heart of Midlothian winger was here or not the first order of business was for Dunfermline to return Daniel Armstrong and James Vincent to their parent clubs after their three-month loan spells.

That was not the end to the departures as Callum Morris, Conner Duthie, Dean Shiels, Jason Talbot, Michael Paton and Scott Lochhead followed. Five of the six names were expected, but when Talbot’s name was spotted on the PFA Scotland player availability list it was somewhat surprising as he had been dependable in the overwhelming majority of his 109 appearances since joining from Livingston in June 2015.

The only out of contract player that fans will not be astounded to see in another strip next season is Nat Wedderburn. The Englishman featured for 156 minutes since the mid-season transfer window closed; 90 of them being his last start back in February. Yet, it would be disappointing to see him leave considering he offers something to a team that very few players at this level can.

It can be assumed that every effort will be made to keep Declan McManus, Joe Cardle and Kallum Higginbotham where they are seeing as they were staples of the starting 11. Johnston should be wanting the backup centre back, Jean Yves-M’voto to remain. However, Athletic have seen Fraser Aird and Nicky Clark go to fellow Championship side, Dundee United.

If those that are expected to sign up for at least another campaign remain then there is a good base to the squad. There are 10 players (Ashcroft, Cardle, Craigen, Higginbotham, Martin, McManus, Murdoch, M’Voto, Robinson and Williamson) that can be relied on to perform at this level. Andy Ryan, Callum Smith and Tom Beadling (returning to the Pars on a permanent basis) are the unknowns at this level across the course of a season but are deserving of their place in the squad for one reason or t’other. What is predominately lacking is depth and that can be resolved with the acquisition of these players:

Centre back

Craig Halkett:

The Livingston captain has established himself as a first-team professional since the Lions transitioned from a League One outfit to a Premiership one in the two seasons after he joined them in the January of their relegation campaign in 2015.

Halkett was voted by his fellow professionals as one of the best centre backs in the second tier. That honour fulfilled the potential that saw him sign a professional contract at his boyhood club, Rangers when he turned 17.

It would be a coup if the Pars could prise the 23-year-old central defender from the allure of top-tier football. Yet, he would earn a better wage plying his trade for the Fifers and be in a more stable situation with Dunfermline.

Full back

Michael Doyle:

The former Greenock Morton right back started his career as a youth player for Celtic then Kilmarnock before getting his first taste of professional football with a Stirling Albion side that could not stave off relegation from the First Division in 2011. Following that, he moved on to Paul Hartley’s Alloa Athletic; achieving back-to-back promotions. He stuck with the Wasps until he was snapped up by St Johnstone, but was back in the second tier with the Ton six months later.

He is coming up for 27 in August, and with over 280 games to his name, he has the experience of being a defensive full back that would compliment Ryan Williamson’s approach to get forward ahead of the wide midfielder.

Wide man

Steven Lawless:

The left midfielder had come up the bottom two divisions on loan at Albion Rovers starting in 2010. Lawless then put the Pars to the sword; scoring four of his 13 in his debut First Division campaign. Over the course of the last five seasons, the Motherwell youth product had been a mainstay in the Premiership.

Having turned 27 in April, he is still in his theoretical prime while being experienced enough (270 games) to give Joe Cardle competition and offer something different. Cardle tends to favour to cut inside and while Lawless can do that he is ambidextrous and able to take a defender down to the byline and cross a ball back for the centre forwards to latch onto.

Central midfielder

Grant Gillespie:

Another player that has tasted success and like Lawless has played over 100 games in the Scottish top flight and the third player that will be 27 for the majority of the campaign. Gillespie had been at Hamilton Academical for 12 years until his short stint at Dundee United earlier this year.

The Pars have lacked a ball-winning midfielder since Andy Geggan departed the club last summer and Gillespie would be the answer to that problem as they have Wedderburn as is the anchor man, Craigen the attacking midfielder and Beadling the deep-lying-playmaker.


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Dunfermline Athletic squad 2018/19

Transfers in – Summer

CB: Daniel Devine, 25 (Partick Thistle)
CB: Mark Durnan, 25 (Dundee United)
LB: Jackson Longridge, 23 (Livingston)
CM: Joe Thomson, 21 (Celtic)
CM: Tom Beadling, 22 (Sunderland)
CM: Willo Flood, 33 (Dundee United)
RW: Louis Longridge, 26 (Falkirk)
LW: Aidan Connolly, 22 (York City)

Transfers out – Summer

CB: Callum Morris, 28 (Unattached)
CB: Jean-Yves M’voto, 29 (Unattached)
LB: Jason Talbot, 32 (Unattached)
DM: Nat Wedderburn, 28 (Unattached)
RM: Kallum Higginbotham, 28 (Unattached)

