SATURDAY 12TH AUGUST 2006: A v ALBION ROVERS (SCOTTISH 3RD DIV)
Cliftonhill hasn't been the happiest of hunting grounds in recent seasons. There's been a few exceptions, the legendary 6-0 drubbing of the Wee Rovers being the highlight. The Fife fans that travelled along to Coatbridge today, however, were in buoyant mood. We were expecting three points and we weren't disappointed.
In what was to be a very balanced first half, it was Albion Rovers who had the first real goal threat on 5 minutes, when Lee Sichi cut inside a Fife defender to put himself into a good position, but the coverage was there at the back to clear the danger before he was allowed to get a shot off.
East Fife responded by forcing Rovers' keeper Jamie Ewings to make a good save from a powerful header in from a Blackadder free kick.
The play was going end to end in an open encounter and with 12 minutes gone Scott Chaplain peeled off Elliot Smith at the edge of the box, but Smith recovered to block and clear the shot.
The game was starting to get a bit stop/start, with referee Somers happy to blow for free kicks for every little thing.
Great work from Kevin Gordon on the right allowed him to whip a dangerous ball across the goalmouth, which had Ewings flapping but no Fife player in the right position to take advantage of it after 17 minutes.
Albion Rovers were sharing the possession but it was the Fife that were creating the better positions and Paul Ritchie had a few half chances before hitting a cracker of a shot just over from 25 yards out.
Rovers were looking lively though and Patrick Walker and the Brian Fairbairnesque Sichi (ie: crap hairdo, coloured boots, looks good but doesn't deliver) were proving to be nippy handfuls for the Fife defence.
As the half hour mark went by, Rovers forced a corner which came out to Martin Bonner 20 yards out and his fierce low effort was well held by Iain Ross in the Fife goal, as the Rovers attackers quickly followed in for the rebound that wasn't to come.
Albion had the ball in the net on 36 minutes, but the whistle had gone for offside long before and Chaplain found himself in the book for kicking the ball away as a result.
Both teams defences were coping with whatever the other through at them with ease though and as half time came, the teams went in level at 0-0.
The second half started slowly, with neither team mustering much of a goal threat but this quickly changed on 56 minutes.
East Fife won a corner on the left and Ryan Blackadder's dangerous ball in across goal was missed by every Fife player and turned out for another corner. This time from the right, Blackadder whipped in a more lofted ball and Jonathan Smart easily rose above the Albion defenders to powerfully head home for the opening goal. 1-0 Fife.
Smart showed his danger at set plays down in Durham and he came up trumps again here and looks to be proving a handful for defences already.
As the hour mark came, Albion tried to get back into the game and after some nice work outside of the box, Chaplain played a neat pass in to Walker but the striker and Sichi got in each others road and Walker's effort deflected off Sichi and wide of Ross' goal.
Moments later Paul Ritchie had another 25 yard near miss, when his low effort went inches wide.
The action was coming thick and fast now and with 66 minutes gone, Ciaran Donnelly's header landed on the top of the Fife net, but the Bayview men responded immediately when Blackadder had a free kick in a good position but could only hit the ball high and over.
The Fife kept the pressure on and Craig Smart chased down a long ball but Ewings came out well to smother the ball before Smart could get full control to get off a shot.
Blackadder was unceremoniously barged off the ball with 70 minutes on the clock and McGowan's free kick from the halfway line was met in the box and headed into the path of Craig Smart eight yards out but it was agonisingly just inches away from him and he was unable to make contact and the ball ran past him.
East Fife got another free kick with thirteen minutes remaining and this time Blackadder played the dangerous ball into the box which first just eluded the head of Jamie McGowan and then Jonathan Smart was inches away from connecting and the ball went out for a Rovers' goal kick.
The Rovers weren't sitting back and totally letting the Fife dictate play though and a brilliant short pass played Walker through and although he looked to be offside, both teams played to the whistle that didn't come and Ross reacted quickly to run out and make an unorthadox smother save with his legs at the feet of the Albion frontman.
Although Albion got into some good positions in the remaining minutes, it was nothing the Fife defence couldn't cope with and the game ran out to net East Fife their first three points of the season and to send the Bayview Boys to joint top of the Third Division table after two games.
It was a strong performance for the Fife and another clean sheet. Ross and the full backs still look a little shaky at times but once the communication gets better and everyone decides to play the ball out a bit quicker then we'll be even tighter at the back than we already are. The midfield looks strong and it's just a case still of making sure we take our chances that we're creating. It's so refreshing to see such a strong bench though and with the old hands that we have and the large talented squad, Dave Baikie seems to be playing a squad rotation system to full effect. So a few things to work on but lots of positives and we really have a chance of causing an upset against Ross County on Wednesday night.
C'mon the Fife.
FINAL SCORE: Albion Rovers 0 - 1 East Fife
EAST FIFE: I. Ross, Smith, Linton, J. Smart, McGowan, Blackadder, C. Smart, Jablonski, Ritchie (O'Reilly 85), Gordon (Fortune 88), Courts. [Subs Not Used: Dodds, Mitchell and Martin]
3 points - JAMIE McGOWAN (sounds like a repeat, but another solid showing at the back)
2 points - CRAIG SMART (quiet first half but more dangerous in second and always involved)
1 point - RYAN BLACKADDER (busy busy busy)