SAT 12TH MARCH 2005: A v STENHOUSEMUIR (SCOTTISH 3RD DIV)
The joys of being a football supporter is that you can expect the unexpected and when it's nice, it's very nice indeed.
That's what we got this afternoon after a brilliant, attacking first half performance secured three points for the Fife and put a spanner in Stenhousemuir's chase for third place.
The only change from last week's starting eleven was the return of John Boyle for Kevin Steele and it was to prove to be an excellent change.
East Fife started the brighter and with 3 minutes and 43 seconds gone, and much to the surprise of the Fife fans that hadn't made it into the ground yet, the Fife took the lead.
John Boyle was set free on the left and hit the bye line before delivering a pin point cross into the box and straight on to the head of Greig McDonald and the Fife captain made no mistake, powerfully heading the ball through Willie McCulloch's legs from eight yards out. The face of Willie was a picture and that only added to the joy of being one up.
East Fife had a chance to double their lead almost immediately, when a long ball upfield saw McCulloch come flying out to the edge of his box to just tip the ball away from the rising Stevie Nicholas. The ball broke to Boyle and as McCulloch desperately tried to rush back to his line, the Fife winger tried a neat chip which ended up high and over the bar.
The Warriors tried to fight back and with 16 minutes gone, they nearly levelled things when Paul Murphy rose to head goalbound, but Scott Morrison brilliantly tipped the ball on to his right hand post and the rebound was recovered well.
East Fife's response was immediate and a good move saw the ball fall to Johnny Mitchell in the Stenny box, after Nicholas had been barged over. Mitch neatly played the ball over the back of the home defence to Gavin Beith , but he was only able to blast wide of the far post from a good position.
With the wind behind them, the Fife were certainly having the better of the possession and were having success with the long ball over the top, which the Warriors defence were struggling to cope with.
And with 19 minutes gone, it was that exact ploy that led to a quick Fife break. Fraser Duncan hit a long clearance from the East Fife box after some penalty box ping-pong and Nicholas outsprinted all bar one of the tracking back defenders but was unable to control the bouncing ball and fire off a shot. Instead he played it back to Boyle who passed it out wide to Michael Renwick and the right back delivered a fine cross in to the box which Beith headered straight at McCulloch.
Some nice stuff being played by the black and gold.
You can often rely on Willie McCulloch to provide at least one comical faux pas in a game against East Fife and we weren't disappointed when, on the half hour mark, Nicholas closed down on a back pass to him and Willie lost possession. Nic took the ball off his foot wide of the goal, cut inside and then fluffed his effort to the other side of an open goal. What a miss!
East Fife were then nearly punished immediately when a quick Stenny break forced Morrison to make a point blank stop from Kevin Struthers.
Stenhousemuir had another great opportunity moments later when both David McInally and John Paul McBride beat East Fife's offside trap, to leave them 2 on 1 against Renwick. The former Saint McBride turned sinner when he let one of the seven deadly sins get the better of him and greedily shot wide, when McInally was totally clear to his left.
It was good to keep the Fife on their toes and they responded perfectly on the 37 minute mark, doubling their lead in the process.
It was another long ball that brought the success, with Stevie Nicholas once again being the Fife player to run on to it, after a mistake from Stenny's Steven McGregor helped the ball on it's way. This time he controlled it perfectly, shook off the last defender and drilled the ball easily past McCulloch from 10 yards out. 2-0 to the Fife.
The Fife weren't wanting to rest on their laurels and in a show of unusual attacking flair, went for a third, as Boyle went on a mazy from the half way line before firing off a shot from 25 yards. It took a bobble, but McCulloch held it with ease, but with Willie in goal, it's always worth a try with one of those!
As half time approached, the home side tried to get back in to it and substitute Craig Menzies was unlucky to see his cross come shot land on the roof of the net.
The last action of the half saw McInally getting himself stupidly booked for throwing the ball of the back of Greig McDonald's head at a throw in, after Greig had jumped up and blocked his first attempt.
So, half time and a two goal Fife lead! All that and the sun was shining. It was bitterly cold, but still, the sun was there, he had his hat on and it was a black and gold one. More importantly, we had just witnessed one of the best halves by an East Fife side this season. Would they keep this attacking play up for the next forty five minutes?
