SAT 21ST AUGUST 2004: H v COWDENBEATH (SCOTTISH THIRD DIV)
Derby day. Facing a team ravaged by injury, suspensions and coming off a 6-0 gubbing from the week before, East Fife were never going to have a better chance to beat Cowdenbeath than this week. It was all set. It looked good on paper. But, like so many many times before with East Fife, what looked good on paper, turned out to be completely awful on grass.
Jim Moffat made two changes from last week's defeat against Albion Rovers, bringing in new signing Michael Renwick for Craig Lumsden at right back, with Kris Brash replacing Johnny Mitchell on the wing.
The game started promising, with Brian Fairbairn having a chance blocked and deflected over for a corner with just two minutes gone.
What soon became evident from the early action was that whilst East Fife were forcing several corners, without really threatening, Cowdenbeath's young side had the pace to trouble our defence, quickly breaking time and time again and outnumbering us as they went forward. Cowdenbeath also adopted a tough tackling approach to the game, which referee Brian Cassidy was letting go unchecked. The worst tackle being Calvin Shand's on Kris Brash 8 minutes in.
The Cowden pace, flair and passing game was causing problems for the Fife defence and confusion on 16 minutes let Cowdenbeath open the scoring. Mikey Hall headed an awful ball to Ian McDonald, but the ball never made it to him as the quick thinking Dene Shields nipped in, ghosted past him and hit the ball low and hard past John Dodds' right. 1-0 Cowdenbeath.
The goal gave the inexperienced Cowden boys the lift and confidence they were looking for and the onslaught began. It was starting to look like David and Goliath, as the Fife fans watched on in disbelief at what an inept performance was developing in front of their eyes. Cowdenbeath played with shape, flair and heart. East Fife were playing like they'd never met each other before or seen a football in their lives, with each player keen to get rid of the ball as fast as they got it.
Ian McDonald and Kevin Bain, in particular but not alone, were having nightmare games. Constantly losing possession and getting skinned.
Shields had a great chance to double the Cowden lead on 34 minutes when he latched onto a perfect through ball, left the Fife defence standing, rounded John Dodds, but hit his effort high and wide right when the empty net beckoned. An amazing escape for the Fife, but even more was to follow.
Four minutes later and another long ball, this time to Liam Buchanan, caused the Fife defence problems, with Bain unable to deal with the danger properly. His ineffectual clearance falling straight to a Cowden player, whose pinpoint cross into the box was met by the constantly dangerous Shields just outside the six yard box. His powerful header was brilliantly stopped by Dodds a point blank range, but he had no chance of holding on to the ball. The rebound spilled to John Paul Burns, who crashed his effort off the post.
Yet another lucky escape, as the Fife faithful let their feelings known.
With four minutes of the half remaining, Cowden's best passing move of the match deserved better than the finish it got. Gary Fusco picked the ball up 25 yards out, went on a run, played a beautiful one-two with Shields at the edge of the box, found himself unmarked when he picked up the return on the penalty spot, but amazingly hit his final shot well wide.
Even I have to say he was so unlucky, but this is the kind of move distinctly lacking from ANY Fife attack this season.
Half time thankfully came, the team were booed off the pitch and we were left wondering if Cowden would rue these missed chances. Then we remembered our first half performance and quickly realised that it was highly unlikely. It was one of the worst team peformances I think I have ever seen an East Fife team play in my 20 years of watching them. Totally devoid of any skill, passion or shape. Gary Kelly and John Dodds being the only two players who came out of the half with any credit. The front two never got any service, Greig McDonald was posted missing and as what was happening at the backů
Surprisingly, well to us in theory but knowing Jim Moffat not really, no substitutions were made at half time.
The second half seemed like it was going to start the way the first one finished, as just two minutes in and Cowden were pressurising again. A through ball for Ian Mauchlan to chase on the left, saw the Cowden winger leave Bain for dead before crossing into the box, where the blue shirts were lining up for the ball. It finally fell to Burns, who seemed to trip over his feet when he had a great chance to score and the danger was averted. Nothing learned from the first half then?
Then came a surprising turn of events as East Fife started to get a sustained period of pressure, with both Herkes and Fairbairn getting dangerous crosses in to the box and winning corners. No chances came from these, but at least it was a start.
I think things were summed up best when a long punt into the corner flag saw both Fairbairn and Tarditi having to chase it, leaving no-one in the middle. That's not what both our strikers should be getting used for.
