SAT 16TH SEPTEMBER 2006: H v BERWICK (SCOTTISH 3RD DIVISION)
If East Fife are going to be crowned Champions come the end of the season then these are the games that they need to win. They did that today and very comfortably as well.
It was Berwick who actually started the brighter and visitors had the first real chance of the match with five minutes gone when Iain Thomson looked offside but the flag stayed down, allowing him to get a shot off from inside the box but John Dodds saved easily in the Fife goal.
Some unusual indecision from Tom Courts at the back nearly let in Gary Wood for a chance minutes later, but the Fife captain recovered his composure and the danger was cleared.
East Fife were looking busy without really creating any chances but with 14 minutes gone, a delightful through ball set Paul Hampshire clear and as he bore down on goal, Jordan Smith managed to close him down before a stupid and clumsy tackle just inside the box brought the Fife returnee clattering to the deck for a penalty and a yellow card for the Rangers' defender.
Paul Ritchie stepped up to coolly send Gary O'Connor the wrong way and slot the penalty home into the bottom right hand corner of the net for 1-0 to the Fife.
Berwick threatened midway through the half with a long ball into the Fife half, which Dodds did well to come out and clear just before former Fifer Sean Paliczka could get onto the end of it. The clearance fell to Hampshire who played a neat through ball to Ritchie, but the veteran striker was unable to get off a clear shot and the Berwick defence were able to regroup.
Having found his Fife scoring touch, Ritchie wasn't going to be denied though and he doubled the Fife's advantage on 34 minutes, with what will be a strong contender for East Fife's goal of the season.
Paul received the ball about 14 yards out and hit a fantastic over the shoulder bicycle kick into the top right hand corner of the net. He's scored a lot of goals in his career but there won't have been many better than this one. 2-0 Fife.
Berwick had to try and get back into the game immediately and Neil Campbell's dipping long range effort had Dodds scrambling and wasn't far away. Paliczka then had a bouncing effort from a corner easily saved by Dodds, as the Fife continued to look comfortable at the back.
It was nearly three for the Fife though right on the stroke of half time when Kevin Gordon's fierce shot was just able to be tipped over the bar by O'Connor for a corner, which was barely able to be taken before the half time whistle blew and the Bayview men went in very deservedly ahead.
With the second half just three minutes old, it was Gordon again who nearly made it three but his effort was saved by O'Connor after another defence splitting pass had put him through.
Neither team managed to control the game in the second period and it soon fizzled out as a spectacle, but with Berwick being the ones who needed to chase the game and make things happen, this was no cause to concern to the Fife faithful.
There was in fact very little to report for the entire half. Calvin Shand had a good chance for the visitors and it was the last minute before Berwick nearly claimed a goal back when Rangers' sub Tom Britton had a shot from outside of the box held by Dodds, but as supposed title challengers, Berwick really disappointed on the day and the Fife easily held out for a two goal victory and a three point cushion once again at the top of the table.
It was a good victory for the Fife and, encouragingly, a good all round team effort, bouncing back from last week's defeat well. None of the players could be faulted and as we head through to Hampden next week, I've yet to see any team that we should be worried about at this stage. Don't want to tempt fate though!!!
C'mon the Fife!
FINAL SCORE: East Fife 2 - 0 Berwick Rangers
EAST FIFE: Dodds, Smith, Linton, J. Smart, Courts, Kelly, Gordon (Martin 85), Jablonski, Ritchie (O'Reilly 81), Hampshire (C. Smart 72), Blackadder [Subs (not used): Roberts and Doyle]
3 points - Tom Courts (was fantastic at the back, although all defence excelled)
2 points - Paul Ritchie (good to see him opening his Fife account)
1 points - Paul Hampshire (great first half performance)