Berwick’s Scottish League Two revival hit the buffers at East Fife with a Nathan Austin goal enough to separate the sides at New Bayview and see the ‘Gers fall to ninth.
Coming into the fixture off back-to-back wins against East Stirlingshire and Queen’s Park, Berwick matched the hosts in the first half but fell behind when Austin headed home two minutes after half-time.
And despite manager John Coughlin using all three of his substitutions, Berwick never looked like finding a way back into the game and managed just three shots all afternoon.
With captain Jonny Fairbairn, Finn Graham and Michael McKenna all suspended – the latter pair had played every match for the ‘Gers this season while Fairbairn had missed just one – it signalled the chance for both Allan Walker and Dylan Stevenson to stake a claim for a starting place, while stand-in captain Steven Notman found himself playing in a more advanced midfield role in what was a much changed line-up.
And it was debutant Walker, who left East Fife just two weeks ago, who had the first of chance, firing a low free-kick from 25 yards which was comfortably gathered by keeper Liam Kelly.
Opposing stopper Kevin Walker was then brought into action, saving smartly at his near post from Craig Murray before a low 30-yard strike from Jason Kerr was deflected off Notman and cannoned off the upright.
Kelly was forced into evasive action moments later, scrambling back to tip a slice from defender Jonathan Page over the bar and right on the stroke of half-time, Berwick had what was to be their best chance of the game when David Morris cut inside cleverly only to see his effort deflected inches past the post.
If chances were at a premium in the first half, it was nothing compared to the second and the game was settled by the hosts two minutes after the break with a rare piece of creativity and quality that was lacking from both teams all afternoon. Former Berwick man Kyle Wilkie turned smartly in the box and delivered a fine cross to the back post for Austin, whose downward header hit both posts before trickling over the line.
The response from Berwick was poor with Blair Henderson struggling to make an impact up front with little service, while Darren Lavery, in his 150th appearance for the club, couldn’t make an impression on the wing. As a result, Coughlin, whose frustration was evident as the half wore on, used all three substitutes, but ultimately to little effect. On-loan centre-back Jordan McGregor – who impressed on debut – made a brief foray forward but found his cross easily cut out by Kelly, while Austin was unlucky not to extend the Fifers’ winning margin ten minutes from time as he headed just over the bar.
By Martin Inglis