As the hour mark ticked by, Mauchlan had time on the edge of the box, but couldn't get his shot off, being deflected for a Cowden corner when he finally did.
East Fife then had a half chance when a speculative lob into the box by Herkes, was poorly punched away by Paul Calf lookalike, Allan Fleming, as he seemed to lose it in the sun. The ball fell to Greig McDonald, but his effort was blocked from a good position.
Then came the game's turning point.
As Brian Fairbairn ran on to a pass, he went in firm, but innocuously, on the Cowden sub McHale. He may have caught his ankle, but if he did it was an accident, but as the Cowden player stayed down, the 'beath's Ian Mauchlan decided to let his feelings known on the incident and ran straight at Fairbairn and stuck his head right into his face. No contact was made, but the intent was there and with a referee like Cassidy in charge, he was always going to see red after that, with Fairbairn getting a yellow and McHale treatment.
So, Cowden down to ten men. This would surely signal the turn of the tide. Well you'd think it would wouldn't you?
Herkes had a curling long range effort go just wide soon after, but then normal service was resumed and the Cowden midfield went back to running the show. Yes, the ten men were still knocking the ball about, getting room and keeping their shape.
The ineptitude and disinterest being summed up when John Paul Burns hit a bad pass from just inside the Fife half to Buchanan, who was running back from an offside position. Everyone left the ball. Everyone except Burns who then ran about 20 yards through a stationary Fife defence to pick up his own pass and eventually won a corner. Totally unbelievable.
Just when you thought that that was going to be it, up popped a moment of brilliance, quickly followed by a moment of madness.
Seven minutes left on the clock and at long last a telling through ball to Fairbairn allowed him to run at the young Cowden defender who committed too early and Brian was free. He cut outside and unleashed a stunning volley from just inside the corner of the box that gave Fleming no chance. Somehow it was 1-1.
The exuberance of Brian and the Fife crowd saw the Bairn completely lose it, whipping off his jersey as he ran to this adoring hordes. Everyone knows it's a bookable offence now. Cassidy's in charge. We knew what was coming. Red card and the goalscorer was off.
Shields had been booked for taunting the Fife fans in the first half, so at least he was consistant, but you'd think referees would be allowed some leeway to take into account that a young striker has just scored an equaliser in a derby game. But no, that would be too sensible.
It was an unfortunate sending off. It was a stupid, brainless sending off. With him suspended now, it's going to be even tougher against free scoring Stenny next week.
The Fife had the last chance to win the game, when Johnny Mitchell saw his effort scrambled off the line, but the final whistle came and somehow, East Fife had scraped an very undeserved point.
The performance was woeful. The tactics and skill levels on display were dire. The midfield can't control the game, cos they never get the ball on the deck long enough. The front two can't get any service and have to go looking to create their own chances. McDonald, Bain and Hall were getting ripped apart by a group of players that wouldn't have looked out of place in the under-19 league. Players like Byle and Palizcka are inexplicably kept on the bench. It's just punt, punt, punt. This isn't football. This isn't worth turning up for. We got a point today and left feeling like it was a big defeat.
We're seeing this every week. The performances are getting worse. How can Jim Moffat not see this? How can he not act on this? What is his assistant doing on the pitch to change this when he is one of the weak links in the first place? And still we have the question, where are the goals going to come from?
I really don't know where this season is going. It may be an over exaggeration, but I fear for our future. And Jim Moffat's. Many more performances like today's and the goodwill of the fans will have left him.
Can we turn it round next week? Well frankly, it can't get any worse. Can it?
C'mon the Fife!
FINAL SCORE: East Fife 1 - 1 Cowdenbeath
EAST FIFE: Dodds, Renwick, I. McDonald, Bain, Hall, Kelly, Herkes, G. McDonald, Fairbairn, Tarditi (Paliczka 64), Brash (Mitchell 83). Subs (not used) - Morrison, Byle and Lumsden.
OK, so how do you give pass marks to that lot! Not easily. It's more been a case of who wasn't abysmal. I'm sure a lot of you will disagree with some of these points, but...
3 points - Michael Renwick (looked like he could be what we need at right back - and left!)
2 points - Gary Kelly (the only player to get pass marks in first half)
1 point - Brian Fairbairn (cracking goal, stupid sending off)
Shields comes close again for Cowden
A typical example at how easily Cowden were ghosting past
The stramash starts
Brian - booked
Mauchlan - off
McHale - gets treatment
Brian celebrates a little too much
Johnny Mitchell comes close
For other pics go to Brian Lawson's thefifers.co.uk photo site.