By Lewis Michie
East Fife had what ended up being a season of two halves last year, starting in electric form and looking like a shoeing for a play-off spot, to fizzling out towards the end of the campaign and missing out on the play-offs altogether. There has however been a degree of stability at Bayview with Darren Young in charge since 2017 and this season set to be their fourth in a row in the third tier, and there is optimism that they can continue to build towards the top end of the division.
We spoke to two East Fife fans to help give us a bit of insight on their club. Ewan Walker (@EwanWalker111 on Twitter) and Barry Scott (@BarrySc06830805 on Twitter).
East Fife have actually shown somewhat of a regression, at least position wise in the past three seasons, finishing fifth in 16/17, 6th in 17/18 and 7th last season. However, it would be argued by some the league has gotten more difficult over time and on top of that, the club may never have shown better quality than in periods of the last campaign, they just need to sustain that.
Overall there was mixed feelings from both lads over last season, feeling the squad showed really quality over the course of the campaign – but that quality maybe deserved a better league position.
Last season was a strange one to say the least, after going on such a good run, to fade away at the end, was disappointing. The play offs were ours to lose at one point and they way we were playing I never imagined we’d finish as low as we did”
With Barry adding:
About 70% happy – and then March to May happened. To go from 2 points off second to seventh was a bit of a let-down. That said, two wins over Raith, Irn-Bru semis and Scottish Cup last 16 is still a good return.”
With the management team remaining the same for the third consecutive opening of the season, that gives the Fifers a degree of consistency, which is also somewhat retained in the playing squad. Of the ten most used players last season, just one departs Bayview and that’s left back Daryll Meggatt.
Having a stable core to build around – especially one that was sweeping the entire league for a spell last season – is certainly a plus for any team, but especially so in the lower leagues where other sides might have to deal with far larger turnovers in players.
East Fife scored 49 times in the league last season, that’s the same as Montrose who got into the play-offs, two less than Airdrie who narrowly missed out, five less than second placed Forfar and a significant amount fewer than Arbroath and Raith Rovers. Attempting to contend for play-offs again this term, you’d think the Fifers will need to push towards that 60 goal mark, or at least as close as they can to heighten their chances.
A big plus for Darren Young in that department is he has retained the only player who managed double figures last term – 21 year old Anton Dowds scored 12 – and also keeps hold of both players who were just one short – striker Kevin Smith and midfielder Scott Agnew. On top of this, many supporters felt additions up-front to add to those goals were required, and Young delivered on that front.
28 year old forward Ryan Wallace arrives after helping Arbroath to the title last season – The former Hearts youngster scored 12 and assisted 13 in just over 2,500 minutes last season so certainly adds firepower. He is joined by 25 year old Chris Duggan who comes in from Raith. He only scored twice last season after only getting limited minutes but in a previous spell with the Fifers managed to score 21 times.
These two and Dowds provide a strike force that when on song could really scare League One defences, and has plenty of potential to push for that 60 goal mark we mentioned.
Both guys were pleased with the recruitment done in this area, firstly Barry told us:
I Think Darren Young has strengthened in the right positions. Anton Dowds was basically our only striker for the second half of last season – now real strength up top.”
With Ewan feeling the same, he said:
Really pleased with the recruitment this summer, Darren has done a fantastic job bringing in the quality he has. Felt we lacked a bit of fire power up front and he’s strengthened with the return of Ryan Wallace and Chris Duggan, both who in my opinion will score 10+ this season. Danny Denholm was one that surprised me, always a player who’s impressed when playing against. Can be one of the better players in the league on his day!”
There is also the added width of another arrival from Arbroath – Danny Denholm. Scoring three times and assisting a further seven last season even after being limited to under 2000 minutes, Denholm could really help provide the chances for the lethal forward line.
Defence is probably an area Young marked out for some improvement last term, all of the top five teams in the league let in less than East Fife and the two sides that went down only conceded 5 more goals. In part this comes down to those teams struggling more at the other end and not being as bad defensively as their positions suggest, but also shows that the Fifers would want to bring their goals conceded down under the 50 mark – they let in 56.
You can see efforts have been made to add depth and competition across the backline. Last season’s most common defensive unit, at least as far as minutes played goes, would have been Brett Long in goals, Aaron Dunsmore at right-back with Daryll Meggatt on the other side, and Ross Dunlop and Craig Watson in the centre.
Compare this to the team-lines in the Fifers most recent fixture (That has data available) as they beat Dundee United – the central pairing remains the same, but changes have rung in elsewhere. Jordan Hart arrives from Queen’s Park to provide competition for Long in goals. Stewart Murdoch has come in from Dundee United to play right-back and midfielder Pat Slattery has actually been playing left-back. Although while the fans we spoke to feel he has done well there, they’d like to recruit a more natural left sided full-back. Chris Higgins has also arrived to add more depth at centre-back and he’s received good reviews from supporters. He comes in from Ayr United, and at 34 provides experience in the role.
Please note the squad that went on to hold Premiership Hearts to a draw – and win the bonus point on penalties – where the likes of Long, Dunsmore and Higgins were drafted in does not available data, hence why we looked at the previous fixture instead. Which shows strong competition for places, exactly what manager Young will want.
Defensively Ewan felt there has been improvements made as well, he said:
D Meggatt is a big loss, but could understand the reasons for his departure. Chris Higgins has looked a different player in the last couple games which makes Meggats departure a little easier to take. Brett long will be kept on his toes by Jordan Hart, who has already won this league with Ayr, and impressed when on loan at Annan from Celtic.”
The only new member of the team we haven’t mentioned is 22 year old midfielder Lewis Hunter who comes in from the University of Stirling – he came off the bench against United.
Ewan made a special mention of Hunter, telling us:
Could also be a big season for Young Lewis Hunter as he looks to cement a place in the starting 11. He’s looked decent, very fit player who likes to get stuck in”
We asked both Fifers on if they felt the squad could do with more additions and where, firstly we asked Barry who said one for the back line could be ideal, he said:
Ideally some height and pace at the back, maybe a left back as Pat Slattery isn’t really a natural left back though can’t fault his effort, and maybe another creative bod in midfield. Though Agnew does that job pretty well anyway.”
Ewan had similar thoughts:
We currently don’t have a natural left back on our hands. Pat played left back last season and has started this season doing the same and has done great but would like to bring extra competition in. Darren has mentioned he’s looking to a left back in so time will tell!”
League One will be very competitive this season, but having come so close to the play-offs last season and maybe only falling off because of a lack of depth, the summer business will have Fife fans optimistic. Depth has been added, as well as quality, right across the pitch. So play-offs won’t be out of the question for Fife whatsoever, but that is the same for many sides in the division, and nothing will come easily for teams in League One this term.
Both guys had similar thoughts on the season ahead,
With the quality of the squad we have, the play offs have to be a minimum. I reckon we’ll surprise a few more teams this season, starting off with rangers in the Betfred cup!”
I think getting in the play-offs has to be the target. Though I think, given the strength of this league, I think 5th/6th is probably more likely. Though bloody delighted with our Betfred Cup run (forgetting about Cowdenbeath…) which has brought about some dangerous optimism.”
Overall, We feel East Fife will have as much chance as just about half of the league at making the play-offs. It would be hard to commit one way or another at this point as while the business has been good, that is the same story for multiple clubs across the third tier. A good start to the campaign – with an away match to newly promoted Clyde on Saturday – and keeping players fit could be the key for Darren Young’s side this season.