In the lead-up to this Saturday’s SPFL Trust Trophy match against Dundee United, Dunfermline manager James McPake finds himself in a challenging situation with nine key players unavailable.
The Pars squad is missing players for various reasons, including one player who is cup-tied, one serving a suspension, one on international duty, and six others nursing injuries. Despite these setbacks, McPake is determined to make the most of this competition as he did last season, providing young talents with a chance to shine on the first-team stage. Speaking about his approach to this fixture, James said:-
“It is not being disrespectful or dismissive of this cup, but I think it is a real chance to expose certain players to first team football like we did against Celtic B last season.
“Last season in the SPFL Trust Trophy against Arbroath we went pretty strong because it came at a good time. We went up there on a Friday when there were no games midweek, similar to this one. Then the one against Dundee we had Sam Young playing against seasoned pros playing for Dundee and doing really well for sixty odd minutes. O’Hara, Todorov, Macdonald – we were able to really rotate that squad that night.
“So it is a chance to do that and for the exposure, to see if certain young players can handle these situations. They are doing great, whoever does play on Saturday, we are certainly not handing anything out just willy-nilly. It is because they have been performing in training and that was always going to be the case with this game anyway.”
Two young prospects, 17-year-olds Andrew Tod and Taylor Sutherland (pictured above), will potentially feature in this match. James praised their development saying:-
“Those two have been excellent. They have come on in league games. Andrew Tod came on at 1-1 up in Inverness on Saturday. He started against Airdrie and he has been fantastic. Taylor as well has recently been really good in training and it was a toss up on Saturday- he was unfortunate not to go on Saturday when we were chasing the game. They are knocking on the door, they have a lot of development to come, we know that, but this cup gives you the chance to accelerate that development, to help them with that development away from the reserves.
“When you start getting into the first team squad reserve football serves its purpose, and I am a big advocate for that, but this cup is a different level certainly drawn away to Dundee United, it is a different level for players like that to be included and involved. Andrew Tod came on with Ben Summers up at Tannadice so he has experienced that. Taylor might get a chance to experience that this Saturday and there are younger ones as well.”
Those other younger players include Taylor’s 16 year-old brother Jake Sutherland, and another two 17 year-olds, Ewan McLeod and Liam Hoggan (pictured above). With no fewer than nine players ruled out of Saturday’s SPFL Trust Trophy match the subs bench will likely be light at Tannadice. On the bright side 21 year-old Owen Moffat is eligible to play in this Saturday’s game. Owen is currently the manager’s most recent acquisition but he is “hopeful to make another signing by Saturday.”
James contrasted this season’s injuries story with last’s:-
“These circumstances are strange. I wouldn’t say lucky but last season we had a good run although we did pick up a fair few injuries but to lose your captain who was mostly ever present, your goalkeeper who was fantastic last season, Matty Todd who was ever present last season, Kane Ritchie-Hosler who was ever present towards the end of the season, Craig Wighton who played when not injured, Rhys Breen mostly ever present apart from when out with hamstring. There are players out that were key parts of that team and key parts of the squad planning for this season.
“It is probably the first time that I have experienced this as a manager. There are always injuries but when you get so many serious ones in quick succession, ones that require surgery and particularly ones that you look at and there is nothing that could have been done.
“Kane tackled Andrew Tod in training, Deniz blocked a shot with the outside of his ankle, Matty pressed a Kilmarnock player, Bene kicked the bottom of a boot. You are looking for a reason to see why are we picking these injuries up. Sometimes there is none. You just hope that through time you get that wee break at the other side of it.
“The players are using the time well. Matty is looking strong and Paul Allan was the one last year that we were disappointed in because it took so long but Matty is looking like Paul now working hard on the gym. There is a mind set to it as well, you have to look for positives but it is certainly hard to pick a team. That’s football!
“Throw in Harry Sharp is cup tied. Sam Fisher is suspended for a daft tackle at Arbroath last season and he went back to Dundee and couldn’t play against us because he was cup tied. Even that one is a bizarre.
“We will go up to United and have a competitive team to go out there and have a go. It is still a game where we want to go out for a positive result.”