A hat trick of defeats look set to finally tip the Bayview spirit level into the nightmare scenario of relegation play offs. A repeat of the perennial mid table obscurity had looked the best bet for the Methil men since Billy Brown started to inch them back to what has been a natural position over the past few seasons, just of the promotion play off pace. The month started with the Boss raging in the local press that he “expected better from professionals” in the wake of a whimpering defeat at the hands of Stranraer. The timely reminder to the players that he sets high standards and they are reasonably rewarded for their efforts went unheeded as Dick Campbell’s Forfar set about out fighting and out playing the Fifers a week later. That former East Fife striker Chris Templeman set the tone by bullying and harassing the opposition defence perhaps gives a hint at the underlying issue at the heart of East Fifes current form. Never an overtly aggressive player, Templeman simply set about his task with more heart and determination that the majority of the East Fife back four.
Despite Scott Mc Bride’s impressive strike putting East Fife ahead, yesterdays reverse at Ochilview served only to evidence the lack of confidence and resolve that has only sporadically been shaken off this season.
Is it too simplistic to repeat the cliché about a successful team being built on a strong spine? It seems to have some merit in the analysis of current form. Established keeper Michael Brown struggled with injury in the early part of the season and young Hibs goalie Calum Antell was brought in on loan. Having regained fitness, Brown has yet to be reinstated as first choice keeper, much to the bemusement of the Bayview die hards. An ever-changing back four has performed best when Div Muir or David White have hardened up the centre back slots. Energetic performances by Paul Willis since his loan deal from Dunfermline was extended and the exhortations of captain Darren Smith have not been enough to disguise the fact too many midfield battles have been lost this season.
As far as forward play goes there have been occasional moments of brilliance not least from Livingstone loanee Bobby Barr but these are offset by the uncertainty of an ever-changing strike force.
There is no doubt that Billy Brown is still assessing the capabilities of the squad and that injuries have not been kind to him. Transfer window activity was limited to the release of Jaimie Pollock and the loan signing of Dale Keenan from Partick Thistle. Liam Gormley is beginning to feature more regularly as a sub and you get the impression that the manager has a clear idea of the type of professional he wants at his side.
There seems little doubt though, that the building of the Brown foundations at Bayview is being hampered by the high proportion of first team players on loan deals. The real graft can only really begin in the close season. For now though, a tough double-header against Queen of the South and Brechin will be followed by an equally stern test against Arbroath. It is likely six points will be needed from these games to avoid a further slide into trouble.
The fear of many of the hard-core support is that if the balance continues to tip towards a relegation dog fight, the character and commitment to the cause of East Fife required for such battles will be hard to conjure up. They hope for the clubs sake and the sake of those players who have nothing to prove in that department that the magic is worked and worked soon.