RM: Michael Paton, 29 (Unattached)
CM: Aaron Splaine, 21 (Unattached)
LM: Conner Duthie, 21 (Stenhousemuir)
LM: Fraser Aird, 23 (Dundee United)
LM: Joe Cardle, 31 (Unattached)

AM: Dean Shiels, 33 (Derry City)
AM: Scott Lochhead, 21 (Unattached)
CF: Declan McManus, 23 (Ross County)

CF: Nicky Clark, 26 (Dundee United)

Contract expires at the end of the season

Andy Ryan,
Callum Smith,
Cammy Gill,
Lee Ashcroft,
Lee Robinson,
Louis Longridge,
Lewis Martin,
James Craigen,
Mark Durnan,
Ryan Williamson,
Sean Murdoch,
Willo Flood.


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The Pars great form

No side are in better form in the Championship since their defeat against St Mirren coming out of the enforced winter break because of the stormy weather that engulfed the nation than the Pars.

Due to postponements, they had one game in three weeks (17th February to 10th March); a scoreless draw in Dumfries. The lack of game-time allowed Allan Johnston to familiarise the players acquired in the mid-season window with what he wanted from them on the pitch. As a result, the Fifers’ last 11 games have seen them win seven (Brechin City (2), Dumbarton, Falkirk, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Livingston and Queen of the South) and draw four (Dundee United (2), Greenock Morton and the Caley Jags).

The inclusion of James Craigen from the Bairns and Tom Beadling on loan from Sunderland into the central midfield berths have seen an upturn in fortunes and quelled the issues that were apparent pre-Feburary. There has been nothing wrong with Nat Wedderburn’s performance in the position, but he would be better suited as a defensive midfielder with two central midfielders, one being a deep-lying playmaker and the other being an energetic ball-winning midfielder with him. The current duo have the combination of what is required to play in the Athletic midfield, but have the energy required to accomplish what is needed.

In addition, the Pars are unbeaten in the 12 league games that Lewis Martin has started at left back. The form of Fraser Aird in front of the academy product has been sensational the last seven weeks and he has rightly kept Joe Cardle watching on from the sidelines. That tandem going down the left is akin to what is happening with Ryan Williamson and Kallum Higginbotham on the other flank. That is not to disparage Jason Talbot’s efforts as a full back which have been team of the season worthy within the Championship.

Five of Johnston’s acquisitions this season (Aird, Beadling, Craigen, Declan McManus and Lee Robinson) can lay claim to being in the best starting 11 that he can field:

Robinson;
Williamson, Morris (c), Ashcroft, Martin;
Higginbotham, Beadling, Craigen, Aird;
Clark, McManus.
 
The Pars will have to navigate by Dundee United in the quarter-final second leg of the Premiership playoffs where Livingston await in the next round. Johnston has failed to beat the Tangerines in 12 attempts (four draws); the last time Dunfermline inflicted defeat on Friday’s opponents was in August of 2011; at Tannadice. It was also against the Terrors that Athletic infamously had three penalties saved in one match last season. There are a lot of negatives that could be nullified with a positive outcome tomorrow. They could go in the semi-final confident, seeing as Dunfermline are the only team that David Hopkin’s men failed to defeat over the course of the league season.

You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

Match preview: Dunfermline Athletic versus Brechin City

The Pars will not want to slip up to the Angus outfit that remain winless in this Championship season. If, the homers were to suffer defeat, it would not only be a personal embarrassment, but it could have grave ramifications on their Premiership playoff aspirations.

Kickoff time, ticket prices and where to watch

Ticket prices:

South Stand: Adults £20, Concessions £14
All other stands: Adults £18, Concessions £12
Away Stands: Adults £18, Concessions £12, U12s £5

Match information:

Saturday 14th, 15:00 at East End Park.

Team news

Dunfermline Athletic:

Aaron Splaine, James Vincent and Sean Murdoch (injured).
Tom Beadling (doubt).

Brechin City:

Paul McLean (suspended).
Andy Jackson, Craig Storie and Ryan McGeever (injured).
Gary Fusco (doubt).

Referee

John McKendrick.

Games reffed involving either side:

Brechin City 0-3 Dunfermline (2Y)
Brechin City 1-1 Greenock Morton.

