Caledonian Braves and East Fife served up a thrilling friendly match, with the Braves edging the encounter by the odd goal in seven. The story of the game was Neil McLaughlin's incredible hat-trick, which proved the difference between the sides. David Sinclair was also on target for the home side, whereas a Ryan Wallace and Jack Hamilton were on target for East Fife, with the former grabbing a double.
The Fife outfit's trip to Alliance Park was the fifth pre-season friendly for the Braves. Following victories over Gartcairn and Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, sandwiching a draw against Albion Rovers, the first defeat came on Tuesday night against Shotts. However that match was largely used to blood youngsters and give an outing to those returning to match fitness, meaning this evening's game saw a whole host of personnel changes. The visit of the League One side saw the sternest test so far on paper.
Braves started the match well with Ross McNeil, wearing the captain's armband for the evening, the first to go close. He met a bouncing ball on the edge of the area with a well struck shot, which zipped just wide of the left hand post.
The bright start continues a few minutes later with a moment of magic which will live long in the memory. McNeil dropped deep to tidy up possession inside his own half, with David Sinclair and Dom Slattery playing a couple of quick passes, before sending the ball in the direction of Neil McLaughlin. Receiving the ball on the turn, McLaughlin went past his man with a shimmy (or so he called it in the post match interview!) before letting fly from just inside the opposition's half. Straight as an arrow, the ball sailed over Hart's head and into the back of the net.
East Fife had a couple of half chances at the other end, but it wasn't long before Braves got their second of the match. Sinclair stood over a free-kick 40 yards from goal with most expecting a cross. However, everyone was caught out, including goalkeeper Hart, as the ball was swept into the bottom right hand corner.
The visitors hit back and only an acrobatic Alex Marshall save prevented Jack Hamilton's looping header from reducing the deficit. They did get on the scoresheet shortly afterwards when Hamilton's angled drive couldn't be held by Marshall and Wallace was on hand to steer home the rebound. Wallace nearly levelled matters seconds before the half-time whistle, but Marshall produced a fine save to tip the ball onto the bar.
McLaughlin stole the show in the early stages of the second half, continuing his incredible display. With 51 minutes on the clock he picked the ball up in the final third and spread it out wide. The delivery into the box was cut out, but only as far as McLaughlin, who did exceptionally well to keep a left-footed drive low and find the bottom right-hand corner.
Five minutes later the hat-trick was completed. 30-yards from goal McLaughlin cut onto his right foot. He then fired a rocket into the top left corner, leaving Hart with no chance. In any other game, this would have been the pick of the bunch by a distance, however it probably had to settle for second best after the opening goal on this occasion.
With still over half an hour to play, Braves had a commanding lead, but there was still plenty of time for the visitors to get back into the match. It didn't take them long to grab their second, with Hamilton's low drive finding the bottom left.
The pressure continued, with Dunsmore's cross finding Hamilton, but once again Marshall pulled off an impressive save. This time, from point blank range.
The Methil Milan were able to claw one more goal back. Wallace twisted and turned before firing a low shot past Marshall.
As expected, the League One opponents kept pushing until the final whistle, but Braves were able to hold firm and record the victory that was well deserved based on the all round performance.
Much to be happy about for Ricky Waddell and his players. The fans who tuned in to the Braves TV livestream were equally excited. Next up is a trip to face Sauchie Juniors on Saturday.