It was sudden, but it wasn’t quite unexpected. Yesterday was quite savage.
In the mid-morning it was announced that Dunfermline Athletic had parted company with Jim Jefferies. His departure was probably the correct decision, all things considered – the Pars have endured a dismal run of recent form and have failed to keep pace with the teams at the top of League 1; for a side whose main aim is immediate promotion, it is just not good enough.
The season has been a uniform disappointment. At the beginning of the campaign, this website boldly stated the Pars would sweep aside all before them and win the championship long before May. Instead, Jefferies has overseen an unnecessary struggle – results have been dire and they’ve won just two of their last seven matches, tumbling to fourth place in the process. “It is a different make up of board now, they are fans and fans want success instantly,” he grumbled. “They do not appreciate that they are a young team and it could maybe take two, three or four years.”
Jefferies intended to retire at the end of the season anyway but the weekend’s appalling 1-3 capitulation at Airdrieonians brought his plans forward. In a magnanimous statement on the club website, the board stated that it was the 64-year-old’s resolution to stand down, yet they contradicted themselves shortly afterwards by saying: “[We] felt action had to be taken to improve our immediate league position”. So whose decision was it?
Jim Jefferies is not a Dunfermline Athletic legend – he hasn’t done anything to deserve such a title
Jefferies’ tenure with Dunfermline has been marked by consistent, sustained underachievement: when it has come to the showdown, he just hasn’t been there. He deserves some credit for managing the club through its difficult administration but make no mistake – Jefferies is not a Dunfermline legend. He hasn’t done anything to deserve such a title.
There may be some observers – observers who might have lost sight of his progress over the last three years – who believe a club of the Pars’ stature are “lucky” to have someone like Jefferies in charge, but this is based on Scottish Cup success with Heart of Midlothian in 1998 and a decent spell at Kilmarnock. At East End Park there has been no tangible accomplishments, just two relegations and dismal showings in consecutive play-off contests.
It is worth tracing Jefferies’s time at the club since succeeding Jim McIntyre on 20 March 2012. At the time, Dunfermline were bottom of the SPL, four points behind Hibernian in 11th with seven games remaining. Keeping the club in the division proved beyond him and the club were relegated on the penultimate weekend of the season. Maintaining their top tier status was perhaps unlikely but he was expected to compete for the First Division title the following year.
And for a while at least, the Pars looked the part and duked out a fascinating battle with Partick Thistle and Greenock Morton at the top of the table. But in October, stories of unpaid wages emerged and quickly swelled into something far darker and the club’s financial recklessness became a major concern. Two wins at the beginning of January saw them sit atop the division but a miserable sequence of results saw them slither down the table and Jefferies, perhaps understandably given his players’ turmoil, could not correct their form. On 26 March 2013 the club were placed into administration, forced to release a number of key personnel and deducted 15 points as punishment.
For all the tumult, Dunfermline still had a good chance of staying in the division. They played Airdrie United on the final game of the season – one of the worst Diamonds sides in recent memory and already relegated – and all that was required from them was to equal or better Cowdenbeath’s result at Hamilton Academical. Jefferies was unable to sufficiently rouse his team for the occasion and they wilted 1-2; needless to say, Cowden triumphed at New Douglas Park. The match on 4 May 2013 still chills the Pars support.
It would not be the last time Jefferies’ Dunfermline capitulated at the most inopportune moment. They nudged beyond Forfar Athletic after extra time in the play-off semi-final (although it must be noted that the Loons finished the 90 minutes with eight men before succumbing) but were soundly bodied by Alloa Athletic in the final, turning in an awful display in the first leg. Relegation, unthinkable just a fortnight previously, was confirmed.
Jefferies continued into 2013-14 and was mandated to take the club back into the second tier. Rangers’ muscular presence meant that automatic promotion was unlikely but a positive performance in the play-offs was projected. For two-thirds of the season, Dunfermline’s young team played as well as could be expected of them and although they never unsettled the Gers at the League 1 summit, they were far better than anyone else around them. Going into March, they enjoyed an 11 point advantage over Stranraer in third place.
Yet from that point onwards, the team effectively shut down. Perhaps it was complacency, perhaps it was a lack of motivation, but the Pars won just two of their final ten games and stammered into the play-offs. They came through the semi-final after a narrow extra-time victory over Stranraer, and were paired with Cowdenbeath in the final. They took a 1-1 draw into the second leg at East End Park and were widely predicted to prevail against their downtrodden opponents.
It was the second time in consecutive seasons the Pars had been humiliated on national television
But it happened again! It took Kane Hemmings just 27 seconds to put Cowden in the lead before second-half goals from Thomas O’Brien and Greg Stewart consolidated their side’s Championship status. Dunfermline had been humiliated, live on national television no less, in consecutive seasons.
A third embarrassment was simply not an option. Jefferies was furnished with a lavish budget for the season ahead and immediately used it to bring in the division’s best players. Gregor Buchanan, Andy Stirling and Michael Moffat all joined, strengthening in the squad while simultaneously weakening their opponents. With Ryan Scully returning for a second season-long loan to bolster a core of experienced players and a handful of talented youngsters, Dunfermline could not fail in winning the league. This is not entitlement – this is realistic ambitions relative to the rest of the division.
Instead, the season has been anti-climactic. Yes, there was a decent run of form between late August and early October but on the whole, the standard of performance and – most importantly – the results have not been acceptable. Being unable to beat Forfar and Morton is one thing; losing to Stenhousemuir and Airdrie is something else entirely.
A number of factors have played their part. While Buchanan has excelled at centre-back, Moffat and Stirling have not made the impact expected from them. Moffat has struggled to adapt to his new side’s style of play and looks bereft of confidence – he has gone 13 games without scoring, the most barren run in his career. Stirling, meanwhile, looks unfit and has been unable to influence matches in the same way he did at Stranraer. A preference to line four central midfielders across the middle of the park also hinders their ability to break teams down – against Stenny and Airdrie, they saw plenty of the ball but weren’t really able to do anything threatening with it. There are good players in this side but they look stodgy and unsure of themselves and have been shackled by outdated, outmoded tactics. There were also reports some of them were unhappy with Jefferies methods – John Potter and Neil McCann would spend the week coaching and preparing them for the weekend’s game only for Jefferies to undermine their efforts on the Saturday.
Potter (who is doing a damn fine job with the U-20 team) will take charge of the club between now and the end of the season. The task in hand is the same as it was six months ago, but the manager must rally his squad and turn them into a competitive force. With Forfar and Stranraer emerging as genuine title contenders and Morton always likely to cause mischief, there is little margin for error. A failure to win promotion and part-time football is a realistic possibility next term.
Over the last three years there has been different personnel, different playing styles, different opposition and different circumstances. But there has only been one constant. Now Jefferies has gone, Dunfermline Athletic can move on.