SAT 6TH NOV 2004: A v PETERHEAD (SCOTTISH THIRD DIVISION)
Kermit said it wasn't easy being green. He was right. He should also have added it wasn't easy being an East Fife supporter and having to watch this season.
Following another hammering, the team were going to have to show a tremendous bouncebackability to overcome the visiting League leaders (and hopefully the team to stop Gretna winning the Division come May). As it turned out, East Fife were the better side over the ninety minutes, but it was Peterhead who took their chances and kept their top place by ten to five.
With Kris Brash suspended after his red card against Stenhousemuir, it was all change at the back with Fraser Duncan slotting in to the left back role and Kevin Bain and Craig Lumsden coming in in the middle. The big surprsie was Steven Tarditi partnering Stevie Nicholas up front and not Derek Colquhoun. And there was finally some good news on the injury front with Greig McDonald and Sean Paliczka taking places on the bench.
It was a pretty dull opening 20 minutes, with neither team having any real clear cut chance. Peterhead had the best half chance when Morrison was unable to hold on to the ball in the slippery conditions but any danger was easily cleared.
With 21 minutes on the clock, the first real bit of action for East Fife fans to shout about came when Stevie Nicholas chased a long through ball and outpaced the last Peterhead defender Craig Tully. Just when it looked like Nic was going to get away and be one on one with the Blue Toon keeper, Tully tugged Stevie back by the shoulder on the edge of the box. Free kick awarded but Tully was deemed not to be the last man and only picked up a caution. Brian Fairbairn curling free kick was then easily saved.
East Fife continued with their long ball tactics and with 31 minutes gone, Gary Kelly chased what looked like being a lost ball towards the corner flag. Peterhead keeper Paul Mathers tracked back the make sure the ball went out for a Blue Toon goal kick, but just before it did, Gary's persistence paid off when he dispossessed Mathers on the bye line, cut the ball back to Brian Fairbairn, who chipped the ball into the box with the open goal beckoning, but the Peterhead defence got to the ball first and cleared the threat with ease.
Seconds later and the Fife had another great chance to open the scoring, when Brian Fairbairn somehow hit his effort inches wide after great work and a perfect low cross from Jimmy Herkes on the right.
Peterhead then had their best chance of the game so far, when a cross in to the box found ex-Fifer Keith Gibson in acres of room, but his strong header hit off a Fife defender and was cleared when he should have done better with the time and space he had.
The last and best chance of the half fell to East Fife with nine minutes remaining. Les Byle played a neat short ball through to Nicholas. Stevie had lots of room and time and was one on one with the keeper. He only had to run it in a little to make sure of the opener but instead opted for a quick, spectacular effort, which flew wide and landed closer to Leven swimming pool than the back of the net.
So half time and 0-0 against the League leaders. Not only that but clearly the better team. Not what most of us were expecting or predicting! What had happened in a week? We still didn't look like rattling in a fair few goals, but we didn't look like conceding any against a disappointing Peterhead frontline. Following a series of second half collapses recently, AFTN certainly weren't prepared to start our chicken counting and sadly, so were we proved correct.
The second half started as the first had finished, with East Fife in the ascendancy and four minutes in a perfect Jimmy Herkes ball across the goalmouth could find no takers in a black and gold jersey and the scores remained deadlocked - although not for long.
Peterhead went up the field and won a free kick out right, ten yards inside the Fife half. Tully floated an inch perfect ball into the box, falling straight into the path of Robbie Raeside and the former Raith player made no mistake with a clinical, thundering low volley that flew past Morrison into the bottom of the net. 1-0 Peterhead.
Were we going to see another collapse of Gretna and Stenny proportions or would we actually show some fight and spirit for a change? At long last it was the latter.
As the hour mark approached, a brilliant jinky run by Herkes saw him ghost past a couple of Peterhead defenders and get a dangerous cross in from the bye line. The cross took a deflection, which was just enough to take it over the heads of Nicholas and Fairbairn as the goal agonisingly beckoned yards away.
As the heavens opened, Peterhead then brought on Bobby Linn for Scott Michie, who had had a far quieter game from his impressive display against us at Balmoor in September. Linn's introduction added some much needed pace to the Peterhead attack and had immediate results.
With 66 minutes gone, Linn did well on the right and whipped in a cross which Martin Bavidge should have buried, but headed inches wide.
If Michie and Bavidge had been quiet for Peterhead, Steven Tarditi had been invisible for the Fife and considering his size, that's some achievement! He nearly made his mark on the game in dramatic fashion though with 72 minutes gone when he picked up the ball just inside the box, turned superbly and showed brilliant control with the outside of his foot to bring the ball into shooting range and rifled a fierce goalbound effort which Mathers parried away. Frustratingly showing us what he is capable of is he gets the ball to his feet.
East Fife then turned on an impressive spell of pressure with both Herkes and sub Sean Paliczka getting in good crosses, but again, with no takers or finishers stepping up to the plate. Peterhead meanwhile seemed quite happy to just keep possession, knock the ball about, threaten little and hold on to their 1-0 victory, with every three points vital in their battle against big-spending goal-machines Grtena.
If you want to win the League though you have to win the games that you don't play well in and even more importantly take your chances. That's the mark of Champions and that's just what Peterhead did with ten minutes remaining.
Exactly how East Fife let Peterhead score is still a puzzle as a cross from the right found David Hagen totally unmarked and in acres of space at the back of the box. With the East Fife defence returning to their no-man's land personas, Hagen had the easiest of jobs and loads of time to control the ball and easily tuck it past Morrison to wrap up the three points. 2-0 Peterhead.
That pretty much wrapped up the action as Peterhead knocked the ball about more, much to the delight of their ole-ing support. As the final whistle came, the Blue Tooners that had made the long journey down could return happy with three, it has to be said not totally deserved, points and stay ahead of Gretna at the top.
East Fife may have rose to the visit of the leaders, but it was a vast improvement on last week. We knocked the ball about, looked more solid at the back than in any time in recent weeks, although left back and the whole left side is still a big weakness that teams will exploit time and time again. We got the crosses in and made the chances, now we only have to start taking them. Peterhead showed how to do it. With Greig McDonald and Sean Paliczka getting run outs, we may have a bit more bite to our team soon.
In the meantime, the game we've been dreading looms! East Stirling away! They won today and will be fired up at the opportunity to close the gap on us. Surely that can't happen. Can it?!
Still, at least we're not Cowden tonight! Or ever!
C'mon the Fife.
FINAL SCORE: East Fife 0 - 2 Peterhead
EAST FIFE: Morrison, Renwick, Duncan, Lumsden, Bain, Byle (G. McDonald 75), Herkes, Kelly, Nicholas, Tarditi (Paliczka 75), Fairbairn Subs (not used) - Gardiner, Colquhoun and Linton
A much improved defensive display earns most of the plaudits this week.
3 points - Michael Renwick (could have marked Hagen for the goal, but that aside didn't put a foot wrong)
2 points - Craig Lumsden (solid return to the middle. Partnerd Bain well.)
1 point - James Herkes (most of the creative danger came from his side)
[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]