SAT 21ST FEB 2004: A v ARBROATH (SCOTTISH 2ND DIVISION)
Well, a further ninety minutes later into the season and we're still inching no further away from the relegation zone. But at least we are no closer to it!
East Fife started this cliched relegation six pointer with the same starting eleven and subs from the Morton game the week before (meaning no place in the team once again for Brian Fairbairn), but it looked to be a completely different team out there at times today, from the skillful, confident and efficient team that we had watched at Cappielow seven days previously, whilst Arbroath had former Fife favourites John Cusick and Ross Graham in their starting eleven.
In what was a big game for both sides, it was a disappointing turnout for the home support and an unusually quiet travelling support for the Fife. Obviously not enough beers downed beforehand by a certain few individuals and a bit too many by Ladyfan!
East Fife started the brighter and had the better of the possession in the early stages of the game, without ever really threatening the Arbroath goal, but it was the Red Lichties that had the first real shot on target after 13 minutes, when Dave King's curling effort looked to be going straight into the top left hand corner, but Gary O'Connor saved well.
Possession flowed back and forward, but again no real chances were being created, when Arbroath won a free kick just inside the Fife half on the 24 minute mark. In a move started and finished by the Lichties former Fifers, Cusi played the free kick wide out right and the cross that was whipped in was met in the box by big Bull Graham and his powerful effort crashed off and over the bar, much to the Fife faithful's relief.
Arbroath were looking the more threatening team now, although the Fife were trying to play some nice football, but it just wasn't coming off.
Greig McDonald was booked for a clumsy two footed tackle after slipping and losing a bit of ground on the advancing smokie, before Arbroath again threatened, but Miller's shot was blocked and the danger cleared. Arbroath continued to push forward and with 32 minutes gone, former Albion Rovers striker, Iain Diack, squandered the best chance of the game, when a looping cross put him clear in the box, but he lobbed his effort over the bar from 12 yards out when he really should have scored.
East Fife immediately went up the field and some nice footwork by Kenny Deuchar set up Craig McMillan, just inside the box, but his powerful effort was blocked. The Fife were starting to come back into the game now and a brilliant 30 yard solo run from Willie Stewart saw Mark Peat produce a good save for the corner and deny the Fife what would have been one of our goals of the season.
With East Fife pushing forward more and more, and playing the better football, Jimmy Herkes was agonisingly inches away from getting to a low cross from Euan Donaldson that ran along the six yard box after 39 minutes. A minute later saw a dipping shot from, the once again impressive, Kevin Bain go just over and this was the last real action of a pretty even first half.
Arbroath had the better of the chances and could easily have gone in a couple up, but East Fife had played some nice football in brief patches and it looked like it was going to shape up to be a cracking second half. How wrong we were!
Brian Blair replaced Kevin Bain at the interval, with Kevin still not really training and trying to regain match fitness, and the Fife continued where they had left off in the first half, with assaults on the Arbroath goal.
With three minutes of the half gone, a neat flick by Kenny Deuchar set Willie Stewart through, but again Peat denied him the chance to break the deadlock. A minute later, another neat passing move finished with a nice wee flick inside by Paddy Kelly to Kenny Deuchar, but big Deuchs uncharacteristically blasted over from 14 yards out.
With Arbroath now disappearing from the game as an attacking threat, East Fife piled forward and Kenny and Willie found themselves two on one with the Arbroath defence, but a desperate lunge from the last defender sent Deuch's pass out for a corner. The resultant corner was knocked around until the ball found Euan Donaldson out left and his cross into the box saw Deuchs outjump Peat for the ball, but his goalbound effort was header over the bar and out for another corner from inside the six yard box.
With all that excitement over, the game started to lull and it was a good fifteen minutes later before the next real chance on goal, when some subliminal skill by Jimmy Herkes, just outside his own penalty box, saw him beat three players before launching a long ball upfield to set Deuchs free, but his run was intercepted for another corner, which the big man then just headed over.
Arbroath then went up the field and had their first chance of the half, when their sub forced O'Connor to make a good save from a free header, which he then had to do again seconds later from a similar John McGlashan effort.
The game then pretty much petered out completely as entertainment, with most crosses and corners by both teams causing neither keeper any real problems.
With six minutes left, Arbroath won a soft free kick just outside the Fife box, but John Cusick curled his effort unthreateningly wide.
East Fife then decided to replace a tired looking Willie Stewart, who had run non-stop trying to make something happen, with Jay Stein and although the Fife won a few late corners, none of them caused any real danger.
The final whistle came and thankfully we hadn't lost three points to our nearest relegation rivals, but the performance was such a marked contrast from the draw the week before and you were left just wondering where the goals are going to come from to help drag us out of a relegation dogfight.
Arbroath had looked threatening in the first half and whatever Stevie Kirk said to them at half time, knocked all the fight out of them!
There were a few positives from the game from a black and gold perspective, with Kenny Deuchar and Willie Stewart rekindling their understanding from earlier in the season and there were more than a few neat passing interchanges between the two. Kevin Bain had another good, commanding game in the middle and I see he's been made captain now, and Paddy Kelly played well for a lot of the game, particularly when Bain was beside him on the field. Mikey Hall seemed a lot more comfortable in the left back slot and Craig McMillan had a blinder in the right back role and his best game for a while.
With twelve games remaining, it's going to be very tight, as the results today have closed the League up further. Keeping plodding away is not going to be enough and we really have to find our goalscoring prowess again and quickly, hopefully starting next Saturday against Dumbarton!
EAST FIFE: O'Connor, McMillan, Hall, G. McDonald, Mathie, Bain (Blair 46), Herkes, Kelly, Deuchar, Stewart (Stein 86), Donaldson Subs (not used) - Graham, Lumsden, Mitchell
AFTN MAN OF THE MATCH: WILLIE STEWART put in some workload and ran non stop and had a couple of chances to get on the scoresheet to help boost his confidence.
Ross Graham Practices His Catalogue Modelling
Deuchar - Just Over Again