It was a decision made on a whim, but my fifth East Fife game of the season saw me travel to Coatbridge. This was the first match of East Fife’s relegation-avoidance double-header (the second being Stranraer at Bayview on Saturday, weather permitting). As the train trundled its way from Edinburgh (no snow) through Livingston (lots of snow) I was getting a tad concerned about Scotrail’s ability to get me home after the match.
Nevertheless, having arrived at Coatdyke station (no snow) and voyaged for 15 minutes into the heart of Coatbridge via a local Chinese takeaway, I took my seat in the main (and only) stand at Cliftonhill, home of “the Wee Rovers.” And what a home it is. This being my first visit, I took the chance to get a feel for my surroundings. Only the main stand is accessible to supporters (with no segregation); another good-sized bit of terracing across the far side looked at us forlornly, and empty, throughout the match. The two ends are devoid of any structure, though last night they were occupied by a couple of parked cars (a Ford Focus and a Fiesta if I remember correctly).
The main stand itself was also some creature. There’s a bit of standing space at the front, with stairs at the side leading to a tiny wooden (yes, wooden) grandstand. At the East Fife end, it was pretty much (other than the roof) entirely open to the elements, which led to rather a chilly evening for all concerned as the wind found its way through the various gaps in the structure.
To the game itself, the gale-force winds and driving snow did not make for the most attractive match though both sides put in no little effort in the difficult conditions. East Fife seemed to make the most of the opening 15 minutes without producing anything clear-cut, before a shoddy backpass almost let in Rovers’ Pat Walker for the opener. Luckily, his finish, skidding wide of the mercifully returned Michael Brown’s right-hand post, was as good as the backpass.
The home team then grew into the game, keeping possession for a long spell midway through the half and it wasn’t a huge surprise when they took the lead on 31 minutes. Christopher Dallas was the man who got the vital touch as the ball dribbled irritatingly into the net at Brown’s far post.
Rovers then forced a good save from Michael Brown a few minutes later with the men from Methil’s equaliser looking as likely as the snow stopping. However, enter Paul Willis, who a couple of minutes from time with the wind at his back smashed a 30-yard rasper into the top-corner past Ryan Scully in the Albion goal. 1-1, and I’ve not seen as good an East Fife goal as that in a long, long time.
With the score 1-1 at the end of the first 45 minutes, it was time to sample some of the local Bovril (decent), listen to the rubbish music played over the public address system (the A-Team – geddit?) before settling in for another wintry three quarters of an hour of Scottish Second Division football.
The start of the second half saw Albion change their keeper, with Matthew McGinley replacing Scully. The fact Mr McGinley won the man of the match award tells its own story as he made a series of fine saves in the second period to keep the score at 1 each. Firstly he clawed out a David White diving header from a near-side corner. He then, after Paul McManus had (too) unselfishly squared from his run through on goal for Bobby Barr to finish, kept the resulting shot out. His best moment came 15 minutes from time, tipping a looping Barr effort over the, er, bar when it looked like the ball might just dip into the top corner.
The Fife’s last real chance came five minutes from the end – McManus though was unable to finish from a tricky angle, and the match drifted to a conclusion with both sides seemingly content with a point for their night’s work.
The referee’s whistle signalled an end to East Fife’s run of defeats, though puts more pressure on Saturday’s match at home to Stranraer – however a win will still see the men from Methil move into 8th in the table. As it was, the 206 hardy souls in attendance made their way home not entirely satisfied, but having seen a game played in a good spirit in pretty awful conditions. And for the record, Scotrail did get me though home, though with a cancellation and a delay they did try their best to make me stay the night in Coatbridge.
Albion Rovers 1-1 East Fife (Dallas; Willis)