SAT 4TH AUGUST 2007: H v EAST STIRLING (SCOTTISH 3RD DIVISION)
At long last the waiting was over. A chance to see the 2007/2008 Third Division League Champions in competitive action. And no, I don't mean East Stirling, although many would wonder after the first half display at Bayview today.
Expectations are high this season. Higher even than Pete Doherty on a trip round Camden. It's going to take a few games for the team to fully gel and fire on all cylinders and there were a few missing faces today as well, so it's impossible to judge just what month we'll have the title wrapped up just yet.
Straight from the off, East Stirling, fielding a number of freed East Fife summer signings, were keen to prove that they weren't just here to make up the numbers and the Shire certainly started the brighter and more dangerous of the two teams.
The first real chance of the game came six minutes in, as Joe Savage fired dangerously across the face of the Fife goal and narrowly wide. Willie McCulloch, having secured the Fife number one jersey, was confident enough to leave it in the full knowledge that it wasn't a threat. At least that's what we hope happened!
Moments later and the Shire came even closer, when Marc McKenzie's speculative overhit cross crashed off the Fife crossbar and over.
The Fife weren't really producing any real goal threats and it was the Shire who threatened again after 17 minutes when Andrew Brand outpaced the Fife defence, forcing McCulloch to rush out of his goal and block the midfielder's shot for a corner.
The game then became an actionless affair until five minutes before the half, when the Fife finally had a chance, with Greig McDonald bulleting over Ryan Blackadder's corner from ten yards out.
And that was it for the half. Goal-less and thrill-less. Not much else you can say about it really.
We knew it would all come good in the second half though, as surely even we couldn't play that lacklustre for the whole 90 minutes.
There wasn't long to wait either with the Fife taking the lead two minutes in. But it wasn't pretty. A scramble in the box saw the ball falling to Stevie Nicholas at the back post. With the Shire keeper Darren Hill closing down on Nic quite quickly. Stevie's sclaffed effort headed goalwards, bouncing off the helpless Derek Ure on the way into the net. Hey, they all count though! 1-0 Fife.
This was the impetus the Fife needed and they upped the attacking threat.
Dougie Cameron hit a 25 yard effort over the bar on 50 minutes and six minutes later, Craig O'Reilly had a great chance but took too long to compose himself and the Shire managed to thwart any danger.
As the hour mark approached though, East Stirling shocked the home fans by levelling matters when Savage pounced on a disasterous attempted backpass from Steven Tweed, outpaced the veteran defender and fired low under Willie McCulloch. One apiece.
East Fife nearly hit back immediately but Ryan Blackadder's curling effort from the right hand corner of the box went inches over.
It took until 12 minutes from time though until the Fife regained the lead.
A long ball into the box finally fell to Greig McDonald at the back post. A scrambled one-two with Nicholas, allowed McDonald to find room and he buried the ball hard and low from 5 yards out whilst Hill could only look on. 2-1 to the Fife.
It should have been three five minutes later after a great diagonal found Nicholas in loads of room just inside the box. Stevie took a good touch but his finishing let him down and he drilled wide.
This wasn't to deter the Fife though and they finally made it 3-1 three minutes from time when a McDonald throw in to Stewart saw the referee get in the road, but this allowed Paul to adjust his angle and when he finally collected the ball he drilled an unstoppable screamer past Hill from 25 yards out. Goal of the season already?!
As the final whistle came it was a scoreline which perhaps flattered the Fife, but as everyone knows, champions are the teams that still win whilst playing badly.
There were some good positives today. Greig McDonald in particular looked back to form and Paul Stewart looked good in the middle. What the team will end up looking like when everyone is available will be interesting to see, but it's certainly shaping up to be a season to remember and we're only one match in!
C'mon the Fife!
FINAL SCORE: East Fife 3 - 1 East Stirling
EAST FIFE: McCulloch, Guy (McDonald 14), Fotheringham, Smart, Tweed, Young, Blackadder (Walker 89), Stewart, O'Reilly (Gordon 89), Nicolas, Cameron. [Subs not used: Mathers, Linton]
3 points - Stevie Nicholas (ran tirelessly for entire game)
2 points - Greig McDonald (coming back to his best all round brilliance)
1 points - Paul Stewart (added spark to middle and what a goal!)