Dread of drop converted to full-on promotion tilt

East Fife manager and Hearts legend John Robertson, weekend Interview'Pic Kenny Smith, Tel 07809 450119,
East Fife manager and Hearts legend John Robertson, weekend Interview'Pic Kenny Smith, Tel 07809 450119,
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IF East Fife’s 2010-11 season could be laid out in a line chart, it would have more peaks and troughs than the Alps.

The season was quite simply remarkable, with a managerial change, an Alba Cup run, a relegation battle which changed into a promotion charge, a headline-hitting fan and player dispute, and a possible ground swap - all thrown in during the past 10 months or so.

Stevie Crawford led the side into competitive action last July when they knocked Brechin out of the Alba Challenge Cup 4-3 - with John Robertson ending the season at the helm and guiding the Fifers to a 2-2 draw at Airdrie.

It’s not unfair to say defensive frailties cost the Fifers on more than one occasion during the season, with the first evidence coming in a 4-1 League Cup thumping at the hands of derby rivals Raith Rovers.

For every bit as lethal as East Fife appeared up front, netting three against Airdrie, two against Alloa and another three against First Division Stirling Albion, they appeared just as slack at the back, continuously allowing teams back into games.

At the end of August, attention turned to matters off the field, as the club announced it was hoping to link up with the Muir Homes group to move from Methil to a purpose-built £5m stadium just off the Windygates road.

Back on the park, the Fifers were still as Jekyll and Hyde as ever, with Crawford’s men demolishing Dumbarton 6-0 before then being thumped themselves 5-0 by Queen of the South.

It appeared the ‘goals against’ column was beginning to agitate gaffer Crawford, who called on his men to “defend better as a side” after watching Chris Templeman help himself to a hat-trick in a 3-2 away defeat at Forfar.

Sadly, the goals continued to be lost at a rapid rate, with Ayr and Brechin taking three each over the next few weeks in between games at Livingston and Stenhousemuir.

Crawford decided enough was enough and, with the Fifers without a league win since the end of August, he left his post in October.

The Methil club wasn’t long in bringing in a replacement, with former Hearts boss John Robertson taking the helm.

Robertson’s reign began where Crawford’s had left off, with the side again shipping goal after goal in a 4-1 loss at Dumbarton.

However, the green shoots of recovery were beginning to creep through. Alloa were thumped at Bayview, a point was won away at Peterhead, and Forfar were humbled.

The manager was rewarded for his club’s form with the November manager of the month award.

Sadly for the Fifers, their good run was halted by a deep winter freeze which saw training and games totally cancelled.

And although East Fife were left with several games in hand, other clubs had the points in the bag.

Eight goals in two games were lost against Livingston as the old bad habits crept back in - with the Fifers hitting the foot of the division in February and left in a relegation scrap.

But what a wake-up call that moment proved.

Stenhousemuir were beaten, points were taken from title chasers Brechin, Ayr were crushed 4-0 on their own patch, as were Alloa, and Peterhead were trounced at Bayview.

But that run of form, which did include a slip-up against Airdrie, wasn’t good enough for some fans who took their frustrations out on captain, Steve Hislop.

Internet forums were used to dish out verbal attacks on the skipper, forcing the Bayview dressing room to come out in support of their on-field leader.

Robertson set a safety points target of 40 to avoid relegation, but it had become apparent that the run of form could land the Fifers with a coveted promotion play-off spot.

The safety target was swiftly reached, despite a 4-2 loss at Dumbarton and a 3-1 reversal against Livingston, and with four points taken from Ayr in two games, the promotion hunt was still on track.

A win at Brechin followed, as did a draw against Stenhousemuir, with further wins over Brechin again, Peterhead and Alloa ensuring the race went to the last game of the season.

Sadly, Robertson’s men came up just short in the end, with the point at Airdrie not enough to squeeze out Brechin to the last remaining spot.

But with the likes of Ryan Wallace, David Muir, Robert Sloan, Michael Brown and Bobby Linn all signed up for next term - who would bet against another Fife charge?