MON 31ST JULY 2006: H v ACCRINGTON STANLEY (Pre-season Friendly)

Every now and again the pre-season throws up a game that you really look forward to and tonight was one of those games for me.

I've been following Accrington Stanley’s fortunes for a few seasons now and have watched their climb up the English pyramid system to see their team's name as part of the Football League once again. It may not be exactly the same team that left the league many years ago but what the Club has achieved is fantastic and a shining to all clubs who go to and beyond the brink.

The team were up for a two game Scottish tour and having lost 1-0 in a keenly contested game against Partick Thistle at the weekend, they were keen to take something from their trip up north and it showed from the start tonight.

It was a cold, wet and grey evening and this reduced the Mound protest from Saturday's 40 to around a dozen tonight but Derrick didn’t even bother to turn up this evening himself and it was a poor crowd inside, so it was one of those evening!

Accrington were the quickest out of the blocks and had the first goal chance after just two minutes but Phil Edwards hit wide from a good position.

It didn't take them long to get on the scoresheet though, two minutes more in fact, as the East Fife defence looked at each other when a ball was played into the box, allowing Sean Doherty to hit home well. Four minutes gone and 1-0 Accrington Stanley.

It may have been a friendly but a tough tackling Stanley side were keen to show they meant business.

East Fife recovered from the loss of this early goal to force most of the play and got a deserved equaliser on 11 minutes when Elliot Smith delivered a dangerous ball into the box and Paul Ritchie hammered an unstoppable effort past Rob Elliott in the Accrington goal from 11 yards out. 1-1.

Smith was getting forward well and curled a shot high and wide on 16 minutes but Stanley responded with a similar effort from David Brown.

It was an even and enjoyable game at this stage but Accrington seemed to up a gear and went 2-1 up after 28 minutes.

Paul Doyle and John Dodds both went for a dangerous cross into the box and Doyle seemed to nudge Dodds before he could catch the ball, allowing David Brown to pounce on the spilled ball and hit high into the net.

Stanley were controlling the game now and playing some nice football and with 34 minutes gone Doherty hit a curling free kick which Dodds did well to hold.

With six minutes of the half remaining, Paul Ritchie showed some nice control in the box before volleying straight at Elliott to show that the Fife certainly weren’t out of the game.

A minute later though and it didn't feel this way as Stanley increased their lead when Andy Mangan ran onto a through ball from what seemed like an offside position. The decision wasn’t given and Dodds seemed to hesitate in coming out for the ball, allowing Mangan to easily stroke it past him for 3-1.

So half time and 3-1 to an impressive Accrington Stanley side.

The second half started slower and was nine minutes old before the first real attempt at goal when Ritchie hit an effort wide from 25 yards out.

Stanley were getting a lot of room out on the left wing, with David Brown and sub Gary Robert (who really impressed) running Elliott Smith ragged as he seemed to be caught out of position from his many ventures forward.

This was nearly punished on the 57 minute mark when Brown was put through once again when Smith slipped but his shot flashed across the East Fife goal with no takers to just knock it in.

As the hour mark approached Sam Linton had an effort easily saved as the Fife tried desperately to try and force something to happen.

With 64 minutes gone Stanley had an excellent opportunity to wrap the game up when the lively sub Romi Boco twisted and turned in the box before delivering a perfect pass to Joel Byron who squaffed his effort wide from a good position and moments later Dodds did well to block an effort from Paul Mullen.

A neat passing move from the Fife deserved better than John Martin's half hit effort at the end of it on 67 minutes, but the Fife were struggling to get time in the middle of the park and, as the rain turned torrential, were constantly overhitting long passes to the front men.

Accrington continued to push for their fourth and with 12 minutes remaining Ashley Foyle was unlucky to see his 30 yard effort end up not too far away.

It was only a matter of time though and with ten minutes of the match remaining Gary Robert found himself in loads of room on the left again with Smith nowhere and played a perfect ball across the goalmouth for Paul Mullen to easily tap it home for 4-1.

East Fife continued to push though and with 82 minutes gone Stanley keeper Elliott struggled to hold onto the wet ball from a cross and challenged Kevin Gordon in the six yard box, who did well to manage to play the ball inside but Paul Ritchie could not connect properly with the wet ball either and the danger was cleared.

With five minutes remaining, East Fife got a free kick right in the centre of the 'D' and Scott Crabbe blasted a fierce effort which Elliott parried and Ritchie hit over from six yards out under severe pressure from the visiting defence.

The last chance of the match fell to Accrington Stanley and with David Ross having replaced Elliott Smith, it was his turn to be skinned by Gary Robert and he cut inside but wasn’t able to get a shot off and the Fife cleared.

The referee played no stoppage time and that was that. A 4-1 defeat in our last friendly before the season proper.

The team played well in spurts but the defence does look decidedly shaky at times and the front men just aren't looking as dangerous as they should be at this stage. So there is still a lot to work on for Dave Baikie but let's hope he can turn it all around for Stenny on Saturday.

As for Accrington Stanley, they looked really sharp and will hopefully have a tremendous and promotion winning season in League 2.

Hopefully both teams will be celebrating success come May.

C'mon the Fife.

FINAL SCORE: East Fife 1 - 4 Accrington Stanley

EAST FIFE: Dodds, Smith (D. Ross 86), Linton, J. Smart, Courts, Doyle, Gordon (Crabbe 83), Jablonski (Fortune 73), Ritchie, C. Smart (Martin 31), Mitchell (Subs not used - McGowan, Blackadder and I. Ross)