Why Dunfermline Athletic are catching the eye on and off the pitch under former Celtic coach and new owners
Only one thing has been missing from the delectations served up for Dunfermline supporters by their team since crowds returned to East End Park over the past week.
Covid-19 restrictions precluded snack bar action as punters chomped down on the truly tasty fare from Peter Grant’s side… meaning none of the famed Stephens steak bridies were on offer. Instead, fans had to settle for gorging on goals – nine netted across the comprehensive home wins over Dumbarton and Stenhousmuir that helped set up a last-16 tie in the Premier Sports Cup away to Rangers in three weeks. However, what is really whetting appetites among the club faithful is the portents their blistering group-stage form could hold for the bread and butter that is the Fife club’s Championship challenge under Grant’s embryonic stewardship.
A rebirth appears under way, both on and off the pitch, at one of Scotland’s institution clubs. It has made Dunfermline arguably the most talked-up club outside the top flight in the week they begin their league assault away to Morton on Saturday. It is a monumental campaign for a team that, over the past 14 years – only one, the 2011-12 season, spent in the top flight – has so often seemed institutionally deficient. Expectation and excitement is feverish in fan circles. And not just because of impressive team reconstruction that, on the very early evidence – it must be cautioned – by former Celtic midfelder Grant has presided over since his May arrival. An appointment that followed his willingness to play bold, expressive football with a part-time Alloa Athletic side that won countless admirers but insufficient games in dropping out of the second tier last season.
New men at the helm
Behind the scenes, Dunfermline have secured financial stability in these desperately unstable pandemic times through accelerating the takeover by German consortium DAFC Fussball GmbH. Completed last week a year ahead of schedule on the request of chairman Ross McArthur and his board, the group took their shareholding to just over 75% from the 30% they previously held. It says much about the trust McArthur has fostered in his governance among the club’s supporter-base that prior, understandable, hesitancy to relinquish fan ownership has largely dissipated.
McArthur will continue in his role as chairman, and maintains there will be no dilution in Dunfermline’s “existing culture and community ethos”. Facets that allowed for the club to pick themselves up after they first plunged into administration, and then the third tier in 2013 following earlier mismanagement by Gavin Masterton and John Yorkston. The recent announcement that they have been named preferred bidders for the Rosyth Civil Service Club as they push on with moves to establish a training ground and academy have encouraged the Dunfermline faithful that the backing from the German consortium can be the means to develop the infrastructure they have long craved.
Of course, it is Premiership football they crave above all else and in the team being fashioned by Grant – Pedro’s Pars, they have been labelled online – they believe there is a genuine prospect of the club’s foremost objective being realised. The links to Scotland international Graham Dorrans, currently unattached but keeping his fitness up with former club Dundee, speaks of the ambitions of Grant and his club. The Dunfermline fans were desperate to see his predecessors and favoured sons, in manager Stevie Crawford and assistant Greg Shields, succeed. But the East End Park side developed a soft, stodgy centre that Grant has attacked through reconfiguring the team shape, and eye-catching recruitment.
Switching to a back-three from a previous flat back-four, he has slotted in Dundee United loan signing Ross Graham as the ball-playing central performer, and flanked him with Aaron Comrie and Paul Watson. It has allowed for a system change to a 3-4-3 in which Kyle MacDonald, signed from Airdrie in January but used sparingly in the second half of last season, and Josh Edwards have been full-backs able to operate effectively as wingers. The intent with which Dunfermline will chase the title is reflected most pointedly in their strengthening in the final third, which paid instant dividends with 14 goals across their four League Cup sectional games. A permanent deal for previous Hearts loanee Craig Wighton looks smart business, with the striker bagging three goals already. That is the same number plundered by new face Nikolay Todorov, the target man making a summer move from Inverness. And as if that wasn’t sufficient armoury, highly-rated Rangers forward Kai Kennedy has also been acquired on loan to ensure Dunfermline have an embarrassment of frontline options.
Grant patently wants to pound opponents’ penalty areas, with a paucity of goals undermining the club’s push for promotion towards the end of last season. At times during that campaign they had opportunities to apply pressure to an up-and-down Hearts, but weren’t able to turn up the heat as their scoring instincts cooled. The fourth-place finish with which they had to make do resulted in top-flight hopes being extinguished courtesy of play-off defeat to Raith Rovers.
However, the Dunfermline manager’s desire to mould an expansive and engaging team should not be considered as coming at the expense of midfield security. His knowledge of the set-up in which he is now immersed is reflected by the unexpected redeployment of wide-man Dom Thomas as a deep-lying midfielder. The 25-year-old has also been handed the captaincy and will be tasked with anchoring the Fife team alongside either one of new signings Reece Cole or Paul Allan. All the signs are promising. Ask Grant about the potential over-arching rewards, though, and he will tell you only a visit to Cappielow is consuming his thoughts. In at least that respect then, the previous managerial orthodoxy prevails.
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