SAT 14TH AUG 2004: A v ALBION ROVERS (SCOTTISH THIRD DIV)
The searing heat. The battle for personal best and victory. The skill. The Olympic spirit.
I sadly left all these behind, turned off the TV and left for Cliftonhill. A place where, this afternoon, the only resemblance to the Olympics was the sheer amateurness of what was on display.
Albion Rovers had three surprises in store for the travelling Fife faithful. Tam Cowan was no longer on the PA. Paul McManus was only on the bench. And Mark Yardley had turned into the size of an overweight sumo wrestler. Thank lucifer they still had the yeti!
Jim Moffat sprang his own surprise by reinstating Johnny Mitchell to the starting line-up from last Saturday, at the expense of Kris Brash.
The game got underway and what Yardley seemed to lack in pace and eating willpower, he more than made up for with veteran skill and an old footballer's head, creating the game's first chance on 3 minutes, when a delightful chip over the Fife defence allowed John Bradford to run through for a shot at goal, which Fife keeper, John Dodds, saved excellently with his legs.
The Fife had their first chance four minutes later when Steven Tarditi rose well, but headed James Herkes free kick just over.
Both teams were creating half chances, but neither defence was being particularly troubled, with Albion Rovers playing the better football, knocking the ball about well and looking the sharper of the two teams.
Yardley had a chance on 19 minutes which was easily dealt with, then, four minutes later, East Fife had their best chance of the match. Herkes whipped a cross in from the right bye line to an unmarked Brian Fairbairn in the middle, but the Bairn caught the ball at the wrong angle and headed well wide from 8 yards out, when a goal looked a certainty.
There was very little else of note for the rest of the first half. Bradford had another effort easily saved by Dodds and East Fife's best effort was a speculative long range Herkes effort, which also didn't trouble the Rovers' keeper Mark Peat.
The second half didn't start much better than the first half had ended, with referee Finnie keen to penalise both sides for the slightest contact, as a splattering of free kicks stopped the game from flowing.
It was midway through the half, in fact, before anything of note happened, when Tarditi set up Herkes, who finally got to run at the Albion defence, delivering a dangerous cross into the six yard box, but Fairbairn just couldn't make proper contact with it.
Albion had a half chance to open the scoring themselves two minutes later, when John Dodds was unable to hold on to the ball as he dived at the feet of a Rovers player. The ball was spilled but cleared from danger.
The game had finally started to pick up and Brian Fairbairn, who must have been gloriously fed up by the lack of quality service to him for the game so far, decided to become provider himself and was working well out on both wings, delivering a couple of dangerous crosses in to the box, but with no one running on to the end of them.
With 73 minutes gone it was Fairbairn again who was causing the Rovers defence danger, firing in a pin point cross from the right wing to the back post. Greig McDonald ghosted in at the back and could only look on in disbelief as his powerful header was brilliantly turned over one-handed by the diving Peat.
The save of the game and a chance which East Fife would soon rue missing.
This period of Fife pressure soon signalled the injection of fresh legs in the Rovers front line, with Judas McManus replacing the dangerous Bradford on 76 minutes.
The booing had barely died down when Greig McDonald had another headed chance for the Fife, but Albion Rovers now had added impetus and a poor free kick hit Mikey Hall in the wall and flew wide and over.
There was finally some end to end action, with Herkes' cross just failing to reach Tarditi in front of the Rovers goal.
Jim Moffat decided to add some freshness of his own and Les Byle came on to replace the hard working Gary Kelly for the last six minutes, when the ball went out for a Rovers throw in.
The throw in was taken and the Fife reorganised as the ball went back into the Albion half and seemingly free from danger, but a terrific through ball from Marc McKenzie, split the Fife defence and allowed Paul McManus to run on to it and hit a beautiful shot hard past John Dodds and into the bottom left hand corner.. It was a great finish and reminiscent of his goals during his time at Bayview. 1-0 Albion Rovers after 85 minutes.
The Rovers' joy was increased two-fold two minutes later, when Dodds' spilled Jamie McGowan's low, curling free kick from the left edge of the box and McManus pounced with lightning speed to bury the ball into the net for a 2-0 Rovers lead.
Brian Fairbairn had a goal disallowed for offside in the last minute, but by that stage it would have been too little, too late anyway.
It was a poor performance. The midfield didn't dominate like we needed to yet again and the attack was lacking that bit of speed and deadly finish that Albion got when they brought on McManus. In saying that, it was hard for the front two to do much when they just weren't getting any service or decent crosses in to them.
Albion looked sharper but didn't over impress either. Considering Gretna spanked them 6-0 last week, it's hard to take many positives from the result today. Hopefully the signings of Renwick and Steele will add to what we have already, but it's already starting to look like Gretna, Peterhead and Stenhousemuir could be the teams to pull away as the season goes on. Let's hope we can quickly gel and start scoring goals aplenty and join them.
C'mon the Fife.
FINAL SCORE: ALBION ROVERS 2 - 0 EAST FIFE
EAST FIFE: Dodds, Lumsden, I. McDonald, Bain, Hall, Kelly (Byle 84), Mitchell (Paliczka 62), G. McDonald, Fairbairn, Tarditi, Herkes. Subs (Not Used): Morrison, Brash, Renwick
No-one excelled or did anything of note really, so very tough, but...
3 points - Gary Kelly (looked busy & the only midfielder of note)
2 points - Sean Paliczka (only on the field for 28 minutes, so that says a lot! Added a bit of bite and creativity to proceedings)
1 point - Brian Fairbairn (got no service, so had to resort to trying to be the creator)
Who ate all the pie stall?
The Fife nemesis - would still have him back though!
The irony of the flyover was lost on the Rovers fans