Kevin Smith on East Fife: Play-off hopes, Livi joy & Barry’s “belief”

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The last 18 months have been quite the time to support East Fife. After a title-winning campaign in Ladbrokes League 2 last term, the Methil club are once again in the hunt for promotion this term, with Barry Smith’s men currently in the promotion play-off spots.

And nobody has done more to ensure that success than versatile forward Kevin Smith. Having hit double figures again this term, the winger-cum-striker is in fine form right now. The perfect time, then, for the Ladbrokes News team to catch up with him…

Ladbrokes News: Livingston may currently be top of Ladbrokes League 1, but you’ve now beaten them twice at the Tony Macaroni Arena this season. You won 1-0 there last weekend. What impressed you most about your side’s performance?

Kevin Smith: Obviously Livingston are a full-time club, and that means fitness is always going to be one of their strengths. But we did well to soak up their pressure and managed to take one of the chances we made. We did create a few other opportunities, though, and always looked dangerous on the counter-attack.

We showed an excellent team spirit too, and though we had to ride our luck a bit, I was very impressed by our performance as a whole.

LN: It was Jason Kerr who scored in that game, but you’ve been in good form yourself – with two goals in your last four outings, including a stunning free-kick against Brechin City. What do you put your excellent recent displays down to?

KS: I think it’s more a case that we’re looking good as a team, rather than it being me in particular. The likes of Chris Duggan and Jamie Insall around me have been excellent, and we’ve all chipped in with quite a few goals.

There’s a very good understanding between the frontmen at the club, whichever combination plays up front. We’ve got a top-four which the manager sticks with, and we work really well in that system.

We’re an extremely hard-working bunch, and right now it’s just me who’s grabbed a bit of the glory with those goals!

LN: Avoiding relegation is the aim for most sides in the year after winning promotion, but East Fife are currently in third place right now. How do you rate your chances of holding onto that promotion play-off spot?

KS: It sounds clichéd, but we’re just taking every game at a time. Obviously, when we came up, it was all about avoiding a relegation battle, but we’ve kicked on from the level we were playing at last season in Ladbrokes League 2.

We’re looking good to secure a play-off spot at the moment, both in terms of form and results. And if we can maintain our focus and keep clicking well as a team, then I think we have a very good chance of finishing up in the top four.

LN: If you do that – is there any reason you can’t make back-to-back promotions? Would you fancy East Fife against the sides in the lower reaches of the Championship?

KS: I think we’ve proved that we can be more than a match for so-called ‘bigger’ clubs already. We beat Dumbarton 2-0 at their place in the League Cup earlier this season, and came out on top against Dundee after penalties, as well!

Then we faced St Mirren in the Scottish Cup last month and narrowly lost 3-2. I personally thought we were unlucky not to take more from that game, too. We tend to play our best stuff against the stronger opponents, and I think if we faced a Championship side in the play-offs, you’d have to fancy us to win.

LN: You’ve had the best defensive record in League One this season. How impressed have you been with the consistency we’ve seen from such young guys as Jason Kerr and James Penrice in that backline?

KS: Those two guys both have bright futures ahead. They’re both on loan with us from Premiership clubs, and each of them slotted in brilliantly as soon as they arrived.

Jonathan Page is another guy I’ve been really impressed with. He’s got a lot of pedigree, having come through at Motherwell and played in their first team, and the young guys who’ve arrived are learning a lot from him.

The boss [Barry Smith] played over 350 games in defence for Dundee in his career, so he’s got great knowledge and understanding in terms of how to build a solid, organised, well-balanced unit at the back.

And we’ve been fantastic in that area throughout the season, so long may it continue!

LN: The club had a change of managers back in November, with Gary Naysmith exiting and Barry Smith taking the reins. What’s the current gaffer been like to train and play under?

KS: Barry is different class. Interestingly, when Gary left, he recommended the current gaffer to the board. He had an excellent record at Dundee, then was at Alloa Athletic and did well down south with Aldershot Town – so it’s no surprise that Gary liked the look of him as a successor.

He’s not tried to do anything weird or wonderful since taking over. He’s got us working very hard and all the boys have bought into what he’s trying to do.

The manager also has a huge amount of belief in us. He says that we’ve got as good a squad as any team in the league, and you saw that with results like the one we got at Livingston.

LN: The games come thick and fast now, with three in the next eight days – with a home game against Alloa and then trips to Albion Rovers and Brechin. How do you think the side will set up for those games? And will it be different tactically at Bayview, compared to on the road?

KS: I don’t think the approach will be any different in one game to the next. Tactically, we more or less always set up the same way, and I think you’ll see that continue in those upcoming games. The manager has so much faith in us that he just tells us to focus on our own game-plan.

It’s a huge week, though, and with the games coming thick and fast – as you say – we need the whole squad are at the top of their game, because there’s bound to be some rotation of players with a midweek game between the Alloa and Brechin matches.

LN: Talking of Bayview, you’ve averaged crowds of over 600 again this season. How important are the East Fife fans, especially at a crucial time of the campaign like this?

KS: They’re vital. And as we look to secure that play-off spot, it would be great to see more new faces coming through the turnstiles as well. It makes a huge difference to have vocal backing and fans turning up in their numbers, because it helps us make it a fortress – and an intimidating place for opposition players to come.

Huge credit as well to our travelling support, who always turn up in big numbers and have got right behind us all season. So it would be great to push on and get that play-off spot for them.

East Fife face Alloa this weekend, with 9/5 on offer for the hosts to win in Methil.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.