The pressure was on Neil McCann as his Dundee side travelled to face Hamilton Academical…
After a disappointing defeat to Alloa at the weekend in the Irn Bru Cup, the question on everyone’s lips was rather obvious: is it time for change at Dunfermline Athletic?
Tipped to fight for promotion, the Pars have endured a difficult start to the league campaign, picking up just three victories from the opening eight matches and have put on a number of below-par, stale performances along the way.
An opening-day victory over Dundee United gave the Pars faithful hope that their side could match expectations but three, successive hidings from Ross County, Ayr United and Inverness quickly eliminated that hope and fans began to question Allan Johnston’s suitability for the post he has held since May 2015.
The Pars would go on a five-match winless run after that win over Dundee United and while currently on a two-match winning streak in the league, they have hardly been convincing in either match and have appeared to simply take advantage of Partick Thistle and Falkirk sides that were there for the taking in front of them.
Several of the club’s star men from last season, namely captain Calum Morris and top scorer Nicky Clark, moved on to promotion rivals Ross County and Dundee United respectively.
No less than a dozen players left at the end of last season, including fan favourite Joe Cardle, while 13 would come in, excluding the disastrous signing of Willo Flood, who was away just about as soon as he arrived.
Hero of the League One 2015/16 winning side, Faissal El Bakhtaoui, returned on loan from Dundee while the Longridge brothers – Jackson and Louis – both also signed on. The Pars also allegedly pipped Premiership competition to the signing of Robbie Muirhead.
By all means the Pars seemed to add well and there was every reason for there to be optimism about their chances around East End Park as a result.
Yet, while the new boys have shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season, there are more weeks than not in which the team just simply don’t look like they’ve even met one another.
The Pars have plenty of the ball and managed the second most passes per 90 to the final third across the league with 70.8, and have the second most shots per 90 in the division with 12.84.
Despite all these passes to the final third and shots, they have just nine league goals to show for it, the third worst in the league only ahead of bottom two Alloa Athletic and Falkirk, who have six and five respectively.
While they are exceeding their xG stat of 7.74 by 1.26, they have the second lowest xG per shot rating in the division with just 0.072, worse even than lowest scorers Falkirk.
Around this stage of the season last year, The Pars went on a seven-match winless run and Johnston, with some shrewd January transfer window signings, managed to turn the team around and squeeze them in to the playoffs come the end of the season, continuing his run of annual improvement in terms of league position.
However, the difference this year is that the Pars have not had as good a start as they did in the previous campaign. Last year, after eight games, the Pars had five wins, a draw and two losses unlike this year where it reads three wins, two draws and three losses instead. The real question is, can the Pars afford to wait until January again in the hope of Johnston turning things round?
Yes, they are currently only three points off the promotion playoff spots but have a difficult run in the coming weeks that could see them slip down the table and move further away from their pre-season promotion objective.
They welcome free scoring Stephen Dobbie’s Queen of the South to East End Park at the weekend and Dundee United the following, before a mid-week trip up north to take on Inverness in the match thereafter.
A two-year deal that was handed to Johnston in the summer could ultimately see the Pars, who were close to going out of business only a few years ago, having to stick with him but when does the risk of not meeting expectations outweigh the financial implications of a sacking become irrelevant?
With many fans already voicing their displeasure on social media channels and fan forums alike and doing so in increasing numbers, the consensus of the fans is almost certainly that time is up for Johnston, who seems lost of the ‘Magic’ nickname he had during his playing days.