It looked like it, when four minutes in to the half, after an initial burst of sustained Stenhousemuir pressure, Greig McDonald had the first real shot of the half forcing McCulloch to make a great stop from his 25 yard thunderbolt.
Willie McCulloch may make too many stupid mistakes in a season, but he's still an excellent shotstopper.
This it turned out was to be the last East Fife effort for a while as Stenny started to apply more pressure.
With 50 minutes gone, Gary Kelly played a hospital ball back to Scott Morrison when he should have just kicked it out of play to ease up on the maroon pressure. Tommy Sinclair closed Scott down in a second, dispossessing the keeper before easily tapping the ball in to the empty net for 2-1.
The loss of a goal was the least of the Fife worries as it became immediately clear that Scott had injured himself trying to get to the ball first. There was no malice meant from Sinclair, but the clash left Scott worse for wear and he was stretchered off in a great deal of pain and later taken to hospital we believe.
The loss of East Fife's player of the season was the biggest blow we could have taken, but it gave recent signing John McCafferty the chance to show the Fife faithful what he had, as he took over between the sticks.
Ever since we've signed him, we've been dying for him to get a game so that we could sing the old school "he's here, he's there, he's every fucking where, McCafferty, McCafferty". This wasn't the right moment, but the sentiments of the song were soon proved correct!
He was soon called in to action as he appeared to tip a fierce diagonal drive from Struthers just over the bar. The officials didn't see the tip and a goal kick was awarded, but it looked a cracking save from where we were sitting and one to give him confidence.
As the game entered the last third, McCafferty was again in action, making a good save from a McInally effort.
Stenny were winning everything at the moment, with the Fife midfield nowhere apart from too deep, as every cleared ball seemed to fall to a maroon jersey.
The Warriors pressure thankfully wasn't turning in to dangerous goal scoring opportunities, with McCafferty easily dealing with all that was thrown at him, commanding his area and looking particularly impressive with cross balls.
The game had died a bit but burst back in to action again in the last ten minutes.
An East Fife breakaway saw the ball whipped in to the box, but McCulloch got to the ball just before Beith. Moments later, Mitchell crossed in to the box again, this time a low one to Boyle, who took a touch but it was a touch too much and he fired in to the side netting.
Stenny responded when McBride was allowed to go on a good run before firing weakly straight at McCafferty.
The last good chance of the game came with seven minutes remaining and it fell to the home team. Menzies delivered a dangerous cross in to the box, which McCafferty did well to tip away one handed under pressure from McBride. Stenny won a corner but wasted their chance to equalise.
East Fife then did their best to kill time and that they did and when the final whistle came, it was a hard won three points in the end and a cliched, but true, game of two halves, as Stenhousemuir fought back well and East Fife didn't seem to know how to attack any more in the second forty five minutes!
With Albion Rovers and East Stirling both winning as well today, it was a vital three points to make sure we don't see the bottom teams come closer. A top four finish is still in the realms of possibility and that must be what we aim for for the remaining games this season. It was refreshing to see the attacking play we did in the first half, but we need more, we need more deadly finishing and we need the midfield to pull their weight a little bit more.
Still, three points and a happy Saturday night. We haven't had that in a while, so we'll make the most of it!
C'mon the Fife!
FINAL SCORE: Stenhousemuir 1 - 2 East Fife
EAST FIFE: Morrison (McCafferty 50), Renwick, Duncan, Lumsden, Mathie, Kelly, Mitchell, G. McDonald, Nicholas, Beith, Boyle (Paliczka 85) Subs (not used): Brash, Byle and Tarditi
3 points - JOHN BOYLE (A superb game for the wee man. His best in an East Fife jersey so far. Let's hope we can keep him.)
2 points - GREIG McDONALD (Looks dangerous in the box again)
1 point - JOHN McCAFFERTY (Excellent, assured debut in difficult circumstances)
The players celebrate the rarity that is a second East Fife goal!
David McInally gets told not to be a tit
Scott Morrison gets stretchered off - hurry back big guy
A tale of two keepers?
[For another report on the game and stats, check out the EAST FIFE MAD site]
[For more pics of games check out Brian Lawson's THEFIFERS.CO.UK site]