What Dunfermline Athletic said

“It is a right good opportunity but we know that Brechin are playing without any pressure. They had a really tight game last week against St Mirren so we know that we are going to have to go out there and put a performance in. On paper it is possibly the easier one but in this league I do not think there are any easy games. The last thing you want to do is underestimate Brechin. They have been really unfortunate this year, they have not picked up many results and have not a lot of points. But there have been a lot of games where they have got right to the wire. We need to make sure that we start right, get the goals we need and hopefully move on to the next one.”(Allan Johnston, manager)

What Brechin City said

“We can take some confidence from the performance against St Mirren. Heads didn’t go down after losing an early goal and in the end they were the team happy to see the game out. When we played Dunfermline in September they were top and looked like real candidates to win the league. They’ve got some strong attacking options and after a sticky spell are looking good for the play-offs again. We made it hard for them at East End Park the last time and hopefully we can do that again.” (Darren Dods, manager)

Line ups last time out

Former Dunfermline Athletic players

Euan Spark (2016-17)
Finn Graham (2012-16)

Former Brechin City players

Andy Ryan (2013)
Michael Paton (2008)

Last seven meetings

Championship:

20/03/17. Brechin City 0-3 Dunfermline Athletic
23/12/17. Dunfermline Athletic 2-1 Brechin City.
23/09/17. Brechin City 0-3 Dunfermline Athletic.

League One:

26/03/16. Dunfermline Athletic 3-1 Brechin City.
20/02/16. Brechin City 1-2 Dunfermline Athletic.
05/12/15. Dunfermline Athletic 3-1 Brechin City.
08/08/15. Brechin City 1-6 Dunfermline Athletic.

Prediction

Dunfermline Athletic 5-0 Brechin City

Odds

Dunfermline Athletic: 0.21
Draw: 6.00
Brechin City: 14.00

Best bet

Dunfermline -2: 1.87

Table

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Complete fixture list

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You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

The four games that cost Dunfermline Athletic second place

This season, the Pars in venues all over Scotland have been everything from title contenders to mid-table mediocrity through undulating levels of performances having an effect on the results.
 
The popular opinion was that the Fifers were to finish a spot better this time around and come fourth; the last Premiership playoff position. Dundee United, Falkirk and St Mirren were expected to be above Allan Johnston’s men. While, two of the three are still on course to make that prediction a reality, the Bairns have underachieved with Livingston overachieving by everybody’s reckoning.
 
With the League One champions, four points away from securing the runners-up spot. Here are the matches in which Athletic will be kicking themselves in not achieving the required result to finish second:
 
09/09/17: Greenock Morton 3-2 Dunfermline Athletic
 
The perfect example of how to throw a lead away. Athletic had been two-nil up and cruising going into half-time against a side they had beaten in their previous three meetings.
 
Clear errors through a lack of concentration allowed for the first and final Ton goal coming in the opening and last minute of the final period for Jim Duffy’s men to snatch all three points. That outcome allowed their rivals, St Mirren to displace the Fifers at the top of the table five games in. It also closed the gap to the Pars to two points when it could have been eight; the biggest gap either side has had is half a dozen.
 
30/09/17: Dunfermline Athletic 1-3 Dundee United
 
In eight league attempts, Johnston has failed to mastermind a plan to topple them and in the Challenge and League Cup, he fairs no better. Even recent strugglers, Dumbarton have a better winning record over the Tangerines since the Dundonian’s entrance in Summer 2016; three wins from eight. While the Livingston results offset the defeat at Tannadice. Getting a doing at home to the 2010 Scottish Cup winners was the second defeat of the season and was the beginning of a rot that set in until Christmas Eve Eve. A draw would have sufficed even though it would have relinquished control of top spot to the Buddies.
 
09/12/17: Dunfermline Athletic 2-5 Queen of the South
 
The most pathetic display in the Johnston era as a 35-year-old Stephen Dobbie was given free reign to rip the pish out of the Pars defence. 15% of the goals conceded so far this season by Athletic came in this match. That is abysmal considering no team has more clean sheets or a better goals conceded per game record than them.
 
Gary Naysmith’s men are on course to finish seventh, a spot worse than they did last time out with the second worst defensive record. For them to get such a convincing win, especially, when these matches tend to be close affairs was embarrassing for the homers. A 2-1 win would have been fine and kept the Doonhamers on the outside looking in for the Premiership playoffs in the remainder of the campaign.
 
26/01/18: Dunfermline Athletic 1-2 St Mirren
 
There is no shame in defeat to the impending champions, but it would have been a positive to go five games unbeaten with a draw; a feat that the Pars took until March to achieve. Considering this match was live on BT Sport, a decent performance instead of an insipid one would have brought plaudits upon the squad on a national stage. Instead, they were subject to a goal that went worldwide thanks to Barcelona’s Twitter feed and was made to look a far second best.

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Match preview: Falkirk versus Dunfermline Athletic

Tomorrow, Grangemouth will host – in reality – the last meaningful game for the Bairns this season due to their worst league finish since 2002 when they were ninth in the second tier. While it has been an unsatisfying nine months, the disappointment could end by impeding the Pars reaching the Premiership playoffs with a first league victory of the campaign against their rivals.

Kickoff time and where to watch

Match information:

Saturday 7th, 15:00 at Falkirk Stadium.

Team news

Falkirk:

David Mitchell (injured).

Dunfermline Athletic:

Aaron Splaine, Michael Paton and Sean Murdoch (injured).

