Saints v Dunfermline preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Friday, 20th April 2012
We may be safe from the drop but we can still play a big part in deciding who gets relegated from the SPL this season when we face basement boys Dunfermline tomorrow.
For once we are in the rather fortunate position of being able to relax after the split. We will not be involved in the relegation battle for just the second time since returning to the SPL - and the previous occasion in 2008 was mainly due to Gretna's implosion. OK, so there is still a chance that tomorrow's opponents could overhaul us but that would require them to win their remaining five games 3-0 and us to lose our five by the same margin. The odds of that are so long that if you stuck a tenner on you could probably clear Rangers' debt with the winnings and still have change.
The lack of a nerve jangling, nail biting battle doesn't make the last five games meaningless, however. There is still a chance of seventh place and that would bring with it a handy cash boost for next season. Even ninth would mean our best ever SPL finish and we currently have a reasonably healthy gap to Inverness Caley Thistle. We've already bettered our highest ever pre-split tally and two wins would allow us to equal our best ever SPL points total. None of this is nearly as important as our usual annual battle to avoid the drop but it should ensure our players don't down tools for a few more games yet.
While we are safe from the drop Dunfermline most certainly aren't. They are in big, big trouble and are almost in need of a miracle to avoid going down so will be fired up tomorrow. They may have been poor all season but they are in desperate need of points - their need far greater than ours in our quest for seventh - so if our players aren't switched on then we could well be made to pay for it.
One of the bonuses of being safe at this stage of the season is we can give a few of our younger players some first team experience. Admittedly Jon McShane is probably most needing some SPL game and is currently out on loan, while the same could be said for Jamie McKernon. However, Thomas Reilly and Jason Naismith have been promised some games before the end of the season finish and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see them get a lengthy sub run out against Dunfermline, their trip to Serbia with Scotland during the week probably ruling them out of a start. The same goes for Graeme Smith, who hasn't featured since signing although he's reported to be on the way out, while the week off may have allowed Darren McGregor to get enough match fitness to start for the first time since suffering his horror injury in August.
If he does take his place in defence he won't be joined by Jeroen Tesselaar, who was sent off last time out at Ibrox. Graham Carey will probably slot in there as the other alternative, David Barron is reportedly still injured. It's a pity as we could do with Carey in midfield so he can fire balls into the box - although Dougie Imrie showed he can produce a more than decent cross during our last home game against Kilmarnock. With nothing of real note to play for we may as well go for it against the Pars so hopefully Carey and Imrie will join Steven Thompson, Paul McGowan and Nigel Hasselbaink in an attacking side - although expect a fit again Jim Goodwin to return to midfield to temper that adventure. Alternatively, his slot could be taken by Hugh Murray, who found out this week he was leaving during the summer. It's only right he gets a run out in our last three home games - and the same goes for Steven Thomson, who is also on his way.
Jim Jefferies is already popular with Hearts fans but if he keeps Dunfermline up he'll probably gain immortality with them. He may have won the Scottish Cup with Hearts the Scottish Cup in 1998 but sending Hibs down to the first division would be almost as good for the Jambos. Sadly for them, every passing week makes it look increasingly unlikely. Since the Pars board decided to gamble by getting shot of Jim McIntyre - on the basis they were going down anyway so might as well try something new - Dunfermline have managed one point from three games. No prizes for guessing who that was against...
Dunfermline's problem, aside from not winning a home league game all season, is that their players are simply not good enough. A number of them are good first division performers but there are few you'd like to see at Greenhill Road if they do indeed go down. Andy Kirk might do a job up front - although is getting on a bit - and Joe Cardle has had a good season. I wouldn't have minded Paul Burns in the summer but he has seemed to struggle, while January signings Jordan McMillan and Mark Kerr (as well as loan star Kyle Hutton) are decent enough.
Apart from that little lot there's no one else. Andrew Barrowman didn't exactly bang in the goals while in the SPL with Inverness Caley Thistle a few years ago and has only scored a couple, while Liam Buchanan has struggled with the step up to the top flight. Kevin Rutkiewicz can perform at this level but is injured far too often and Martin Hardie is probably a bit too old now, although his set-piece expertise means he's handy to bring on late in an American football style. Alex Keddie, Andrew Dowie and Austin McCann are capable of decent performances mixed in with shockers.
The main issue in recent months has been in goal. After tempting Paul Gallacher back from Paisley with the offer of big wages they were made to pay when he got injured at the end of last year after a series of good performances. Another former Buddie stepped into his place but a string of shocking mistakes saw Chris Smith dropped for loanee Iain Turner. He's now injured and returned to Preston so Smith is back playing again, his confidence still a little dodgy. Random Spaniard Bernardo Dominguez Fernandez has come in as back-up, although it wouldn't be a surprise to see him get a game tomorrow.
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