SAT 7TH AUGUST 2004: H v MONTROSE (SCOTTISH THIRD DIVISION)
East Fife got their League campaign off to a winning start today in a dominant, but dour display that evoked memories of all the last minute winners of our promotion winning season of two years ago.
Making two changes from last week's Challenge Cup defeat, Gary Kelly and James Herkes earned spots in the midfield at the expense of Les Byle and Johnny Mitchell. The replacing of Mitchell was no surprise,a fter a poor performance last week, but Byle played well last week, leading to theories that he might not have recovered full match sharpness after his leg break.
The season nearly started the wrong way for the Fife when Montrose had what looked like a clear penalty in the opening minutes, when their striker was clearly pulled back in the box. The referee awarded a free kick instead, at the edge of the box, and any danger was averted. What we weren't to know was that this was likely to be the closest that Montrose came to penetrating the Fife defence for the whole game!
The first Fife chance fell on 9 minutes when a dangerous Kris Brash corner was header over by Steven Tarditi. This was the first of a number of set pieces to cause the Montrose defence, and in particular their rather poor keeper Hankinson (a replacement for the injured Jim Butter), big problems, with Kris Brash the main dangerman in this area and causing goalmouth scrambles galore with his whipped in crosses.
Tarditi had another headed chance on 22 minutes, but despite being straight at the keeper, he was unable to hold on at the first attempt.
East Fife were by far the most creative team on display, but were just lacking that final finishing killer touch, but Montrose looked like a team devoid of any flair or ideas, with their moves all breaking down on the edge of the box.
Greig McDonald had a couple of good chances with 26 minutes gone, first forcing a corner with a header that led to a scrambling save, then rising powerfully from the subsequent corner to head just over.
Minutes later and Tarditi had another chance which was easily saved, as the Fife turned up the pressure to try and force a breakthrough.
It wasn't to come and it was actually Montrose who finished the half with an attack, with Smart being lucky to escape a booking for a blatant dive over Dodds as he came out to collect the ball in the vain attempt to win a penalty. Cheats never win though and no penalty was rightly given, as no contact was even made, and half time came with a bit of shoving it appeared in the tunnel.
A relatively good first half display, but the worry of not having anyone that really looked liked scoring was still evident. The second half then continued in much the same vain. Lots of East Fife pressure and possession, but very little goalscoring opportunities to show for it.
The second half, in fact, developed into a pretty dire affair, between two obviously poor calibre sides that don't look like they will be causing Gretna too many sleepless nights, but hey, it's still early days.
The Fife seemed to win corner after corner, with both Kris Brash and Gary Kelly's delivery looking dangerous time and time again, but the breaks just wouldn't come. We hit the post on 57 minutes in a goalmouth scramble and Brian Fairbairn came close when his deflected effort looped just over from six yards out.
The obvious frustration at not being able to break down the Gable Endies' defence seemed to let Montrose get into the game a little midway through the half, but this could only produce a long range free kick on 68 minutes, which flew dangerously close over the bar.
East Fife thought they had opened the scoring with 12 minutes remaining when substitute Johnny Mitchell turned onto a brilliant through pass and buried the ball into the net, only for the linesman to give offside. It just didn't look like it was going to be our day.
Craig Lumsden nearly gave Montrose a chance with seven minutes remaining when he allowed their left winger too much space, as he got to the bye line and whipped in a dangerous cross which John Dodds dealt with comfortably and confidently.
East Fife pulled out a final burst of effort in the last five minutes, however, and had a handball appeal waved away in the box and then the Fife faithful could only look on as Mitchell and Greig McDonald ran unmarked onto a deep cross into the six yard box, with Greig forcing a brilliant point blank save from the shaky looking Hankinson.
That looked like that was going to be it, but then up stepped Steven Tarditi, who had looked exhausted and done for the day. As the game ticked into the last minute, Steven picked the ball up 25 yards out and used his bulk to ghost past two Montrose defenders before drilling the ball low into the net from 15 yards out for his first goal for the Club and our first goal of the 2004/2005 season.
The delight for the players was evident as they mobbed Tarditi.
The final whistle came soon after and the Fife ended up with a deserved three points for effort. There's still a number of worries there though for the faithful. The defence looked tighter, but were never really under too much pressure from a poor Montrose side. The midfield battled away well, but it is up front where I fear we need an addition. We badly need someone who is going to be an out and out goalscorer, particularly with Gretna and Peterhead banging the goals in. Once Tarditi is fully fit, this will help, but Brian Fairbairn isn't providing the necessary up front with him at the moment.
But, as I said earlier, early days yet and still all to play for. Three points in the bag. Joint top of the league! And the Fife are back in business.
C'mon the Fife.
FINAL SCORE: East Fife 1 - 0 Montrose
EAST FIFE: Dodds, Lumsden, I. McDonald, Bain, Hall, Kelly, Herkes, G. McDonald, Fairbairn (Paliczka 72), Tarditi, Brash (Mitchell 77). Subs (Not Used): Morrison, Linton, Byle
ATTENDANCE: A woeful 437, yet they still ran out of pies before half time!
3 points - Kris Brash (busy & creative throughout)
2 points - John Dodds (another solid, confident display)
1 point - Greig McDonald (back to his dangerous best)
The 2004/2005 League campaign kicks off
Off the post
The flapping Montrose keeper
Fairbairn's deflected effort loops over
1-0 Fife. Cue celebrations
The goalscorer on the ball
[Photos 1-5 7-19 21 22 24 & 26 Courtesy of Brian Lawson]