WED 31ST MARCH 2004: A v AIRDRIE UNITED (SCOTTISH 2ND DIVISION)
This game had huge meaning for both teams. For Airdrie, a win would send the Bankies to the top of the Second Division (I remember that place!). For East Fife, points were vital following Arbroath's win the night before, drawing them level on points and making for a nerve racking season run-in.
Jim Moffat shook up the winning side from Saturday, from, I hope and guess, enforced injuries. Paddy Kelly returned to the middle and Johnny Mitchell and Willie Stewart returned to the starting eleven at the expense of Jimmy Herkes and Brian Fairbairn.
Right from the start it looked a different team from against Morton. In fact, they weren't playing like a team at all. Airdrie dominated the first quarter of an hour, as East Fife struggled to even get out of their own half, with Martin Glancy causing no end of problems on the right, with his pace and trickery. A goal looked imminent but Airdrie's final ball and shooting boots were letting them down.
Glancy had a great chance to open the scoring on 17 minutes, when he was allowed way too much time in the box, but he took just a bit too long and his eventual shot was cleared for a corner.
East Fife finally had a decent looking foray forward on 26 minutes. A good ball from Paddy Kelly from the left found Jay Stein in space in the middle but it had just too much pace on it and Jay couldn't control and trap it from his good position at the edge of the box.
Airdrie continued their wave upon wave of attacks and the ever-dangerous Willie McLaren beat the offside trap and his pace took him away from the Fife defence out on the left. McLaren cut the ball back brilliantly to David Dunn in the box who did everything right, waltzed past the Fife defence who had tracked back and was unlucky to see his shot hit of the back of legs of Owen Coyle in the six yard box and away from danger.
Airdrie were playing some of the best football I've seen this season against us and minutes later threatened again when Alan Gow his a lovely chip through to McLaren but his effort was cleared for a corner. The danger wasn't cleared though and the corner was met by Coyle, but his powerful header was well saved by Gary O'Connor in the Fife goal.
With 31 minutes gone, we won a corner!
That was only to stem the Airdrie attack for a few minutes though. The Bankies piled up the field and a brilliant passing move involving David Dunn, one-two's and a lot of skill, ended with a strong tackle on Dunn by Craig McMillan for another Airdrie corner. The corner was poorly cleared and fell straight to Dunn just outside the box and he hit a screamer past Gary O'Connor from 20 yards into the top left hand corner and with 36 minutes gone it was 1-0 Airdrie.
It was coming. It was expected. And there seemed to be no way that East Fife were going to get back into the game as they were all over the place and had no attacking flair whatsoever, compared to Airdrie who were dominant and ripping our defence apart.
Against the odds though we had a chance ourselves! Johnny Mitchell found himself in space in the box on 41 minutes and his delicate chip went just over the bar and landed on the top of the net. The last chance of the half though fell to McLaren whose jinky run deserved better than the finish it got.
So half time and somehow it was still only 1-0!
Paul 'Bob' Mortimer replaced Greig McDonald at half time and East Fife looked like a different team, attacking straight from the kick off and dominating the first minute of the half. Mitchell had a good run up the right wing and delivered a dangerous cross, which the keeper looked like he was going to fumble, only to recover it at the last minute.
Airdrie had a soft penalty claim waved away on 48 minutes, but continued their encampment in the Fife half from the first half. A minute later, Gary O'Connor was forced to make another good save from yet another Willie McLaren shot.
East Fife were at least trying to attack in this half and Kenny Deuchar ran clean through five minutes in, but was deemed to have been offside when he was one on one with the keeper. It was a late flag, but Kenny seemed to have made a mess of it anyway!
The inevitable second Airdrie goal then came after 53 minutes. Dunn was involved again, finding the omnipresent McLaren on the edge of the box. McLaren trapped the ball and turned beautifully before rifling his unstoppable shot past Gary O into the bottom right hand corner. 2-0 and it looked like it could be a serious dent to our goal difference if things continued as they were.
Jim Moffat obviously thought the same and sent on the Fife's secret weapon - Gilberto. GG then played a blinder and surprised many by being one of our best players of the night. It wasn't helping us to get shots on goal though and Airdrie continued to press forward to try and kill us off, as if we were Clydebank Football Club.
Gow had a good effort saved by O'Connor on 64 minutes, but then East Fife went straight up the field though and came close themselves when someone (still ain't got a clue how it happened and by whom) sent a speculative cross into the box that bounced and bobbled and had the Airdrie keeper scrambling as it went across the goalmouth.
Airdrie had a few more attacks and I lost a bit of interest and was fed up writing Airdrie players names down on my match report, but interest was rekindled on the 73 minute mark when Jay Stein got the Fife back into it with a 25 yard screamer, in what could be the East Fife goal of the season!
A quick Fife break found Stein with time and Jay unleashed an unstoppable shot that crashed off the bar, bounced just over the line, bounced back out and then just stopped dead! It was a cracking goal and amazingly we were back in the game!
Airdrie tried to bounce back immediately but a dramatic overhead kick by their sub sailed over.
Airdrie did what they do best though - kill stuff. As the shout of the evening went - "they killed a club, they'll kill a game". Try as they might though, East Fife were going for it, but the final balls just weren't threatening enough.
Airdrie still hadn't lost their own attacking prowess and Gary O had to tip over with two minutes remaining.
As the clock ticked down, Bob Mortimer was sent off for a second bookable offence, which had the Airdrie fans baying for him, but in the best Arsene Wenger stylee, I never saw what happened!
Even with ten men, East Fife pushed for the equaliser and with basically the last move of the game, it nearly came.
Jay Stein whipped a dangerous corner into the box and as several players jumped for the ball, it fell to an East Fife head and the powerful header was just tipped over the bar by a full stretch Airdrie goalkeeper that hadn't had to do much on the night, but did what he had to. East Fife were denied a dramatic late draw and Airdrie went top, as East Fife were left in a very dangerous situation at the bottom.
Every point is now vital and we have to take three on Saturday to keep the momentum going and stop the players and fans heads going down. We need more of the bite that we saw in the last fifteen minutes tonight though. C'mon the Fife.
FINAL SCORE: AIRDRIE 2 - 1 EAST FIFE
EAST FIFE: O'Connor, Lumsden, I. McDonald, G. McDonald (Mortimer 46), Mathie, McMillan, Stewart (Gilbert 54), Kelly, Deuchar, Mitchell (Fairbairn 80), Stein Subs (not used): Graham, Donaldson
AFTN MAN OF THE MATCH: JAY STEIN. Our only attacking threat in the first half and a screamer in the second.