SAT 1ST MAY 2004: A v BERWICK RANGERS (SCOTTISH 2ND DIV)
Two games left and we're hanging on to our Second Division status by our fingernails. Five points adrift. Two final victories required. And the hope that other teams can do us some favours.
Another Saturday and another different starting back four, with Mikey Hall making a welcome return and slotting into the left back slot. Greig McDonald continued his move back to the middle and was joined by Brian Blair, who came in at the expense of Kevin Bain, who had been getting a lot of criticism and didn't even make the bench. Jimmy Herkes and Gordon Gilbert continued up front, with Kenny Deuchar staying on the bench, after not being able to train for the last three weeks due to his foot injury, and being joined there by Brian Fairbairn. Jay Stein again didn't make the squad.
The first half was one to pretty much forget.
Berwick started the stronger and looked the more skillful of the two sides, trying to knock the ball about at first, but eventually resorting to the good old East Fife hoof.
The first real incident of note came after nine minutes, when a cross into the Fife box was met by Kevin Gordon and the ball came off him weakly towards Mikey Hall on the goal-line and knocked away. I wouldn't exactly call it a goal-line clearance, but we're grasping at straws at first half highlights here!
A couple of minutes later and Gary McCutcheon went on a mazy run through the middle and his shot was unable to be held by a diving Gary O'Connor, but the save was made and the defence cleared the danger.
Possession was swapped, with no real danger or zest being shown by either side, as word came through that Arbroath were 1-0 up at Forfar. Euan Donaldson was getting involved in a lot of the action on the left looking the most likely to create something for the Fife.
East Fife carved out their first real chance of the game just past the midway point of the half and again it came from the left, with some good work by Gordon Gilbert, who cut the ball inside to an unmarked Greig McDonald at the edge of the box. Greig was unable to repeat his goalscoring prowess from his last visit to Shielfield and hit a week daisy cutter shot straight to Neil Inglis in the Berwick goal.
Five minutes later and Jimmy Herkes found himself in a great position and ran onto a through ball into the box. He rounded the Berwick keeper, but with Inglis looking to be floundering, he was unable to find a way or a pass past the Rangers' stopper and the defence closed the danger down.
The last action of any note in the half came with five minutes remaining, when a seemingly innocent deflected shot was running to the bye line. Gary O'Connor ran to stop it going out for a corner and somehow managed to slip and nearly let a Berwick attacker nip in and take the ball off and round him, but it eventually was forced out for a corner. Phew!
So half time came. A pretty dour affair, but we noted how nice it was not to be going in at the break behind and we were still in with a good shout of pulling something out of the game if the players came out with the right attitude in the second half.
This week, the attitude was there and it was a different, attack minded East Fife side that came out for the second forty-five minutes.
Berwick had the first chance of the half, running on to a through ball and trying to lop the outrushing O'Connor, but his effort went close, but over. Then East Fife took over.
Seven minutes into the half and Jimmy Herkes, who was constantly switching sides to try and get something to come off, fired in a dangerous cross from the left and the ball found Craig McMillan in a good position at the edge of the box, but his shot went agonisingly wide of Inglis' right hand post.
Seconds later and Gordon Gilbert was put clean through, winning a corner, despite some poor control. The corner was wasted, but encouragingly the team were getting into good positions. It was maybe looking though that it was going to be a case of the wrong player, in the right position, at the wrong time.
GG was soon involved again, cutting out a Berwick pass in the centre circle and setting Craig Lumsden free up the right wing. Craig hit a cross right on top of the keeper, but Inglis managed to tip the ball on top of the bar and over for a corner, depsite coming under pressure from both GG and BB on his line. Euan Donaldson's corner fell to Blair at the edge of the box in a position very similar to Greig McDonald's goal in January, but this time Blair's effort was blocked and cleared.
We were getting closer though, but still lacking that little bit of flair and bite that might make the difference.
