SAT 10TH APRIL 2004: A v ALLOA ATHLETIC (SCOTTISH 2ND DIVISION)
This season we have managed to save some of our worst performances for when we play Alloa. For 75 minutes this afternoon, it looked liked same old, same old, but East Fife kept their Easter spirit and rose from the dead to earn a vital point.
The ever-changing conveyer belt that is the East Fife starting eleven saw Greig McDonald replace Gordon Russell in central defence and Gordon Gilbert start up front instead of Brian Fairbairn.
It looked an inspired change of the attacking line within the first two minutes, when Kenny Deuchar got on the end of a pass in the box and cut the ball inside to Gordon Gilbert. GG did everything right except score and Alloa 'keeper Gary McGlynn saved well at GG's feet.
East Fife were looking the livelier and had the best of the early exchanges, with Alloa giving away a lot of needless free-kicks, hindered by referee Hardie's desire to whistle for everything.
With 15 minutes on the clock a long Alloa ball forward was poorly dealt with by Greig McDonald and his misjudged header fell to Ross Hamilton on the edge of the box and the big striker hit a beautiful finish low into the net to give Alloa a 1-0 lead against the run of play.
The goal gave Alloa confidence and they instantly became the better and more dangerous side, passing the ball about well.
Richard Walker found himself in a similar position to Hamilton for the goal a few minutes previously, but he took one touch too many and the danger was cleared. Minutes later Michael Daly played a neat one-two on the edge of the box, but his good shot brought out an equally good save by Gary O'Connor.
A running trend seemed to be developing of giving Alloa players far too much time on the edge of the box, with Iain Nicolson the latest of the line of Wasps to waste a good position by sclaffing his shot wide midway through the half.
This was sadly pretty much the end of the action for the first half. Another first half to forget. A half with a lot of huff and puff, but very little skill, flair or attacking prowess from a very lacklustre looking Fife team. For a team that's needing every point to secure their Second Division status, they certainly could have looked a bit more committed.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first, with Alloa doing all the pressurising and looking like they could add to their tally any second.
Gary O'Connor tipped a looping header over the bar in the first minute, then with 55 minutes on the clock the always sharp-looking Hamilton ran onto a dangerous cross from the right and hit his first time volley just wide. Minutes later, Daly was unlucky to see his fierce strike crash off the post with O'Connor beaten, and managed to injure himself in the process (an injury which would see him later replaced, which I was quite pleased about as he was causing more than a few problems!).
With just over an hour on the clock Hamilton had another great chance, but O'Connor pulled off a fine save.
East Fife then nearly did an Alloa and came close to scoring against the run of play. A rare penetrating Fife attack saw the ball fall to Craig McMillan at the edge of the box and his volley cannoned off McGlynn's right hand post.
Jim Moffat brought Paul 'Bob' Mortimer on for the ineffectual Brian Blair on 71 minutes and then Euan Donaldson made a welcome return to playing four minutes later, replacing Iain McDonald who had been having a mare on the left and was getting ripped apart time and time again, with most of the Alloa attacks generating down this side.
These changes seemed to freshen up the Fife and the team started to have a more attacking edge. We didn't have to wait long to see the fruits of these labours. With 77 minutes gone a dangerous cross was whipped into the box from the left. McGlynn was unable to keep hold of the ball and as the ball scrambled about it fell to Bob Mortimer who drilled the ball into an empty net from 12 yards out. Very subdued celebrations on the pitch, but more appreciated on the terraces and it was now 1-1 - somehow!
Just as the Alloa goal had lifted the Wasps in the first half, Bob's strike saw a different Fife side out there and Kenny Deuchar, who had received no service the whole afternoon so far, ran onto a through ball and collided with McGlynn. It looked like a foul, but referee Hardie didn't think so and the ball rebounded to Craig McMillan but he was unable to find the net.
McGlynn was involved in another collision minutes later. This time with Brian Fairbairn (who had come on for GG just after the equaliser). Brain ran the ball too far and McGlynn went down to save. Brain then followed through late, catching McGlynn who went down like a sniper had caught him, only to pounce immediately back up and run straight at Brian, swinging a punch. Fairbairn went down to avoid contact and this probably saved McGlynn from following up his sending off at Bayview in January with another red card. The guy's a complete hothead and a liability! The tubby, brow-mopping Hardie though felt that a yellow card for both players was all the incident merited.
No one expected such a drab, dismal game to explode into life like this!
This was the last danger from the Fife and it was left to Alloa to try and go for the win as O'Connor was forced to make a string of vital stops from both point-blank and long-range as the time ticked down.
Gary was up to the task though and the game ended a draw. I would have to say that if we had been in Alloa's shoes I would have felt robbed as our play certainly did not merit a point, but it was a vital point in the end that took us just that little step further away from Arbroath with next week's biggie looming on the horizon.
One thing is certain though and that is that we need to have a much more committed and attacking mindset for next week and we HAVE to play our strongest fit team. If we go out totally up for it and with our best players out there then Arbroath should hold no fears for us. Wish it was next week already! C'mon the Fife!
FINAL SCORE: Alloa Athletic 1 - 1 East Fife
EAST FIFE: O'Connor, Lumsden, I. McDonald (Donaldson 75), G. McDonald, Mathie, Blair (Mortimer 71), McMillan, Bain, Deuchar, Stein, Gilbert (Fairbairn 78) Subs (not used): Graham and Mitchell
ATTENDANCE: 567 (sounds like they've been listening to Jet!)
AFTN MAN OF THE MATCH: GARY O'CONNOR. In a team of well below-par performances, Gary made up for some of his recent mistakes with some vital stops, particularly in the closing minutes.
It's Tough On The Sidelines
GG Was Head And Shoulders Above The Other Fife Players In The First Half
Kenny Deuchar Has To Try And Create The Chances Himself Again
It's Another Stramash