SAT 17TH APRIL 2004: H v ARBROATH (SCOTTISH 2ND DIVISION)
It was a tough decision. Write the usual AFTN style match report or just write 'pish' and 'fuck' a hundred times each. Close call, but the proper report won through. Just.
East Fife went into this vital game one point ahead of Arbroath and a win today would have given them some breathing space and the expectation amongst the Fife support was high that this would be the case. What we didn't take into account, unfortunately, was that the players would forget the importance of the game and not rise to the occasion.
The roulette game that is the East Fife defence saw the ball drop in Gordon Russell's slot and he was in at the expense of Craig Lumsden at right back, with Ian McDonald surprisingly keeping his place at left back after struggling last Saturday against Alloa. Paul 'Bob' Mortimer made the starting line up after his goal last week and Gordon Gilbert continued to partner Kenny Deuchar up front.
As the game kicked off it was soon to become apparent as to which team were up for it and most hungry and it wasn't East Fife.
The early proceedings saw both teams find their feet, but Arbroath looked most threatening and took the lead after Duncan McLean lumbered onto a through ball just inside the box. He might have looked ungainly in his control, but as he left his two Fife defenders chasing, his finish was perfect and it was 1-0 to the Red Lichties.
This we weren't expecting!
Arbroath then took control and possession and although they had no real chances, they were trying to play football and trying to create them, with East Fife looking just plain flat and uninterested.
East Fife had their first attack of the game twenty minutes in. Some neat trickery by Craig McMillan out right won a corner. Greig McDonald rose well, but headed over. Arbroath, though, went straight up the field and McLean nearly added to his tally when he chased down a bad Graeme Mathie back pass. Gary O'Connor either coolly or luckily sidestepped him and kicked the ball upfield.
East Fife won another corner, on the left this time, and the cross ball went high over everybody but found Craig McMillan at the back and hit volley agonisingly bounced onto the bar and the ball was cleared amidst a Fife penalty claim.
With just over the half hour gone, and the game more evenly balanced possession wise, Gordon Gilbert turned well and hit a shot into the side netting. It was still Arbroath though that were looking the more controlled and hungry and it was hard to see where East Fife were going to get a goal from. We soon found out though!
GG ran onto a hopeful long ball and his burst of speed and pressure confused the Arbroath defence as much as it confuses ourselves sometimes, resulting in Kevin McMullen hitting a lovely looping finish high into his own net. 1-1 and as Andy Gray might say, game on.
As the first half ticked to a halt, Jay Stein (who, along with Craig McMillan, was offering the only real attacking hope) ran onto a brilliant through ball but Arbroath keeper Mark Peat saved well with his left foot.
The last action of the half fell to East Fife goal hero Kevin McMullen, but he failed to make amends to the travelling Smokies support and his 25 yard effort was just inches wide.
So, half time, and somehow we were level!
As we've seen so often this season, a good bollocking at half time and the Fife come out a completely different team. And so it was again today. It was now an attacking, chance creating side and Arbroath started to disappear from the game as an attacking force under the East Fife pressure. Unfortunately the pressure and chances created were not backed up by the killer instinct and some prowess for finishing and the only real talking point was whether Greig McDonald had been elbowed in the box, before being forced to go off for stitches and a not very fetching headband, which is becoming standard wear down Bayview way.
With 58 minutes gone, Kenny Deuchar sclaffed his shot just over the bar and onto the top netting. Two minutes later a long Gary O'Connor clearance superbly found Jay Stein. Jay showed brilliant control but rushed a shot when Craig McMillan was unmarked and screaming for the through ball to be played.
East Fife were then severely punished for not turning their pressure into a goal when Arbroath substitute Gavin Swankie showed a nice burst of pace on the left to pick up the through ball and from a tight angle on the bye line he somehow managed to squeeze his shot past both Gary O'Connor and an East Fife defender. As the ball ran along the goal line, Duncan McLean scored the easiest goal of his career and with 63 minutes on the clock, and against the run of play, it was 2-1 to Arbroath.
This was now the time to see just what kind of fight East Fife had. Do the players have what it takes to fight to keep us in the Second Division? The answer to this would have to be "no" if the remainder of the game is what we have to judge this on.
Kevin Bain played a neat 1-2 with Bob Mortimer and then completely shat out of a tackle on the edge of the box to keep the move going and that basically summed up the lack of strength our midfield had today.
Craig McMillan was brought down in a good central position after 72 minutes and got into a tussle with Greg Henslee after the Arbroath player kicked the ball away, but referee Craig Thomson took no action against either. Jay Stein was then unlucky to see Peat tip his excellent dipping free kick over the bar.
Arbroath had been buoyed by the goal and came back into the game, just as quickly as East Fife fell out of it again. Andy Cargill found himself in lots of room on the left and his precision cross was met by the sliding Henslee and his stretching effort went high and wide.
East Fife had brought Jimmy Herkes on for Gordon Gilbert just after the goal and it was a big surprise that Jim Moffat waited until eight minutes to go before making what proved to be his second and final substitution, with Brian Fairbairn surprisingly coming on at the expense of Ian McDonald. Why Brian was not introduced earlier is another mystery that we seem to face every week - as is the appalling lack of subsitutions of players who are not performing and the need to freshen up the team.
Brian couldn't get into the game and it was left to ex-Fife favourite, John Cusick, to have the last real effort of note in the game when Gary O'Connor got down well to save his free kick with seven minutes left.
The final whistle sounded and as the storm clouds seemed rolled in, it looked like they could be signalling a quick return to the Third Division for East Fife unless they shape up and sharpish.
With Arbroath having what on paper looks like an easy three points against Stenny next week and East Fife travelling to Dumbarton, where we never play well, the current two point Arbroath lead could soon be five and the death bell could soon be sounding for our survival hopes.
To have a chance of survival we have to get our midfield working better and creating more chances (I know I keep harping on in the reports about getting Greig McDonald back in the middle, but how obvious does it have to be?!!). We have to have more bite, commitment and flair.
I would expect the players to be lifted and be so up for these last four games. But then we all expected that today.
C'mon the Fife.
EAST FIFE: O'Connor, Russell, I. McDonald (Fairbairn 82), G. McDonald, Mathie, Mortimer, McMillan, Bain, Deuchar, Gilbert (Herkes 64), Stein Subs (not used) - Graham, Donaldson, Blair
AFTN MAN OF THE MATCH: Very few people got pass marks today, CRAIG McMILLAN was certainly one of them and tried his ass off. Very disappointing showing from the rest.
Another Home Game. Another Patient For Dr Deuchar Snr
GG's Blistering Speed Made Him A Blur For The Arbroath Defence