Speaking at lunchtime manager James McPake said that he was glad to get the last of the friendlies out of the way and the final preparations from pre-season made. He claimed that his squad was in good health and as prepared as they can be ahead of the first Viaplay Cup tie away to Raith Rovers on Saturday.
James first match after being appointed permanent manager at Dundee in the summer of 2019 was an away match against Raith Rovers in what was then called the Betfred Cup. His side recorded a 3-0 win over the Rovers and another win this weekend would be a great start.
“It is early but we have been in this cup for a while now and it is the same for every team when it comes around. You try and fit in as much as you can. The break was good as was not having to deal with play-offs the way the club did the year before. The break was important, the players needed that and they have worked really hard since we came back, so we are prepared.”
While the competition is not new to James this Fife Derby is, he continued:-
“This one is new to me. I am aware of the rivalry similar to the Falkirk one. When I first came in last year everyone was talking about the rivalry but I had never experienced it. I am looking forward to it, it is a game on TV and a good game to start with.
“Our away form was great last year, we were unbeaten at home, we just need to continue that. The artificial surface is one that we are very used to as well and I have never been one to use that as an excuse. Obviously we would rather be out there in front of our own fans but we will take a big travelling support there and they will get right behind us if we perform.”
Raith Rovers have made new signings and remain undefeated after their four pre-season matches. James had clocked their signings but said that he had not paid too much attention to any other team’s recruitment:-
“Obviously you are made aware of it, in all divisions you see it. I’m a fan of Scottish football so I do see that but most of my concentration has been on who we are trying to recruit. The rest has been on getting a squad fit and healthy for the start of a league cup group.”
The Dunfermline manager sends his team out to try and win every match and so he will be taking the Viaplay Cup seriously. He discussed the way some view the early season competition:-
“People will come out and say that it is a continuation of pre-season but not when there is this derby and a Premiership side coming here. Premiership sides can be seen to slip up in certain games when they are in it so early. The ones in Europe obviously don’t come in but everyone else is in fighting to get through to the next round. Anyone who says that they aren’t then they are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
“You are under pressure right away to perform, to hit the heights as you finished last year or to get back on your feet like us last year. We were very disappointed that we never qualified last year. We lost out in a penalty shoot out here when we should have done enough so it is another chance. It is one of the two major national cup competitions that our club is allowed into so they will be games that we are taking seriously.
“To be fair the players took the friendlies serious as well. The only difference with them being that they go into them tired. This Saturday they go into a game prepared the way they normally would.”
The manager is keen to qualify out of the group stage of the Viaplay Cup but with Premiership opponents in the form of Kilmarnock to face and a Fife derby, Saturday’s game may assume greater importance in terms of qualification.
“It is a strange one because this cup does throw up weird scenarios, every year you see it. I think if it was my first time coming into it then I would be saying “yeah this is one that we need to win”. Strangely enough my first ever game as a manager was in this cup away to Raith Rovers as well. At that point they were in League One and I was going into that game thinking this is one we need to win. At Dundee at the time we had Inverness in that group and that was the last game.
“I have been in it when Hibs have been in my group and both teams went through. I just think on balance and over the course of the group you just need to pick up the points where you can. Sometimes that is against the Premiership team, they normally do slip up somewhere in this cup because it is very early.
“We will just focus on Raith. We will go into that game but what we need to do is perform. If we perform we give ourselves a very good chance of coming away with a positive result. That is the aim before we move on to Tuesday night. It is a tight schedule, it is good and the way we like it when you are going Saturday – Tuesday – Saturday – Tuesday.
“I like the way that it has worked out. I have been in the last game a few times needing a result, like last year. The way that it has worked for us this year is the best way. I like the fact that we have back to back games and then a free week before the league starts. But that’s me looking way too far into the future.
“Regardless of what happens on Saturday both teams will still have themselves a really good chance of qualifying. We are under no illusions that it is going to be a tough game. It is certainly one that we want to go and win.”
Asked if he was any closer to new signings or departures, James replied:-
“There might be a couple go out on loan but we need to make sure that we are right at this end first. We will do that and there is a couple working away in the background but nothing imminent.”
James revealed that injury concerns, Rhys Breen and Ewan Otoo have both trained for the last couple of days. Although there is still one training session to go, Dunfermline will go into this game with as fit a squad as they can apart from Kane Ritchie-Hosler who is a long term absentee. James added that Kane is “on the mend”:-
“His surgery went well, he will be out of his boot in another week. That is the first part of his rehab done, we are delighted with the surgery but we are obviously gutted for the boy and the football club that he got the injury.
“He will be out close to the twelve weeks from when it happened. It will be maybe eight or nine weeks until we get him back but the surgery went well, he has been well looked after and is having a bit of down time back at home before he comes out of the boot and the hard work starts.”
Chris Hamilton will however serve a two match ban after seeing red in the pre-season friendly at Alloa on Tuesday night. Most recent signing, Michael O’Halloran’s fitness is good, claimed James:-
“All he needs is minutes. He is incredibly fit, he looks after himself and is a very good professional. We saw that over the ten days. It was never a trial, he was coming in and we got a deal that both parties could agree on. He is ready to start if and when required.”
Paul McGowan is still training with the Dunfermline squad and the player who played in the aforementioned first of James’ League Cup experiences is not a trialist. He pointed out:-
“He has played 500 games! He has played for Celtic, he has won a cup with St Mirren and I think I have managed over 150 of these games. He is certainly not here as a trialist. He is not signed but we are still looking to get a few in.”