After back to back defeats the leading question has to be can the manager get the response from his players this week that can enhance the chances of a first win at Stark’s Park in approaching seven years. James McPake agreed that was a tough one to answer:-
“It is probably a question that we have not faced a lot really since coming here. I have generally found that over the course of being a player and a manager that you hurt but you have not got long to do it. When you are back in training, it is that old cliche that everything goes away when you are either on the pitch or training. I feel that’s true. There is a natural low when you lose a game, that is human nature but it is like everybody who has a bad day, you go home and shout at the kids a bit more. When you have a great day you are out buying them treats.
“The boys have got back to work and I generally think that’s what that group and every group that I have ever worked with or been part of has been like. That group just like coming in and working and they have done that again this week. The standard of training has been good and the players have worked hard.”
Another cliche has to be the suggestion that there is nothing better than a local derby to raise the game after a couple of defeats. James dismissed any derby effect but warned defeats are always a possibility:-
“At ten to five we will know if it’s been the best game but I think the next game is always the best game. Just getting back to playing, it doesn’t matter who it is against, you just want to be back out there. We have not had this feeling, that’s the first time we have lost two league games in a row. We have not had that feeling before but I can guarantee we will get that feeling again.
“I’m surprised we never experienced that last season. Does it become a big deal because it’s the first time we have lost two games in a row? No. You just get back to trying to win games. It’s certainly not an excuse because we have been very good considering the injuries out, and if you look at the squad now, the youthfulness and inexperience in it in particular, we are going to have bumps.”
James revealed that recruitment meetings were held all through last season and in pre-season. A consensus from those would be that the board, the manager and his assistant Dave Mackay all believe in the process and the building that they are trying to do:-
“Having younger players on long term deals, developing the footballing side of the football club was the right way to go. We also knew with that that we believe that there would be good performances but also believe that we were going to be inconsistent. Not just in games but in training. Obviously we don’t want to get beat but I don’t mind getting beat if we see the reaction with the players coming back wanting to keep learning.
“If we go back to what we are really good at, which for me has been missing in the last two games and that’s not conceding goals, but we have been missing too many chances. That hasn’t been like us because this season we have looked structured and strong. Dave and I have got to look at that and take the blame because are we being too open at times?
“Inconsistency is there, we are not happy with it but we will just keep working to improve these players. We believe over the long run we will see that but we also know that in the short term it is Saturday to Saturday, you need to get results.”
Kyle Benedictus has been out for the last five matches and James admitted that his captain is a big miss but also pointed out that the team went to Hampden without him and were excellent against a Queen’s Park team that has scored a lot of goals. The exciting news is that Kyle is getting closer to a return. James confirmed:-
“Kyle will be in contention – if you ask him – but he was in contention for last week and the week before that! He’s training away pretty well at what he’s doing. You just catch him out of the corner of your eye and he’ll be shelling a ball over the fence. It’s all just to show me he can kick the ball!
“Normally you can speak to the medical department and then speak to the player and get a sense of how they’re really feeling. But Bene will say, ‘I feel brilliant, I’m ready to go’ and you think, ‘are you sure?’. I’ve had that from him for three weeks. He is not unfit, although he had five or six weeks out before he was back running, he had a full pre-season.
“If he gets through training ahead of the game okay and he says again that he feels ready then I will have a decision to make for Saturday. The one thing I don’t want to do is be reckless. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve lost two in a row or whether we had won two in a row. I’ve been that player telling the manager I’m ready to go, and sometimes it’s worked and sometimes it hasn’t. So it’s a balancing act.”
The availability of the rest of the squad is good. Centre back Rhys Breen was ill during the game on Saturday leading to his substitution at half time. Rhys was still unwell when he came back in on Tuesday but he has trained well this week and he is fine. On-loan Celtic midfielder Ben Summers has a dead leg that he picked up in the Ayr United game. James said:-
“In hindsight, should he have come off? But he was saying he was alright. Looking back on it, he hit the post and that created a chance that nearly went in. We kept him on for a bit of magic. He’ll hopefully be okay for this weekend, but we need to be careful with it. So, there’s question marks over him and Benedictus. Matty and Kane are now kicking a ball, still, which is great, but they’ll not be involved.”
After making seven appearances at the start of this season midfielder Andrew Tod (pictured above) has been out since he played on the second Saturday in September. James gave an update on the seventeen year old:-
“Andrew picked up an injury in training. He’s got an impingement, or a problem, at the back of his knee. That’s been a few weeks now, so we’ll give it another week or so and then we’ll seek another opinion if it’s not getting any better. It is a worry for him. We hope it’s okay.”
Dunfermline were disappointed not to register better success in the two games against Raith Rovers earlier this season. The Viaplay Cup tie that opened the season was settled on penalties, Dunfermline winning 4-2 on penalties after it ended 1-1. The home league match was all Dunfermline but Raith left with the three points, James continued:-
“That’s football. I think the cup game, we deserved to lose. Then, the game here, I thought on the day we were the better team – but they took the chance. I try to be honest, which sometimes comes back to haunt you, when you talk about deserving more or winning games when you haven’t. We didn’t deserve anything against Ayr and we didn’t deserve anything against Partick Thistle but in the last derby, I thought we were pretty good. Credit to them, they took their chance and scored the goal. That maybe goes back to the quality they’ve got that shows they can hurt you. That’s the wee warning we know they’ve got.”
Going by those previous games Raith will be looking for a fast start but the Pars gaffer said that his side would be ready for that:-
“That’s not to say we won’t concede in the first minute, because you can never pre-empt anything. We want to start fast, they want to start fast. Particularly in a derby, and when we play at home, that’s the case. We did on Saturday. We should have been 1-0 up after just two minutes, but that shows you can start great and end up losing the game, or you can start poorly and win.
“It’s important, particularly for your fans when we’re at home, because we want to get them going but they’ll be saying the same. It’s great that Ian Murray and John Potter were here, because maybe they’ll think they just need to turn up to beat us! That’s tongue in cheek; the two games have been competitive, they’ve been good games of football to be involved in. They’re a good side, and credit to them for where they are in the league.“