Life is good for Dunfermline Athletic fans right now, with the Pars taking 12 points from their last six Ladbrokes Championship games. And former East End Park favourite Mark Burchill thinks the good times are sure to continue for fans of the Fife outfit.
Ladbrokes News caught up with the former Scotland international to get his views on the Pars’ season so far, discussing everything from play-off hopes to the East End Park faithful, and star strikers to this weekend’s clash with St Mirren.
LN: After a slow start to the season, the Pars are really adapting to life in the Ladbrokes Championship now, with 15 points in their last seven games. They’re now just six points off the promotion play-offs. Is securing a top-four spot within their ability, in your view?
MB: If you’d asked me ahead of the season whether Dunfermline would get a top spot, I’d have 100 per cent said ‘Yes!’. When you look at the squad and the budget they have, they’re definitely one of the strongest outfits in the Championship.
So I was really surprised when they had that slow start. And after about a dozen games, you genuinely worried that they might get dragged into a relegation battle, and it was very hard to put your finger on why it wasn’t quite clicking.
But they’ve had a fantastic run of form in the past couple of months, and what we’re seeing now is the real Dunfermline. We’re seeing players like Nicky Clark really stepping up as well, so I think they will finish in the top four now.
They’ve got a very strong bench, and I think that strength in depth gives them a real edge in the division, and when you add to that the experience of players like [Farid] El Alagui, it’s easy to see them finishing towards the top of the table.
LN: Their most influential player this season has surely been Nicky Clark, who’s chalked up eight goals in 15 league games. He’s a player you’ve faced – as a manager – before. Do you see him as one of the division’s top talents?
MB: Yes, absolutely. I’m impressed [Pars boss] Allan Johnston managed to get him, because in my view, he has the quality to be at a Ladbrokes Premiership club. But that’s testament to the draw which Dunfermline have as a club.
He had a short spell down south at Bury before joining the Pars, and it just wasn’t the right fit for him. Nicky was forced out wide there, whereas he’s playing as a centre-forward at Dunfermline, and he’s so much more effective in that role.
His finishing is fantastic, and he’s an excellent all-round player as well. For me, he has the quality to score 20+ goals in that division, and I think he’ll reach that milestone this season.
LN: The club obviously had that disappointing seventh-placed finish in League 1 back in 2014-15, but Allan Johnston delivered a promotion in his first season, and they’re on an impressive run in this campaign. Why do you think he’s been such a good fit for the club?
MB: I don’t think it’s so much that he’s a good fit for Dunfermline – it’s just that he’s an excellent manager, and one with so much experience of the Scottish leagues.
You just have to look at the job he did at Queen of the South – winning promotion with them, and lifting the Challenge Cup [both in 2012-13].
He did excellent business in the transfer window during the summer, bringing in the likes of Gavin Reilly from Hearts and Kallum Higginbotham from Partick Thistle – both players with plenty of Ladbrokes Premiership experience.
Sandy Clark [father of Nicky] has been a brilliant choice as assistant manager, he’s had so much experience in the game. They’re a great management team, and I think they’ll continue to take the club from strength to strength.
LN: Up next is struggling St Mirren at East End Park on Saturday, before a visit to Alloa Athletic in the Scottish Cup. Do you predict two more victories for the Pars, or do you think they could slip up in either of these games?
MB: St Mirren had a wee resurgence a few weeks back, where they were starting to play quite well and pick up a few points, but then they lost 3-0 to Queen of the South last weekend, and it looked like they’re back to square one.
Obviously they’ll be fired up to try and rectify that result, but I think Dunfermline will go all-out-attack from the start, knowing that if they score early, St Mirren will crumble. So I think the home side will win comfortably – especially with the backing they get from the fans at East End Park.
Alloa were sensational at the start of the season. They had ten wins in a row in all competitions, but now they’re really struggling to replicate that form. With that in mind, I think the Pars will be too strong for them – so I’m predicting two wins out of two.
LN: In the longer term, you only have to go back six seasons to find the last time Dunfermline were in the top-flight. Do you think the club have the foundations in place to establish themselves as a Ladbrokes Premiership club in the next few years?
MB: Without a doubt. For me, it’s one of the best run clubs in Scotland, and I think they have the facilities and the foundations to become a club who are consistently finishing in and around the top six of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The fanbase is a big part of that. The club have obviously had some financial issues in the past, but it’s run by the fans now, and is in a really healthy state.
If they get back to the top-flight, they could genuinely fill that stadium. In my time, it was close to full almost every week. It’s a good family club as well, so that’s something which sustains the fanbase. They’ve got everything in place to get back to the Premiership, and I think they will do before long.
LN: We’ve not seen any ins or outs yet in the senior squad, but do you think Allan will look to recruit this month? And if so, where do you think are the areas they should look to strengthen?
MB: Well, he’s sorted out keeping two very talented loanees until the end of the season, in the form of [midfielder] John Herran and [winger] Paul McMullan.
I doubt Allan will invest in any new strikers. He has four excellent ones already – Clark, El Alagui, Reilly and [Michael] Moffat. Up front and in midfield, I think he’d only consider bringing someone in if a player leaves this month.
The one area I think they might well strengthen is at centre-back. They’re a wee bit shaky at the back at times, and who knows, that could be the key as to whether their promotion push pays off or not.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing