SAT 11TH NOVEMBER 2006: A v BERWICK (SCOTTISH 3RD DIVISION)
AFTN viewed this as a vital game for East Fife's championship credentials. After taking only 5 points from the last three games against the division's bottom sides, this was a chance to get a good bit of daylight between ourselves and the wee Rangers, possibly killing off Berwick's title hopes in the process.
It turned out to be a tale of not just two halves, but two keepers.
Sam Linton failed a late fitness test, which saw Kevin Gordon promoted back into the starting eleven from the bench, having made way for Paul Hampshire earlier.
The game kicked off in brilliant sunshine but freezing cold, blustery conditions and Berwick were the team to adapt best and really went for it from the off.
The first real chance of the game came six minutes in when Berwick's David Greenhill beat the offside trap but John Dodds was quick off his line to thwart the chance.
East Fife were soon on the rack as Berwick launched wave after wave of attack, with the league leaders offering very little in return.
Berwick won a free kick 25 yards out and Stuart Fraser got the better of Dodds to win the ball and turn and shoot but his effort crashed off the bar and Paul Doyle was thankfully there to head the danger away for a corner from under the crossbar, whilst under pressure.
Robbie Manson then had a good effort hit the side netting for the home side, before the constant pressure led a break in the deadlock on 18 minutes.
A cross into the back off the box saw Fraser outjump two Fife defenders and the ball broke kindly to Gary Wood to head home an effort which Dodds appeared to fumble on the line as he tried to keep the ball out.
There was a possible claim that both Wood and Greenhill were offside, but that's more clutching at straws and the home side's pressure deserved a reward. 1-0 Berwick.
East Fife came a little more into the game after the goal, but still could not be really considered a goal threat, but with 26 minutes gone Neil Jablonski had a great chance to tie things up when a cross from the left found him at the back post but his free header from six yards out went straight into Gary O'Connor's arms.
The former Fife keeper's stop at one end was quickly followed by another cock up from the current Fife keeper, as East Fife were immediately punished for this miss.
Another free kick from Berwick saw the ball looped into the empty space around the six yard box, Dodds came out to collect the ball, but failed to hold on the ball yet again, allowing Wood to head his and Berwick's second of the match, with the Fife fans clearly letting Dodds know their feelings on the matter.
It was going to be an uphill battle now for the Fife and the way they were playing it was more a case of keeping the scoreline down than finding a way back into the match.
With ten minutes of the half remaining though, East Fife won a free kick out on the right. Ryan Blackadder launched the ball into Craig O'Reilly at the back of the six yard box but the big striker's headed effort was blocked by a Berwick defender. O'Reilly pounced on the rebound but his low shot was saved on the line by the legs of O'Connor for a corner.
The first half ended as it had begun, with a Berwick attack beating the offside trap, but Wood hit his effort wide when he should have secured his hat trick.
As the Fife went in at the interval to some boos, it was going to take an immense team talk from Dave Baikie to turn this game around.
Whatever Baikie said at half time clearly did the trick, as it was a far different East Fife side that came out for the second half and within two minutes of the restart they had pulled a goal back.
In a brilliant one touch, four pass move, Smith played the ball back to Blackadder and his semi scuffed pass fell to Craig Smart at the edge of the box and his neat flick inside set up Jabba to fire a cracking effort over O'Connor and off the bar into the net. 2-1 and all to play for once again.
This goal signalled a spell of constant East Fife pressure.
As the hour mark came round, East Fife won a free kick 25 yards out and with the crowd looking for Blackadder to blast an effort goalbound, Ryan played a neat low ball in to Hampshire, whose fired in a shot which O'Connor was only able to parry. The ball fell to Craig Smart 8 yards out but his effort was then saved with O'Connor's legs once again and the ball cleared but only as far as Craig O'Reilly who watched agonisingly as his shot went just wide.
East Fife kept the pressure on and it paid off with twenty minutes remaining when O'Reilly was brought crashing down in the box following some good work and referee Sommers immediately pointed to the spot.
Ryan Blackadder stepped up and blasted his effort high over the middle of the bar.
It was to prove to be a vital miss.
With quarter of an hour remaining, Berwick won a corner out on the right. The ball was played in to Wood but his effort was blocked and the ball broke to a Berwick player at the edge of the box but his effort went the same way as Blackadder's penalty.
East Fife introduced John Martin for Kevin Gordon immediately after this, with Berwick's Denis McLaughlin coming on for Kevin Haynes at the same time.
East Fife were still pushing for the vital equaliser and with ten minutes left they'd have got it as well if it hadn't have been for that pesky O'Connor.
In another neat passing move, Smith played the ball out to Craig Smart who knocked it inside to O'Reilly and Craig's neat ball back out to Smith on the right saw the right back float a perfect ball back into the back post to O'Reilly six yards out, but the big striker's powerful header was somehow kept out by O'Connor on the line.
The difference between the two keepers being clearly evident.
Paul Doyle was then carried off in a shocking challenge which didn't even see the Berwick offender booked. I don't know how bad the injury is but an ambulance did arrive with lights flashing minutes later. Let's hope it's not too serious as Doyle has been particularly impressive of late.
The introduction of McLaughlin had added some much needed pace for Berwick and the sub took full advantage of the Fife pushing forward but hit his effort wide in what was a two on one break for the home side.
As the time ticked down, East Fife had another great chance to tie things up when another dangerous Smith cross in found Craig Smart who knocked the ball back to Blackadder, who in turn played a perfect pass to Jablonski 12 yards out but the goalscorer squaffed his effort wide from a free position.
Berwick had the last great chance of the match and it was the sub McLaughlin again, as he outpaced Smith but hit an effort inches wide with Dodds left flat footed.
When the final whistle came, East Fife got what their first half performance deserved. Nothing. For a team to transform so much for the second half shows just what they are capable of and if they don't start to show it for a full 90 minutes as we approach a very difficult series of games, then we're going to blow the great position we've given ourselves.
We have an immediate chance for revenge in the Cup game against Berwick next week. Let's just hope it's the second half East Fife we see for all of next week.
C'mon the Fife!
FINAL SCORE: Berwick Rangers 2 - 1 East Fife
EAST FIFE: Dodds, Smith, Gordon (Martin 75), J. Smart, Doyle (McGowan 82), Courts, Hampshire, Jablonski, O'Reilly, C. Smart, Blackadder [Subs (not used): Ross, Fortune and Linton]
3 points - Paul Doyle (was solid at the back and vital in keeping scoreline down in first half)
2 points - Elliot Smith (gave good attacking options in second half)
1 point - Craig O'Reilly (worked hard to try and make things happen throughout)