Dunfermline’s manager, James McPake, has faced his fair share of challenges this season, particularly in dealing with a string of injuries that have impacted key players. Despite this adversity, James remains unfazed, demonstrating a steadfast belief in the team’s development and a commitment to sticking to their footballing principles.
Consistency Amidst Challenges:
James shared his perspective on the injuries that have plagued his squad. Matty Todd, Kane Ritchie-Hosler, Kyle Benedictus, Rhys Breen, Deniz Mehmet, Andrew Tod and loanee from Celtic, Ben Summers have all experienced more than short absences. Rather than expressing frustration, he stressed the importance of consistency and performance on the pitch.
“If we had injuries last season, I don’t think we would have been as consistent in our performances and being able to pick up as many points. I’m realistic enough and I know in football you’ve got 11 players on the pitch and you’ve got to perform and, ultimately, you’ve got to win games or you’re going to get criticism. I genuinely don’t mind that.”
Youthful Squad and Growth:
Acknowledging the youthfulness of his squad, James highlighted the inevitable bumps in the road that come with developing a young team while navigating the move from League One to the Championship. Despite the challenges, he remains optimistic about the growth and development of his players. McPake mentioned specific players illustrating the progress they have made this season.
“Ewan Otoo for example and Owen Moffat have now played more football for us than they have for any other team. Josh Edwards is different because he was playing but he is now playing consistently well in my opinion every week. Matty Todd has just come back, Lewis McCann is now looking a lot more consistent than he was last season when we saw glimpses of it.
“They will grow and develop together but to have that consistency is really tough moving up a level when you add the injuries in as well.”
Adherence to Principles:
James McPake emphasised that the team’s approach and principles remain unchanged, even during difficult periods. Rather than making drastic changes after a few bad weeks, he and his coaching staff religiously focus on targeted improvements for the next game. This dedication to a consistent philosophy forms the backbone of Dunfermline’s strategy for long-term success. He continued:-
“We do believe in what we’re doing. Even when we were winning last season, we were always trying to develop the group and trying to get better day to day.
“I think that’s how we are all together as a football club, everybody can see the process of what’s happening. Myself and Dave (Mackay) are probably the last ones to say we are going to go on a bad run. We keep getting told that and not to worry, we have to stick to our principles. When you are trying to find a win, sometimes the hardest one to tell that to is yourself!”
Facing Adversity Head-On:
The manager shared insights into the decision-making process when faced with adversity, such as injuries and poor performances. McPake recounted the recent match against Raith Rovers where the team struggled but chose to stick with their formation and tactical approach. This decision, driven by a belief in their system, showcases McPake’s resilience as a manager even now with injury to Sam Fisher making his squad three centre backs down.
“In our heads we had prepared for it, there were going to points in this season, next season – and even last season – where we could lose a couple in a row or go on a run that everybody deems is a crisis. I think it’s just how you manage it inside the club.
“We struggled against Raith when we were poor. If we went to a back four, do we then leave behind all the work that we have done since January and go back to a back four? I don’t think it would be too big a problem for us but we decided to stick to the back three and stick to what we do.”
Embracing Fan Expectations:
McPake appreciates the high expectations of the Pars fans and recognises the importance of performance in meeting those expectations. He views crowd reactions, whether supportive or critical, as part of the game. McPake believes that as long as the team performs, the crowd will rally behind them, a sentiment that aligns with the resilient nature of his players.
“I said last year that I quite like the demands and the noise coming from the crowd. When things were going well that is easy for me to say, we never lost at home last season and didn’t lose two games in a row.
“If we’re not performing to a standard then we know the crowd are going to get after us and going to demand more from us. The players know that, and they’ve all played here or at different clubs where they have had that expectation. But to flip that and go out and play the way we did against Inverness and not take all three points, they still applaud us off the pitch.
“I’ve been very big to the players and my staff, that as long we perform our crowd will get right behind us, and they’ve shown that over the course of the 18 months we’ve been in here. When there’s 11 Dunfermline players on that pitch they need to go out and perform, and I like that they demand that of us.”