I like Dunfermline. East End Park was the first regular away ground for me and my dad so I have always enjoyed going to watch football there. There is also the small matter of the best food in football (I am more than happy to queue behind a dodgy ticket scanner for hours to get a couple of steak bridies).
Going into the start of this campaign I would have had Dunfermline as potential title challengers alongside United, Falkirk and St.Mirren. Until October it looked like that was going to be the case but one league win since the start of November has seen the Pars fall way behind the top two. Fans must be frustrated at the lack of progress under Allan Johnston this season. He has now been in charge for just over two years but to be honest, for me it looks more and more likely that he has simply taken his side as far as he can. The criticism of Johnston is quite often directed towards his tactical naivety and his inability to manage game situations properly. His side play good football and they attack well but there is an imbalance in the squad that needs addressing. There is probably no real danger of a change of manager right now but it might be the case that the board may look elsewhere when his contract expires in the summer.
Dunfermline supporters will be incredibly frustrated that they have not seen their side make more of a push towards promotion. The league this year is anybody’s guess and to be honest the Pars should be in the mix. In my opinion one big factor in the downturn in fortunes has been the lack of a proper midfield. Johnston has players out of position and to me they lack at least two central midfielders who can control games and distribute the ball properly. Bizarrely the potential targets in January (according to rumours) contain more strikers.
Getting away from the pitch I think Dunfermline deserve a lot of credit for the hard work in introducing a number of different initiatives and community projects over the last 18 months. Dunfermline should be applauded in making efforts to improve many of the behind the scenes things that fans might not always notice. After a turbulent few years it looks like Dunfermline are back to being a stable, well run, community club (and others could learn a thing or two from it).
January Wishlist – It is vital that Dunfermline add to their midfield. They need real quality in the middle of the park which would take the pressure away from the players who are playing in there at the moment. One issue for Johnston might be that teams like Falkirk and Dundee United will be looking for a large number of players and Dunfermline may lose out as you would assume these clubs may be more desperate and offer larger contracts.
Player of the Season (so far) – Quite a difficult job this. All of Dunfermline’s key men have suffered from real inconstancy this season and the forward line is full of players like Joe Cardle who can destroy teams one game and then be totally anonymous the next. Personally Declan McManus is someone who I rate highly. He has been a bit of a nomad in his career so far but at 23 he may have found some stability at Dunfermline.
Predicted Finish – 5th. It is pretty much an impossible task to predict where Dunfermline and a few other teams might finish this season. They still have the capability in this squad to finish in the playoff spots but the worry would be teams in and around them who may have a more successful January transfer window. I can see Dunfermline just missing out on a playoff spot.
Manager Grade – C. I’m a big believer in managerial cycles. Might it be that Allan Johnston is coming to the end of his? In recent months they feel like a team who have run out of ideas, confidence and stability. They don’t really seem to have a tactical plan at the moment and it might just be the case that they need a fresh set of ideas. Dunfermline fans seem to be fairly split on the issue of managerial change but if they do not reach the playoffs then it would surely mean the end for Johnston.
Overall Grade – C. After a fantastic start it looked like Dunfermline may have been the team to beat this year. It makes it all the more frustrating for their fans that they now look much weaker than Livingston, St.Mirren and Dundee United. They also have two or three sides looking over their shoulder. A good run of form from Morton, Inverness or Queen of the South would see Dunfermline slip out of playoff contention. The January window (and tricky fixture list) will tell us a great deal about what the second half of the season holds for the Pars.