SAT 30TH SEPTEMBER 2006: H v DUMBARTON (SCOTTISH 3RD DIVISION)
These are the games that test a team's championship credentials. A bad defeat the week before and a week of boardroom unrest. How would the Fife respond?
With new signing Jason Dair starting the game in the left back role vacated by Sam Linton's sending off at Hampden, the Fife quickly showed that they were ready to bounce back and took control of the game from the off.
A quick break from John Martin just five minutes in led to an East Fife penalty appeal for handball but the referee waved away the appeals and gave a corner. What was more frustrating from a Fife fans point of view was that Neil Jablonski was free and in space to the left had the ball been played out to him instead. Still, a promising start.
Four minutes later and another Fife break starts with some neat footwork by Dair who played the ball out wide to Ryan Blackadder on the left and the midfielder delivered a cracking cross into the middle of the box which Paul Ritchie heads wide under pressure from a Dumbarton defender.
Dumbarton were having possession but were not a real attacking threat in the game yet and it was East Fife again who threatened on 13 minutes when a long ball forward from Paul Doyle broke favourably for Martin, who took a touch for control before forcing Stephan Grindlay to make a good save from a tight angle.
25 minutes had gone before Dumbarton had threatened the Fife goal but when they did get a chance it was a huge squandered opportunity.
A long ball forward was left by the defence in the expectation that John Dodds would come off his line to collect, but Dodds stood stationary allowing Stephen Dobbie to nip in, control the ball and hit an effort inches wide from 8 yards out. He really should have scored and following his costly mistakes the week before, Dodds must have been breathing a huge sigh of relief.
With eleven minutes of the half remaining, Dodds kicked a goal kick deep into the Dumbarton half. As the ball bounced goalwards, Sons' defender Mark Canning headed a sloppy pass back to Grindlay, with the Sons' keeper just managing to collect before Paul Ritchie could nip in and cause damage.
The Fife weren't to be denied though and took the lead five minutes later when a goalmouth scramble saw Jablonski have two blocked attempts from almost on the goal line before it was third time lucky and he hit his effort high into the roof of the net. 39 minutes gone, 1-0 East Fife.
Dumbarton almost responded immediately when David McNaught hit a shot that looked a goal all the way, before Dodds produced a stunning one handed save to his right to keep the Fife lead.
The last chance of the half fell to East Fife on 42 minutes when Blackadder saw his looping shot come cross tipped away from under the cross bar by Grindlay, East Fife kept control and the ball eventually fell to Martin just outside of the box and his curling effort was brilliantly turned around the post by the Sons' keeper.
As the half time whistle came, East Fife were the happier side going in, one up and playing some neat passing football. The second half though was to see the Fife put themselves under undue pressure.
Six minutes into the half and Dumbarton had a penalty appeal waved away this time, as a rash tackle on Ryan Borris just inside the box could have been given.
Dumbarton kept the pressure on and McNaught had a great chance on the 55 minute mark when Doyle lost him, allowing the Sons' striker to run into the box, forcing Dodds to make a good save from a tight angle and Elliot Smith cleared the loose ball and the danger.
The Fife responded when some good work in the midfield by Blackadder set up Smith on the right, but his cross from the bye line was too high when a low ball across the goalmouth would have been the more dangerous option.
As the hour mark ticked by, Dodds made an easy save from Dobbie and the Fife keeper then made a brave stop at the feet of the Sons' striker, who nearly took his head off in the process with a very late challenge, but full credit to Dodds firstly for the save and secondly for not making a meal of the incident.
With just under 20 minutes remaining, Dumbarton had what proved to be the last real chance of the half for either side, when sub Chris Hamilton beat the offside trap but hit a terrible weak shot straight at Dodds when he should have done so much better.
East Fife then held out and it was a relief to hear the final whistle. A good strong performance though, but we are looking a little weak on the left hand side and put ourselves under too much unnecessary pressure when we should have been looking to kill the game off.
Still, we'll take all the three points we can to keep our place at the top of the pile and with an early visit again to winless Elgin next week, we've a great chance of increasing that lead.
C'mon the Fife!
FINAL SCORE: East Fife 1 - 0 Dumbarton
EAST FIFE: Dodds, Smith, Dair (Mitchell 78), J. Smart, Doyle, Courts, Martin, Jablonski, Ritchie (Smart 88), Blackadder, Hampshire (Fortune 78) [Subs (not used): Roberts and O'Reilly]
3 points - John Dodds (ok, shaky at times, but kept us in it with a number of strong saves)
2 points - Neil Jablonski (strong in the middle. a lot came through him)
1 points - Jonathan Smart (fairly untroubled and composed at back)