SAT 1ST JANUARY 2005: A v COWDENBEATH (SCOTTISH THIRD DIV)
(REPORT BY MARK STEVENS AND LEE GILLIES)
There's nothing like a New Year derby against local rivals to raise the spirits and renew our seasonal sense of optimism. Too many painful returns from the Coo Den were however tempering the positivity of the Fife faithful at the team's recent signs of cohesion, organisation and the occasional burst of flair.
With other games being called off the torrential rain was a worry to some. Not so to the band of hardy Fife souls who decided to re enact the final stages of Perfect Storm by baring themselves to the elements for almost the full 90 minutes.
To the game then and Greig McDonald had failed a late fitness test giving Les Byle a place in the stating line up with Gary Kelly taking on the number 8 shirt. Graeme Mathie just signed from Ayr found a place on the bench.
Cowden started the brighter with Buchanan, Gribben and Shields testing the Fife defence and showing a good level of understanding between them.
Gribben forced a good save from Morrsion on 3 minutes but the sheer panic and defensive jumpiness of early season East Fife was almost completely absent.
Les Byle was looking in the mood and starting to link well with the front three with his tackling and passing. On 15min Gribben beat the offside trap and homed in on goal. He was foiled by a sliding tackle from Renwick that resulted in a corner to Cowden that came to nothing. Paliczka & Nicolas showed the shape of things to come with some sharp shooting troubling goalkeeper Carlin. It was not the most exciting game but given the conditions the players were serving up some end-to-end stuff and on 20 minutes Gribben had the best chance of the game beating everyone inside the 18yard box then shooting wide at a gaping goal as Lumsden closed down the angle. Oh how I laughed. It was fairly even for the rest of the first half with Fife's front men working their socks off as usual. The most promising move for Fife finished in a saved Stevie Nicholas shot on 30 minutes. Mitchell and Fairbairn were delivering good crosses but too often there was no one to getting on the end of them.
Amid further heavy downpours the game fizzled out with the exception of a booking for Gribben for basically being a greeting faced wee bairn.
Half Time then and East Fife would have went in the happier side as The Waxed Brazilians had the more clear cut chances and failed to take them. Off to the Pie Stall then.
Having dined on Cowdung's finest puke in a crust, I traversed over to join the well washed on the terraces. The second Half kicked off in slightly better conditions with the most memorable early moment being Johnny Mitchell adopting the opposition's tactics and launching himself into Carlin. Byle was booked on 49mins for what was deemed an over zealous tackle. Cowdenbeath were reverting to form and starting to kick anything in pink that moved. (Mainly Stevie Nicholas). MacGregor was booked in 52 minutes and you just sensed the heat was getting turned up on this contest with both teams committed to winning the game. More downpours followed and the majority of the Wet Ones headed to the stand to save their underwear from a soaking.
Buchanan had been lively throughout the game and on 61 minutes he took advantage of a six yard box stramash and what looked to me like a blatant foul on Morrison to slot the ball home. It might have been the amber anaesthetic but I hardly had time to process we were a goal down before a Fairbairn cross found Paliczka on the right who rifled a low shot past the diving Carlin. One Each Get it up ye!!
The goal spurred on the Fife and seemed to sicken Cowdenbeath.
Fairbairn continued to cause problems with a great cross on 68 minutes that Mitchell fired just wide. The Fife faithful were growing in optimism that we might snatch a victory. Quoth the Angus one; " Its not over till the fat man pings". The Fat Man did indeed make his appearance on 75 minutes replacing St Nic who had again worked tirelessly for the team and taken a fair share of kickings from the Cowden defence. We looked the more likely to score in the latter stages of the game but the piece of luck or blinding skill needed to take a victory did not come and the game ended with the draw probably a fair result.
Whilst it wasn't a classic the game showed Fife continuing to progress particularly in showing more defensively stability and Byle & Kelly providing the often missing link between midfield and attack. In this game Morrision, Bain & Byle provided the solid spine that good teams are built on. In my view the striking situation needs a bit of tinkering with. All the front men work so hard for the team but it sometimes means as so often recently that we've no penalty box player ready to pounce on a half chance, cross or deflection. There are certainly real signs of improvement throughout the side on this performance.
C'mon the Fife!
FINAL SCORE: Cowdenbeath 1 - 1 East Fife
EAST FIFE: Morrison, Renwick, Brash, Lumsden, Bain, Byle, Paliczka, Kelly, Nicholas, Mitchell, Fairbairn. Subs (not used) - McCafferty, Mathie, Duncan, Herkes and Tarditi
3 points - SEAN PALICZKA (for his running and passing, the goal and the fact that his fitness has clearly come on leaps and bounds since the Huntly game)
2 points - LES BYLE (most influential player in the first half for us and got stuck in when Cowden began to mix it in the second)
1 point - SCOTT MORRISON (often an unsung hero. didn't make a mistake the whole game and gives confidence to fans and defenders when coming for crosses)
[For another report on the game and stats, check out the EAST FIFE MAD site]
[For more pics of the game check out Brian Lawson's THEFIFERS.CO.UK site]