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James McPake in vow to use Dunfermline ‘sponges’ this season as young players make their mark

Dunfermline manager James McPake and assistant Dave Mackay
Dunfermline manager James McPake and assistant Dave Mackay

Dunfermline manager James McPake has said he will have no issues giving game time to hot prospects at the club this season – continuing a track record so far of giving youth a chance.

While at Dundee he gave debuts to nine academy graduates, who went on to rack up more than 100 appearances between them.

He says he is already enjoying working with the youngsters at his new club, who he calls “sponges”  for their ability to absorb instructions on the training pitch.

The manager has wasted no time in seeing what he can wring out of the current crop, with five teenagers picking up minutes in the two preseason matches so far.

Miller Fenton, Jake Rennie, Michael Beagley – all 17 years old – and Sam Young, who is just 16 all came on as substitutes in the 2-0 win at Cove on Saturday, and then again in Tuesday’s 6-0 win at Forfar.

Meanwhile, son of Pars legend Andy Tod, just 16, emerged from the bench at Station Park to set up Nikola Todorov for a header – drawing early comparisons with Andrew and his father.

Track record of giving youth a chance

McPake has been joined by his former assistant at Dundee, Dave Mackay, who has among his strengths, according to the Dunfermline boss, the ability to develop players.

When asked if he has any reservations about using youngsters over the coming season, McPake answered with an emphatic: “No, not at all.

“That’s something that can’t be levelled at us. We’ve played [young players in the past] and sometimes it’s worked.

“But in certain games… I had an experience out there when I took off Lyall Cameron out there,” he says pointing towards the East End Park surface.

Here he is referring to a Championship match in 2020 in which Dunfermline defeated Dundee 2-0.

Cameron, 17 at the time, was sacrificed at half-time. McPake says it is an inevitable consequence of being brave enough to give youngsters a chance in the first place.

James McPake during his time as manager of Dundee.

“I took Lyle off that night to protect him because the senior players weren’t helping him that night. That will happen here.

“There will be a time to put them in and there will be a time when we need to protect them.”

‘Nothing better’

When it does go according to plan, however, it is among the manager’s favourite experiences in the game.

“There’s nothing better than seeing young academy players out there from a fan’s point of view – and certainly from a manager’s point of view, having worked in the academy side of things,” adds McPake.

“Seeing the enthusiasm they’ve got to learn. They pick up everything, and that’s what Dave will help with as well.

“They’re real sponges just now. They just want to learn and they want to be footballers.”

One of those already impressing McPake is 17-year-old left-back Fenton, who came off the bench on Tuesday.

He didn’t take much time to make his mark, drilling a Craig Wighton lay-off low inside the near post.

McPake told Dunfermline’s official website: “I was delighted for Miller Fenton to score with his first touch on the pitch.

“It was a good piece of play to get it down and it was a composed finish.”

“The academy kids who came on were fantastic and that is a credit to the academy as well.

“Seamlessly they fit in. Why? Because they are working hard every day alongside senior players.”

‘Investing in the next batch’

Their development will be further aided by the experienced players at the club, says McPake, as will the training facility in Rosyth which is nearing completion.

Assistant Mackay adds that it has to be the plan for more Scottish clubs than to develop their own players.

Dunfermline manager James McPake and assistant Dave Mackay

Though he says it is just as important to see some eventually move on to bigger clubs.

“We don’t have the finances of the Old Firm and teams like that,” says Mackay, who spent a brief spell coaching the St Johnstone under20s.

“You have to bring through your own players, and from what I’ve seen the first few days there’s some good young players at this club.

“As much as you want to break into your first team, you want them to be good enough to move on and to, as a club, make money from them.

“And then invest in the next batch coming through.

James McPake reveals he tried to sign ‘huge talent’ Craig Wighton TWICE for Dundee – and is ‘delighted’ to have him at Dunfermline

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