Friday, December 16, 2011

SPL Advent: Dunfermline

Today's SPL Advent calendar throws up not a nugget of cheap chocolate but a Stewart's bridie - current SPL basement dwellers Dunfermline.

The road to the SPL is not paved with gold.

On their return to the top flight Dunfermline find themselves bottom of the league. They've taken only four points at home in a miserable run that has seen them fail to win at East End Park.

The injury list has grown ever longer and finances have dictated that they shut one of their stands.

They've even had to cope with referee Bobby Madden making a Michael Fish weather forecast.

This is the romance of top flight football, Fife style.

There were those of us who expected Dunfermline might struggle, that Jim McIntyre hadn't quite had the freedom to bolster his squad as he might have needed in the summer.

But they arrived full of confidence, with their own ideas on how to play the game and how to survive in the SPL.

They started brightly enough. And ten points on the road is a fair return. Away wins at Dundee United and St Johnstone in August were testimony to a team keen to make its mark.

But there they are, propping up the rest and developing a phobia about playing at home. They've won only once in 13 games. From the 4-2 defeat against Motherwell on 27th August to that win at Hibs they conceded 24 goals in eight games and won only two points.

They have been hammered by injuries. Few clubs can cope with an injury list nine or ten players long. It has a massive impact on a club like Dunfermline.

The injury list has offered no respite from a bad run of form - eight of those 14 points were won as they went four games undefeated at the very start of the season.

A team struggling for form is further diminished by injury and the whole things becomes an unfortunate cycle of bad results.

But the SPL is a modest league full of clubs with much to be modest about.

Despite their travails Dunfermline are still in touch. They've even got Hibs for company at the foot of the table.

At times they've conceded too many goals, they're enduring a bad run and they can't buy a win at home.

But they're far from dead and buried.

Watching them beat Hibs last month I saw evidence of what - unfashionable as the idea is in a world of footballing snobbery - spirit and a work ethic can achieve, especially against similarly poor teams.

Their record against the teams around them in the table is not too bad. That 4-0 Friday night humping at Aberdeen apart they've not lost to the three teams immediately above them in the table.

More wins like November's victory at Easter Road are needed but Dunfermline are proving obstinately difficult for Hibs, Inverness and Aberdeen to shake off.

Or, in this impoverished SPL, bottom-placed Dunfermline are but three wins off fourth place.

The first four games of the season offered much but that early promise has delivered little.

It's been a difficult first season back in the SPL. But it's not yet a terminal one.

It's a time for giving, a time for getting

Money to go crazy in the transfer window and the guarantee of a run of home wins.

And I want a winning lottery ticket.

Christmas gifts tend not to work like that.

So Dunfermline will hope for improved luck with injuries, a dash of good fortune to get a win at home and for the teams around them to keep taking points off each other and losing more than they win.

Keep as close to the pack as possible for as long as possible. I still suspect that Dunfermline would back themselves in a prolonged, tense, ugly relegation scrap.

The Scottish Football Blog blogathon took place in November in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. You can still donate to help two great causes.

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