The second half was making up for what the first half lacked and minutes later Jimmy Herkes got space on the right and whipped in a cross come shot, which curled off the bar and away from danger.
Then came the killer news. Arbroath had gone into a 2-1 lead against Forfar. Fuck!
Berwick let East Fife know that they were still in the game on the hour mark, with Gareth Hutchison coming close with a long range effort. They threatened again a few minutes later, with McCutcheon having his shot deflected after the ball came off Greig McDonald's stomach in the box. The subsequent corner then being headed just over.
Johnny Mitchell came on for Criag McMillan on 67 minutes and added the much need skill and pace to the Fife attack and was having an immediate impact, delivering a beautiful cross into the box, right along the six yard box, but with no East Fife attackers rushing in.
This was the long overdue signal that the management needed to change the front line and Kenny Deuchar came on to a rapturous reception with 18 minutes remaining, replacing GG.
Berwick had the next chance though. A Rangers' mis-kick started off a neat passing move and Darren Smith finished the move by shooting just over.
East Fife responded with some more nice work by Johnny Mitchell on the right wing. He whipped in another dangerous cross, which first missed the head of a diving Jimmy Herkes, then the foot of a stretching Euan Donaldson.
Jimmy Herkes was replaced by Brian Fairbairn with eleven minutes remaining. Once again, not enough time to allow Brian a decent run and to try and get into the game, when it had been evident from much earlier that the front two needed changing.
Then came the game's turning point with six minutes remaining.
Johnny Mitchell was in the thick of the action again and was flattened just inside the Fife half by the Berwick sub's elbow to his back. It was a clear barge into him, but the referee amazingly awarded no free kick and a Berwick throw in. Johnny got treatment and was in obvious pain and the Berwick throw in then led to a Berwick goal.
Exactly what happened in the next minute is like a blur. The ball was played towards the Fife box and Brian Blair gave the ball away when under no pressure. The Berwick players then seemed to lead a merry dance through the Fife defence, with Blair again caught just standing as the ball got played across the goal between him and O'Connor, as Gareth Hutchison nipped in to open the scoring.
85 minutes gone and it was Berwick Rangers 1, East Fife 0 and the Third Division was beckoning.
The fight that had then been lacking amongst the Fife team in the last two games suddenly appeared though and the guys were back level within a minute with what could be the goal of the season. Berwick nemesis, Kenny Deuchar, got the ball at the edge of the box, controlling the head high ball brilliantly before turning and volleying the ball into the top left hand corner. 1-1 and we were no worse off than we were a minute before.
The game then fell to an uneventful close, as it was too little too late and despite Kenny's brilliance and Johnny Mitchell's best efforts, the Fife left Shielfield with just a point. A point that isn't enough in the position that we're in, with the scant consolation being that Berwick can't beat us this year.
The team tried today and looked more interested than the last two weeks, but without Kenny up front, the forward line lacks that killer touch and effectiveness and the midfield still has no bite to it. The front guys maye be doing a lot of running, but the skill doesn't seem to be there to finish the job. It's at least heartening to see an effort like todays, but in the end it still isn't good enough and it's not what's going to drag us out of the position that we're in.
If we can get the results in the last two games, which I think we will, it's going to be nailbiting to see how Arbroath will respond. I wish it was next Saturday already.
C'mon the Fife.
FINAL SCORE: BERWICK RANGERS 1 - 1 EAST FIFE
EAST FIFE: O'Connor, Lumsden, Hall, Mortimer, Mathie, Blair, McMillan (Mitchell 67), G. McDonald, Herkes (Fairbairn 79), Gilbert (Deuchar 72) Subs (not used): Graham, Russell
AFTN MAN OF THE MATCH: Both Johnny Mitchell and Kenny Deuchar did excellently when they came on, but for his display over the whole game, we'd give this week's MOM award to EUAN DONALDSON. He put himself about and was back to his best.
Craig McMillan Shoots Just Wide
Johnny Mitchell After Being Sickenly Flattened For No Foul