SAT 28TH AUGUST 2004: H v STENHOUSEMUIR (SCOTTISH 3RD DIV)
Going in to the game, it didn't look good. Unrest amongst the fans, two goals in five competitive games this season and facing a team high on confidence on the back of scoring 12 goals in 2 games. As it turned out, it wasn't as bad as we feared!
Still not wonderful, but a big improvement on last week's debacle, it was a changed line up, with several players missing through injury and suspension. In the defence, gone (thankfully) were Bain and McDonald, to be replaced by Craig Lumsden in the middle and the returning Graeme Mathie at left back, playing as a trialist after being freed by Motherwell. Les Byle came in to the starting eleven in the middle, Kevin Steele made his debut and Sean Paliczka partnered Steven Tarditi up front.
East Fife had the first chance of the game, with five minutes gone, when James Herkes good work on the right was wasted by a poor cross into the side netting, as East Fife enjoyed the slightly better possession in the opening minutes.
Stenhousemuir had the first chance of their own on 13 minutes, when a nippy run by Martin Lauchlan (who was getting acres of room on the right), saw him crossing perfectly for Joe Savage, but the bleach boy's effort lopped just over.
East Fife were next to threaten, when Tarditi got on the end of a long free kick from Michael Renwick, heading the ball over the on-rushing Willie McCulloch, but his effort went agonisingly wide with McCulloch scrambling back under pressure from Sean Paliczka.
With possession evenly split between the two sides, Stenhousemuir looked the more dangerous, with that bit of extra pace that we seemed to be lacking and with half an hour gone Ryan Davidson saw his shot deflected over for a corner.
Four minutes later and Mathie was unbelievably booked as Lauchlan fell over on the edge of the box. A free kick was given and if Mathie had made contact, which he clearly didn't, it should have been a sending off offence anyway! The Stenny free kick came to nothing and the Fife broke quickly with Kevin Steele unlucky not to get on to a long ball up the park, but the Stenny defender just got there first.
It was ex East Fife player Paul McGrillen's turn next to threaten the Fife goal, but his lovely skill and outside flick inside the box was wasted by a poor effort on goal which John Dodds easily held.
With four minutes of the half remaining, Jimmy Herkes found himself with lots of time in the box as a cross came over from the left, but his thunderbolt of a volley went well wide.
The Warriors had the last chance of the half as another rocket, this time from Martin Lauchlan, was deflected over.
So, half time, no goals, but a better all round performance and the defence was looking a lot tighter than previous games. The key problem was still looking there though. Where was a goal going to come from?
East Fife started the second half as the more livelier side once again and had a great chance to open the lead five minutes in. Paliczka ran onto a defence piercing through ball and was one on one with McCulloch. McCulloch rushed out the the edge of the box, with both men meeting the ball at the same time and I'm afraid there's no other way to describe what happened next than to say that Sean shat out of the tackle and allowed the Stenny keeper to get the softest of touches to win the ball. The ball limped to Tarditi though but the big man's effort flew high over the bar from 25 yards out.
Stenhousemuir had a great chance to open the scoring themselves four minutes later when a powerful header from Savage at the edge of the box seemed goalbound but ricocheted off several players (and what to me looked like an arm somewhere!) and the danger was cleared.
It was good end to end stuff now, although both teams seemed to be lacking the needed killer punch.
Then, with 64 minutes on the clock, came Stenhouemuir's best chance of the game. Good work by Davidson on the edge of the box ended with his shot being deflected straight into the path of Savage, who was completely unmarked and in the clear on the penalty spot. Savage took a touch and blasted a shot towards Dodds, but Dodds produced a brilliant point blank save to turn the effort on to the bar. A great chance for Stenny wasted, in what was to prove to be their last real decisive attack on goal in the game.
East Fife were frustrating the fans by their lack of committing players forward and time and time again the ball had to be held up to allow players to support the attack, with players also being kept back at corners.
Sean Paliczka was having a good spell and with 66 minutes gone, produced a great cross into the box which McCulloch managed to punch away with Tarditi challenging.
The goal chances then started to fall by the wayside for both teams and Jim Moffat tried to liven up the Fife side by bringing Kris Brash on for Kevin Steele with ten minutes to go.
It worked well and it was Brash who created the Fife's best move with five minutes remaining. What was really pleasing about the whole move that it was actually a PASSING move (yes you read that correctly!), with no punting in sight.
Brash picked the ball up just inside the Fife half, played it to Paliczka to passed it quickly inside to Tarditi who held the ball up well before returning a perfect through ball to Brash. Kris flicked it on well to Paliczka whose fine effort was well saved by McCulloch for a corner.
A minute later and it looked like the Fife were going to snatch another dramatic late goal, but it wasn't to be. Herkes played the ball to Paliczka on the right this time and his perfectly weighted cross in to the box saw both Tarditi and Brash in space. Both went for the ball, but Tarditi met it powerfully first from six yards out and his goalbound header was brilliantly tipped over by Willie McCulloch.
That was the end of the action and at the end of the day, a draw was probably the fairest result, with Stenny edging the attempts on goal 10 to 8 and both sides having a good chance to wrap up the points.
Stenhousemuir looked the sharper of the two sides in the first half, but Paliczka helped even that up in the second. McGrillen still looked good for the Warriors and Lauchlan was given too much space on the right, but Mathie certainly was an improvement on McDonald and looked like he'd be a better left back for us than he was in the middle. Lumsden and Hall linked up excellently in the middle of the defence and looked comfortable pretty much throughout, taming the potent Warriors strikeforce.
Although an improved performance there was still a lot lacking. We need an out and out striker that will add pace, flair and danger to our often stagnant attack. The tactics are still far too defensive. We need to commit more players forward and support quicker. As it stands, two goals in six games is woeful and I just can't see where the goals are going to come from just now. Still time to sign some people, so let's hope we can.
Peterhead next week. A fun away day hopefully and let's hope for a bit more attack minded style of play. C'mon the Fife!
FINAL SCORE: East Fife 0 - 0 Stenhousemuir
EAST FIFE: Dodds, Renwick, Mathie [Trialist], Lumsden, Hall, Byle, Herkes, Kelly, Paliczka, Tarditi, Steele (Brash 80) Subs (not used): Morrison, Condie, Linton, Crawford
3 points - MIKEY HALL (untroubled throughout and looked back to his commanding best - probably helped by Lumsden who also had a fine game)
2 points - SEAN PALICZKA (looked very promising in second half)
1 point - JOHN DODDS (dealt well with all thrown at him)
The return of Graeme Mathie