Dunfermline v Saints preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Friday, 23rd March 2012
Anyone who thinks our season is finished after Wednesday night needs to think again - because tomorrow's trip to Dunfermline is arguably our biggest game of the season so far.
Yes, we have a 12 point gap to Dunfermline but we're struggling to score, let alone win, at the moment. Dunfermline may be poor but they've just got a new manager and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see them suddenly go on a run. If we lose the gap is down to nine, our confidence will be shot and the Pars will have their tails up. If we win, however, it'll be as good as over - the gap up to 15 points with just seven games left.
If we are to get a win we'll need to improve greatly from Wednesday's display. After the penalty miss the heads dropped, we created little and were deservedly beaten. We cannot allow that to happen again. We need to go at Dunfermline from the off, move the ball about quickly and confidently and not be afraid to take a shot. Let's ditch this tippy tappy stuff, let's go direct - that way we might stop giving the ball away in increasingly stupid situations.
These are the sort of games I absolutely dread. While other teams seem to ease to wins against sides that are struggling we always do them a favour. So a game against the team bottom of the league and without a home win all season is not one to be relished - especially as they've just got themselves a new manager. We've been here countless times before - and no doubt will see it countless times again in the future - but just this once it would be nice if we avoided the banana skin.
Thanks to the wonders of the SPL computer this is our first visit to East End Park since the opening day of the season. The signs were all there for what we've seen in the past few months. We were on top for most of the game and created plenty of chances but just couldn't take them - the problem being summed up when Steven Thompson missed a penalty. Perhaps after Wednesday night he'll be back on them!
The return of Paul McGowan and Dougie Imrie should help us in the attacking stakes, although I wouldn't bet on it. Both have been playing recently when we've been struggling to score - we've only scored once in any game in which Imrie has played since moving to Hamilton - so their return does not mean the goals will suddenly start flowing. Not that I'm blaming them for that, it's our style of play more than anything else. We aren't short of candidates to make way for the pair of them but it will most likely be two from Steven Thomson, Hugh Murray and Gary Teale.
There are whispers that Darren McGregor will be fit enough for this one but as he's yet to play a bounce game a place in the bench is probably as good as he can hope for. Jeroen Tesselaar is probably a bit more likely to get a run out considering he played on Wednesday night. If he starts it could allow Graham Carey to be moved further forward as he looks to get over his penalty miss. A more advanced role would help us greatly as he was firing some dangerous crosses into the box. David Barron and Kenny McLean, like McGregor, are getting close to starts but probably won't make the first 11 tomorrow.
I always think the manager of a newly promoted team should get a free ride the following season unless he has an absolute stinker. Dunfermline haven't been doing particularly well of late but they're still only four points away from safety so it seemed a bit strange for them to sack Jim McIntyre. They may argue they have nothing to lose (except even more money by firing one manager and hiring another) and you can almost guarantee there will be the usual "dead cat bounce" now that Jim Jefferies has been appointed. He may well be the man to keep them up as his years of experience should help the Pars out - and it'll be interesting to see how he copes without Billy Brown!
Jefferies first task will be to sort out a defence so bad that even sending John Potter out on loan hasn't been able to improve it. Dunfermline have been leaking goals over the shop, many of them avoidable, and it hasn't helped that Kevin Rutkiewicz has been injured for a large chunk of the season. He now seems to be fit again so things should tighten up but with experienced guys like Alex Keddie and Austin McCann in the team it's hard to pinpoint what the problem is. The arrival of Jordan McMillan from Rangers in January should also tighten things up.
Admittedly the form of former Saint Chris Smith hasn't helped things. He must have been gutted when Paul Gallacher arrived in the summer, having lost his place to the former Scotland man while the pair were at Greenhill Road, but was handed a reprieve when Gally got injured. However, poor form saw Iain Turner brought in on loan but now he's managed to get himself injured it looks as if Smith is the preferred choice. He can pull off some good saves but it's the simpler stuff that seems to be the problem. No doubt he, and fellow ex Buddie Gary Mason, will have a blinder tomorrow.
Things at least look a bit better up front thanks to Andy Kirk. The experienced striker - who, like Jefferies, has also been at Hearts - has scored some key goals this season and his veteran status should help guys like Liam Buchanan and Andy Barrowman, who hadn't featured greatly in the SPL before this season. Joe Cardle is a creative force in midfield and the additions of Championship Manager legend Mark Kerr and Rangers' Kyle Hutton during the January transfer window should allow more chances to be created. The problem, as with Saints, will be taking them.