Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Having claimed the scalps of Scottish Premier League sides Dunfermline and Aberdeen in the previous two rounds, Second Division East Fife went in to tonight’s Scottish League Cup Quarter Final, at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park, with nothing to fear.

East Fife are three times winners of the trophy, but tonight was to be their first national quarter final tie for 39 years and they wanted to make the most of it.

Several hundred fans made the cross country midweek trip, hoping to see another Cup upset from their black and gold heroes and evoke memories of the Fife’s greatest moment – when they defeated Kilmarnock in the 1938 Scottish Cup Final to become the first, and still only, side from outwith the top tier to lift the trophy.

East Fife kicked off the game in front of a very vocal Bayview faithful.

Kilmarnock had the first effort of the game when Liam Kelly shot high and over, from long range.

East Fife certainly didn’t look overawed by their SPL opponents and started to take the game to Kilmarnock, winning the first corner of the game in the 5th minute.

The home side started to turn up the pressure on their lower league visitors and Mark Ridgers had to get down well to save at his near post from Gary Harkins in the 9th minute.

Moments later, Killie had another chance to open the scoring, with the dangerous Paul Heffernan firing narrowly wide.

East Fife weren’t overawed though and Ryan Wallace had a long range effort go just wide in the 15th minute.

The Fife had a lucky escape in the 20th minute when Heffernan broke clear and outpaced the Fife defence before trying to round Mark Ridgers in the Fife goal.

The Bayview stopper did well to force the Irishman wide, allowing the Fife defence to get back and clear the danger.

East Fife came right back and Ryan Wallace broke clear but didn’t have the support to break the deadlock, midway through the half.

There was little to choose between the two sides, with Kilmarnock looking dangerous on the break, but East Fife were having success with the long ball and running at the Killie defence.

The game was becoming a little bit dreary as a pure footballing spectacle, but the on loan Dean Shiels had a chance for the home side in the 37th minute, firing wide from a good position in the box, after some neat build up play by Harkins.

As the game entered the two minutes of stoppage time as disaster struck for East Fife, in what was to prove to be the turning point of the match.

Robert Ogleby went in hard from behind on Rory McKeown, and as the Killie player rolled around in agony, the other Killie players surrounded the referee and after a long delay, the referee eventually produced a second yellow card and sent off Ogleby.

As boos echoed round Rugby Park at the half time whistle, East Fife went in happy with their performance. but knowing that they would have a huge mountain to climb with ten men.

Kilmarnock’s half time team talk must really have kicked some asses, as they came out for the second half all guns blazing.

A Fife defender turned a cross dangerously over the bar, before Danny Buijs hit a strike just over, two minutes in.

The East Fife defence was under intense pressure and Matthew Park hit a cross over the bar that could have gone anywhere, as Kilmarnock went for the jugular.

The home side came the closest yet in the 51st minute, when Heffernan rattled a fierce strike off the post, and the Fife travelling support breathed a huge sigh of relief.

East Fife showed that they could still be a danger though and Wallace saw an effort deflected for a corner after 53 minutes. John Ovenstone had a great chance from the resultant corner, but headed over when anywhere on target could have caused serious problems.

The ten men from Methil withstood the initial bout of Killie pressure and settled back into their game, playing with the passion and organisation of a full strength side.

Kilmarnock seemed devoid of ideas, but substitute David Silva nearly sparked them into life in the 68th minute, hitting inches over.

The deadlock was eventually broken in the 73rd minute when Ridgers failed to hold a Killie corner and Udinese loanee Mahamadou Sissoko was there to bury it from close range and give the SPL side the lead.

After the goal, all you could hear were the Fife supporters, as they tried to lift their black and gold heroes back into the game.

With East Fife having to push forward in search of an equaliser, there were going to be gaps at the back for the Bayview men and Silva nearly exploited one, forcing Ridgers into a great save from a left footed volley with fourteen minutes remaining.

The introduction of Silva had given Kilmarnock some impetus and the Portugese midfielder hit the post with ten minutes remaining.

If the outcome of the game was still in any doubt then Gary Harkins saw an end to that a minute later.

Harkins ran on to a long ball and clinically gave Ridgers no chance to give Killie their second and seal the win.

With the East Fife travelling support chanting “2-0 to the referee”, all that was left for East Fife was to play for pride and try and keep the score to the brace.

