Having come back from being comprehensively outplayed in the first half of this League Two play-off second leg to take the lead in controversial circumstances, the Fifers’ survival was effectively ensured as Highland League champions Cove Rangers’ discipline disintegrated, with three of their players being sent off in the closing minutes. A stramash involving all and sundry right at the end also saw both managers sent to the stand.
Afterwards Cowdenbeath boss Gary Bollan could afford a chuckle at the mayhem that unfolded and naturally focused on his delight at maintaining the Central Park club’s often precarious looking tenure in League 2, especially after his side looked dead and buried at half-time. “Job done,” he reflected. “Now we move on to next season and make sure for this football club days like this never happen again.”
The rawness of the disappointment for Cove meanwhile, who were hoping to mark the opening of their new stadium in the summer as a SPFL club, was reflected by the non-appearance at the post-match press conference of any of their players or officials and the hasty departure of their team bus from the ground.
A truly rollercoaster affair had begun well for Bollan’s side after a clumsy challenge in the box by Cove captain Eric Watson on Robbie Buchanan had match referee Steven Kirkland pointing to the spot in just over five minutes. Harvey Swann buried the award high past Stuart McKenzie to give the Fifers early hope and the fleeting thought that, just as they had done in last season’s play-off final against East Kilbride, they might navigate their way to salvation via the penalty spot.
Such notions were summarily dismissed as the visitors struck back four minutes later through the prolific Mitch Megginson and then proceeded to run the Cowdenbeath defence ragged for most of the rest of the first half. Although his goal haul for the campaign stands at over 50 Megginson would still have had cause to reproach himself yesterday that he didn’t have a hat-trick by the interval such were the chances that came his way. He did find the net with a second in the 23rd minute to put Cove ahead, sweeping home a Paul McManus cross after some tidy build-up play, but the missed opportunities were to cost the Highland League side dear.
This was painfully laid bare for them as out of nowhere Bollan’s men conjured up an equaliser just after the break. Once again it was Swann who struck and once again it was courtesy of a set-piece, but it was a curious affair – a trundler of a free-kick somehow ending up in the back of the net having deceived the Cove defence.
Suddenly all the verve and composure that the visitors had shown up to this point was deflated like a burst balloon and they never again carried any significant goal threat.
Everyone, not least the Cowdenbeath players, seemed to sense it and the balance had swung so markedly it was no surprise that the Fifers once again got their noses in front after 71 minutes. It set the tone for a tempestuous closing quarter to the game as the visitors claimed for a foul on McKenzie but Brad Smith picked up the loose ball and calmly lofted a shot into the empty goal from all of 30 yards.
Huffing and puffing to no great effect and losing their focus, the afternoon descended into utter frustration for Cove with McManus the first to see red after launching a furious tirade at the match officials. This however was merely a prelude to a full-scale melee involving players and the benches from both sides as tensions boiled over. After a long delay the visitors’ Scott Ross and Watson also saw red while Bollan and Cove’s John Sheran trudged to the stand.
When the dust had settled the game was done and the relief of the Cowdenbeath players was probably shared in no small measure by the overworked match officials.