We’ve seen this routine before. An evenly balanced cup game, a corner flies over and Steven Anderson meets it at the far post to score a crucial goal.
The veteran defender memorably contributed to St Johnstone’s 2014 Scottish Cup triumph in this very manner and today he did so again, popping up to nod in the solitary strike which carried Partick Thistle into the quarter-finals of this year’s competition.
It was a hard-earned victory for Gary Caldwell’s side, all the more so as Bayview more or less doubled up as a wind tunnel to make the conditions almost unplayable at times. East Fife are no mugs either as their impressive record in cup football this season proves – having beaten Thistle earlier in the season in the Irn-Bru Cup they have now, via a detour in Dublin last weekend that mixed high farce with the surreal, made it to the semi-finals of that competition. They lived up to their reputation by giving the Championship side a right old game of it here.
“We knew it was difficult without the conditions, because we know how good East Fife are,” reflected Caldwell. “It was a tough afternoon, but cup football’s all about winning and we managed to do that today.”
Of Anderson’s contribution, not only in terms of the goal but in general, he was unsurprisingly fulsome in his praise. “He’s old school. He wants to head it, he wants to tackle. A lot of young centre halves should look at him and learn. He’s been fantastic for us at both ends of the pitch and today we came up with another well-worked corner that’s come off for us.”
Caldwell’s counterpart Darren Young, while hugely proud of his players’ efforts in going toe to toe with a full-time Championship side, was somewhat crestfallen that they had conceded from a set piece that was far from being in the innovative category. “Stevie [Anderson] has been doing that for years. It’s disappointing because it’s something that we highlighted,” he ruefully insisted.
With the gale howling at their backs in the first half, Young’s men certainly carried a threat of their own at set pieces in the opening 45 minutes and were just about as robust and unyielding as anything the Partick players might have come across when they spent the day in the company of the SAS a few months ago. The visitors, though, carried more pace and guile in their attacks with the pairing of Miles Storey and Aidan Fitzpatrick to the fore. The former was within a toe-length of giving Thistle the lead as Christie Elliott’s angled drive flashed across of the East Fife goal.
Down at the other end, the hosts seemed to have a plausible penalty appeal as Scott Linton’s progress was truncated by a block that would have earned applause at Murrayfield, but match referee Don Robertson was unmoved. The weather conditions then decided a bit of mischief making was in order when the perhaps aptly named Thistle keeper Conor Hazard was given little choice but to save his own clearance attempt as it took a crazy loop towards his own goal. An indirect free-kick was awarded to East Fife for his troubles but fortunately for him the resultant set piece was successfully ushered out of harm’s way.
As was anticipated with the remnants of Storm Erik signed up as their 12th man, the visitors looked ominously threatening in the second half and inexorably they edged towards making the breakthrough. It looked as though the big moment had arrived as James Penrice squared for Storey to take a pot at Brett Long’s goal but in yet another freakish moment the ball bounced off the artificial surface and up on to the crossbar before somehow being scrambled clear.
This was to be only the briefest of respites for the brave part-timers. A corner was conceded, Craig Slater floated it over from the left and there was the trusty head of Anderson to do what he has so often done before by directing the ball into the net.
An awful lot of credit has to go to Young’s men for the manner in which they responded. Far from buckling physically or mentally from this blow, they went in search of an equaliser with real intensity, with substitute Jonny Court going awfully close. The visitors, a few heart-fluttering moments apart, kept them out, however, with Anderson as outstanding in stopping goals as he is at scoring them.