And that they did, as Killie were happy to see the game out and claim a semi final berth.

The final whistle signalled an end to a wonderful Cup run for East Fife that saw them claim two well deserved victories over SPL sides and reach their first national quarter-final in a generation.

The guys did themselves and the fans proud tonight and in the previous games. We now need to build on this and make a concerted push for at least a Division Two playoff spot.

The players showed on this Cup run just what a good squad we have at Bayview right now. Who knows where the rest of the season will take us.

Mon the Fife.

FINAL SCORE: Kilmarnock 2 – 0 East Fife

ATTENDANCE: 4,029

KILMARNOCK: Anssi Jaakkola, Alex Pursehouse, Mahamadou Sissoko, Manuel Pascali, Rory McKeown (Garry Hay 46), James Fowler (James Dayton 83), Danny Buijs, Liam Kelly (David Silva 59), Dean Shiels, Gary Harkins, Paul Heffernan [Subs Not Used: Kyle Letheren, Zdenek Kroca]

EAST FIFE: Mark Ridgers, Scott Durie, John Ovenstone, David White, Matthew Park, Darren Smith (Paul McQuade 83), Bobby Linn, David Muir, Robert Sloan (Craig Johnstone 54), Robert Ogleby, Ryan Wallace [Subs Not Used: Michael Brown, Andrew Cook, Steven Hislop]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Heartache and heartbreak.

Two components that come with being a member of the Tartan Army.

You have to give credit to the 15,000 plus Scotland fans that made the trip to Spain.

Scotland were playing a team who had not lost a World Cup or Euro qualifier in 26 matches, had won their last 13 competitive games, had 22 wins in a row on Spanish soil, and had never lost a match in the host city of Alicante.

A victory was never on the cards. A draw was equally as unlikely, but you never know in football.

Although after the first six minute's of yesterday's match, I think we all knew!

Pre-game, the fear was there that we would get hammered. After David Silva's first goal, I really thought the floodgates would open.

The fact they didn't is testament of Scotland's grit, but it was really men against boys out there. We were completely outclassed on that pitch.

The 3-1 defeat, coupled with the Czech's rather fantastic 4-1 win in Lithuania, sent another qualification death knell to Scotland.

That's going to be 14 years and 7 major tournaments that Scotland haven't been at the party. A whole generation don't know the feeling of cheering on Scotland in World Cup or Euros finals. It's enough to bring a tear to a glass eye.

When you look at Scotland's difficult 2014 World Cup qualification section, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Our current crop of players are simply not good enough. That's one of the main reasons we find ourselves in this sad situation today.

Sure there were the unlucky breaks and the downright cheating of the diving Czech penalty at Hampden. Every team has those in a campaign. You just need to make sure that you've done enough before and after these incidents so that they don't actually affect the outcome. That we didn't do.

Craig Levein's tactics leave a lot to be desired and I am VERY disappointed that he has no plans on stepping down at the end of this campaign. We have shown no real progress during this campaign and the buck stops firmly at his door.

We will never forget that embarrassing 4-6-0 line up against the Czechs that cost us any points over there last year, no matter how much he clearly wants to not talk about it.

That cost us more dearly than the 2-2 debacle at Hampden. It cost us points, respect and any reputation we had left.

There have been some glimpses of hope for the future. Some of the guys coming through look like they have the ability to lift the downhearted spirits.

Craig Mackail-Smith could be the man to lift us out of our neverending lull. He looks the real deal. I've been watching him do the business for the last few season's and on his current form, he could lift Brighton to an unlikely and unexpected Premiership spot by the end of the season.

He can't do it on his own though. Put in average around him and that's how he looks too.

It's great that so many Scots are playing in the English Premiership. They need to regularly play against some of the best players in the world to have any hope of developing their own personal game and competing on the international stage. Get our top guys out of the sham that is the SPL.

When you looked at our bench against Spain last night, there was nothing there that made you excited that we had a game changer to shake things up if/when we needed it.

That's our big weakness right now - depth. It's just not there.

How we get it on the other hand is a whole different ballgame in itself.

But we need to find it. And soon. Or we will forever be stuck in with the minnows in future draws and have any small hopes we have of qualifications extinguished altogether.

We need to rise up and be a competitive footballing nation again - before it's too late and beyond fixing.

The hard work needs to start today.
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