NEARLY seven years have gone by since Craig Easton was last faced with the prospect of departing from the Scottish Premier League.
The midfielder was at Livingston when their scrap against relegation came down to a home match against Dundee, a 1-1 draw securing the point they needed to stay up at the expense of the Dens Park side. The scorer was Easton. He left anyway.
Spells at Leyton Orient, Swindon Town and Southend United followed, before he returned to Scotland in the summer with Dunfermline Athletic. At times this season it may well have felt as though he had never been away – the Fife side have stumbled into a similarly uncomfortable position to Livingston – only this time a series of injuries have prevented the 32-year-old from doing anything about it, limiting him to just three appearances and none since October. It is those same fitness problems which mean Easton will be unable to see how it all turns out, either.
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His contract runs until the end of the month and will not be renewed, and over the next few weeks he will strive to find a new club, as Dunfermline strive for points. You suspect Easton may well prove more successful. The irony is he represents precisely the type of player that managers tend to turn to when their club is facing an unsettling future; experienced, proven and, in the form of a short-term contract, not short of incentive to do the business.
Easton is not one to take the hump and make himself unavailable for selection – "I'm there until the end of the month and if I can get a couple of games before, if the gaffer wants to use me, then I'll do that" – but he will likely be back in the stand this afternoon when Hibernian visit East End Park. With the Edinburgh side just a point above Dunfermline in the league table the tie is significant, as much to morale as to either club's hopes of avoiding relegation. Both sides could do with a lift given that the Fifers have yet to win a league game at home, while Hibs have won just once under Pat Fenlon. Against Cowdenbeath.
There is hope for Dunfermline, though. The last time the two clubs met, Jim McIntyre's team won 1-0 at Easter Road, a result which has proven cathartic ahead of today's meeting. "It's a massive game and it was a big game when we played them at Easter Road when I think we won comfortably," Easton told Herald Sport. "If we can approach the game the same way we did before we went to Easter Road, and the game last week [against Inverness Caledonian Thistle] when I felt we were a lot more solid, then we will be fine."
That their intransigence was punctured in injury-time last week was unfortunate, then, even if the sight of the ball bobbling over Chris Smith's attempted clearance elicited a few giggles at first. The goalkeeper is likely to be replaced by Iain Turner, who joined on loan from Preston this week, following a series of errors and the former Everton player should not be short of things to do. Dunfermline have conceded 11 goals during their last four matches – scoring just once – a record which has prevented the club from picking up more than a solitary point since that win over Hibs.
"We've lost a lot of bad goals, but I've looked at a lot of the games and we've been unlucky in a lot of them as well," said Easton. "I know you can say things like 'if we didn't lose that goal or this goal then . . .' but we've not been totally out of games, even if it looks that way with some of the results. There have only been a couple of teams that have given us a doing, but the rest of the games have been pretty tight.
"We needed to be a bit more ruthless at the other end and a bit tighter in defence, but I have seen enough there to believe that Dunfermline can stay in the league. Before I joined I went up there to train for a couple of days and the guys looked the part. I was confident we would be able to do something."
If Dunfermline do manage to stay up this season, then Easton could yet benefit. His time in England presented the opportunity to enrol in a two-year sports journalism course and the midfielder has been able to maintain his studies this season. "The PFA in England have a link with Staffordshire University and they run a class every year specifically for footballers," he said. "It's great and it covers everything. We do writing, a wee bit of television and radio, blogs, match reports, you name it.
"I was writing for the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser then I wrote a column for another local newspaper down south. After I stop playing, I might do it [professionally] but hopefully I've got a few years left on the playing side."
A club striving to avoid the drop is always a story worth telling, and Easton is in the middle of it once again.