Dunfermline Athletic: Where did it all go wrong as club languish at bottom of table?

“Barca with the ball and Atletico Madrid without it.” Two years ago that’s how Peter Grant treated his then Alloa Athletic side, part-time in the Championship.

Monday, 8th November 2021, 10:46 am

The statement was bombastic, easily open to ridicule and, of course, never came to fruition with the Wasps relegated to League One last season.

Yet, it speaks to the now former Dunfermline Athletic manager’s ambitious aims.

As a football fan you should want your manager to set high targets, stir a feeling of hope and excitement.

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East End Park, home of Dunfermline FC

That's exactly what Grant did when he was chosen to replace Stevie Crawford at East End Park in May, even if his appointment was met by scepticism by an underwhelmed Pars support.

“It’s not second place we are looking for,” he said at his unveiling. “We want to automatically go up.”

Grant's words oozed confidence with drops of arrogance.

"I don't believe in putting a CV in because, if I did, I would blow everybody else away anyway,” he said.

Flashback to better days - Raith Rovers v Dunfermline Athletic, 1999 (Pic: Fife Free Press)

Fast forward five months and Dunfermline fans are waiting to find out who their next manager is going to be while the club languish, winless, at the bottom of the cinch Championship in what is their tenth season outside the top tier.

It is something the Pars support have been used to. Waiting.

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They have been living out of the Scottish top-flight for so long now there will be many young fans who only know of their team as a middling Championship side, at best.

Flashback to better days - Raith Rovers v Dunfermline Athletic, 1999 (Pic: Fife Free Press)

And living may be pushing it. With fourth place in the second tier their highest finish during that time, it has been a mixture of simply surviving and existing.

It is shaping up to be a season where surviving can be deemed a success after Grant’s tenure did not work out.

Worse and worse and worse

Despite initial reservations, it had promised so much in those early weeks. Thirteen goals were scored by this new-look team, playing in a new-look formation, in the Premier Sports Cup as they qualified from the group stage, prompting this writer to put cash on Dunfermline winning the league.

Then the league campaign started with a trip to Greenock Morton.

Twenty minutes in, a simple, long ball became a portent for the season ahead. It bounced off the top of Ross Graham’s head and towards the defender’s own goal. While he helplessly searched for the ball in a manner which suggested he had lost his glasses, goalkeeper Deniz Mehmet careered into Morton striker Gozie Ugwu.

A 2-2 draw was followed by a 3-0 humbling at home to Partick Thistle. Every Pars fan in East End Park should have been thinking the same, ‘oh, oh’.

It got worse (5-0 to Rangers) and worse (3-0 loss to Arbroath) and worse (3-1 defeat to Ayr).

The team seemed to be on a crusade to coerce Nick Hanock into returning for ‘Football Nightmares – the DAFC special’.

The system wasn’t working, individuals uncomfortable and underperforming and issues at both ends.

Only Morton and Ayr average fewer shots per 90 minutes, while no team has had fewer touches inside the opposition box. At the back, they are third for shots conceded. Both goalkeepers are in minus figures for goals prevented.

Grant appeared powerless to fix it, even if a change in formation saw the team become one which drew instead of lost.

Then matters which are usually confined to the dressing room were broadcast, namely the issue around Dom Thomas’ work ethic, while Paul Watson’s contract was terminated by mutual consent last month.

Even after vociferous fan anger towards Grant following the defeat to Queen of the South at the start of October, the club's German investors, DAFC Fussball GmbH, backed the man they had chosen for a new era at East End Park.

Sporting director Thomas Meggle addressed supporters via a statement on the club’s website.

Normally a post on the Dunfermline website attracts between 1,500 and 4,000 readers. The statement is currently sitting north of 41,000. Something was amiss.

Credit to Meggle, he explained in detail why they still had faith in Grant.

Then all that credit was lost when he turned on supporters. It is understood some of the abuse directed to those at the club was out of order but its inclusion was always going to infuriate an already irked fan base.

Grant limped on until Saturday and that 4-2 defeat to Arbroath, having led 2-0. Anger at the end was another clear message to the board and the now departed manager.

What next?

The DAFC Fussball GmbH group have positive plans for the club and appear to be ideal custodians, investing in the infrastructure. But Dunfermline simply can't return to League One.

With that, the appointment is massive. Grant was the club’s only choice back in the summer, this time there will be “robust recruitment process”.

Kenny Miller and Jimmy Calderwood's son Scott have declared their interest and Mark Fotheringham, the former Celtic player who has coached with German sides Ingolstadt and Karlsruhe has been touted.

Former Hearts and Inverness CT manager John Robertson has been mentioned by many and would be a sensible move.

Then there is Stewart Petrie. When it comes to Angus managers, Dick Campbell understandably garners plenty of attention, praise and column inches.

The job Petrie has done with Montrose is right up there with Campbell at Arbroath.

Convincing him to make the move into full-time management at a club where he is revered would get fans back onside in an instant. Working at the Championship level and with full-time players poses its challenges but he would certainly be given time.

Whoever comes in will have a squad of players that is good enough to motor up the table even if some areas require addressing, particularly goalkeeper. They simply need direction.

Maybe, just maybe, the seventh manager since relegation from the top-flight will be worth waiting for.

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