Referee

Don Robertson.

Previous games refereed involving either team this season:

Championship

St Mirren 3-1 Falkirk (4Y, 1R)
Dunfermline Athletic 1-3 Dundee United (6Y)
Falkirk 0-0 St Mirren (4Y)
Queen of the South 0-0 Dunfermline Athletic (2Y)

League Cup

Rangers 6-0 Dunfermline Athletic (3Y).

What Falkirk are saying

“We want Saturday to be a good derby game with a little bit of spice to it. We want the game to pass by with a good atmosphere. There is going to be an edge to the game, I think there will be a great crowd in, but we do not want anyone to cross the line.” (Paul Hartley, manager)

What Dunfermline Athletic are saying

“There is still a lot to play for, the league is still really really tight. We just know that we have to continue playing the way that we have been playing because we need to get ourselves into the play offs. It is going to be a really tough game at the weekend. Falkirk’s record shows that they are on a good run as well.” (Allan Johnston, manager)

Line ups last time out

Former Falkirk players

Fraser Aird (2017)
James Craigen (16-18)

Kallum Higginbotham (10-12)

Former Dunfermline Athletic players

Rory Loy (09).

Last eight meetings

Championship:

02/01/17. Dunfermline Athletic 2-0 Falkirk
04/11/17. Falkirk 1-1 Dunfermline Athletic
19/08/17. Dunfermline Athletic 3-1 Falkirk

22/04/17. Dunfermline Athletic 1-2 Falkirk
04/02/17. Falkirk 2-0 Dunfermline Athletic
26/12/16. Dunfermline Athletic 1-1 Falkirk
15/10/16. Falkirk 2-1 Dunfermline Athletic

Challenge Cup:

07/10/17. Falkirk 2-0 Dunfermline Athletic

Prediction

Falkirk 2-3 Dunfermline Athletic

Odds

Falkirk: 1.60
Draw: 2.40
Dunfermline Athletic: 1.70

Best bet

Dunfermline Athletic to win and over 2.5 goals: 3.80

Table

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 11.47.18

Complete fixture list

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 11.47.02


You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.

 

Match preview: Dunfermline Athletic versus Livingston

The Lions have been tamed by the Pars in the previous encounters this season and Athletic will be hoping to at least share the spoils with the West Lothian outfit at the end of play tonight.

On Saturday, Queen of the South’s playoff hopes were ended by a Nicky Clark hat-trick while the League One champions remained on course to finish runners-up to St Mirren with a three-nil win in Dumbarton.

Allan Johnston will be hoping to put all the pressure on Greenock Morton  – who do not play this evening – and push them down into at least fourth. David Hopkin will aim to defeat the only side he has not been able to in the Championship this season.

Kickoff time, ticket prices and where to watch

Ticket prices:

South Stand: Adults £20, Concessions £14
All other stands: Adults £18, Concessions £12
Away Stands: Adults £18, Concessions £12, U12s £5

Match information:

Tuesday 3rd, 19:45 at East End Park.

Team news

Dunfermline Athletic:

Aaron Splaine, James Vincent Joe Cardle and Sean Murdoch (injured).

Livingston:

No news.

Referee

Stephen Finnie.

Games reffed involving either side:

Queen of the South 0-0 Dunfermline Athletic (5Y).
Dunfermline Athletic 1-1 Greenock Morton (2Y)
Livingston 3-2 Brechin City (5Y, 1PEN)
Livingston 0-1 Queen of the South (3Y)

What Dunfermline Athletic said

“We have to focus on ourselves and make sure that between now and the end of the season we get as many wins as possible. A win rather than a draw makes a massive difference. We will focus on this next game because everything changes so quick when you see the results and the table. So one game at a time, I know it is an old cliche but it is really really important. There are no easy games in this league. It doesn’t matter whether you are playing a team at the bottom or a team at the top they are that similar. You cannot lose focus.” (Allan Johnston, manager)

What Livingston said

[On signing Adam Frizzell]: “Adam is a attacking player who gives us some options and cover for the games ahead. We are coming into a busy period of games that are going to be massive for everyone at the club. I think Adam can help us through this period and he brings Premiership experience with him. He is an explosive player, and can play anywhere across the midfield or up front.” (David Hopkin, manager)

Line ups last time out

Former Dunfermline Athletic players

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

Former Livingston players

Jason Talbot (2008-15)

Last seven meetings

Championship:

10/02/17: Livingston 1-1 Dunfermline Athletic
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 seven times in nine starts.

Prediction

Dunfermline Athletic 2-1 Livingston 

Odds

Dunfermline Athletic: 1.50
Draw: 2.40
Livingston: 2.10

Best bet

Over 2.5 goals: 1.10

Table

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 10.21.15

Complete fixture list

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You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.