New division, same result. Cove Rangers picked up where they left off at the Balmoral Stadium, subdued by the lack of supporters but clinical on the park to see off East Fife 3-1 on their League One debut.
Mitch Megginson added to his goal tally with another brace, with Leighton McIntosh grabbing the third. East Fife, who had Danny Denholm and Aaron Dunsmore sent off, got a consolation in the second half through Jack Hamilton.
It marked Cove’s 15th home league win in a row since joining the SPFL in the summer of 2019. Connor Scully felt it was a result they thoroughly merited.
Scully said: “It was really good – the fitness showed. They were really sharp before they lost a guy in the first half. But overall we passed it quite well and it was a really good team performance.
“When the first man went off we had a lot more of the ball, but when they lost the second, you really noticed it.
“The gaffer said to make sure we got off to a good start, as there’s only 27 games this season.
“We’ve got to be on it from the go. It was a great performance and a great three points.”
This was the first taste of domestic business, what all the pre-season preparations had been geared towards. Scott Ross was again at right-back, with Ryan Strachan free from injury to take his place at centre-half, with Jamie Semple keeping his place from the Betfred Cup tie with Brora.
Cove had been used to opponents coming to the Balmoral Stadium and parking the proverbial bus. Wary of their attacking threats, massed ranks were commonplace as teams sought to head south with a point. It never materialised, with Cove maintaining a 100% home record on the way to the League Two title.
East Fife, to their credit, showed little restraint initially. Liam Newton’s winding effort had Stuart McKenzie back-pedalling, but the Cove goalkeeper was able to watch it drift over the crossbar.
Megginson, last season’s leading scorer with 24 goals, was still Cove’s biggest goal threat and would have expected to have a say on the game’s outcome. But even he will have been surprised about the 15-minute headline act he had.
Referee Gavin Ross penalised Chris Higgins for an apparent trip on Jamie Masson and Megginson took the ball for the penalty.
The visitors felt justice was served somewhat with Megginson blazing the spot-kick high over the bar.
Within minutes he was in the thick of things again, clattered by a vicious lunge from Danny Denholm that had Ross rushing for the red card.
As if East Fife were not sick of him already, Megginson then popped up at the near post to turn in Scott Ross’s delivery for the opener.
A scrappy, tempestuous affair was punctuated often by the referee’s whistle but the two big decisions he appeared to get correct.
Megginson extended Cove’s lead just before the hour, tucking away McIntosh’s cut-back, but a wayward pass from Scott Ross gifted Hamilton a clear run at goal to reduce arrears.
McIntosh got his goal on 73 minutes, reacting fastest when Brett Long parried Masson’s shot, before Dunsmore picked up his second yellow card for a foul on Scully.
“Our home form is going to be massive,” added Scully. “We’ve got to keep it going. If we can win all our home games and pick up as many points up on the road as we can, we’re going to be good.
“The surface suits us; it’s tough for teams to come here. We train on it and play on it every second week.”
Cove Rangers (4-2-3-1) – McKenzie 6; Scott Ross 6, Strachan 6, Higgins 6, Milne 7, Yule 6, Scully 7 (Seb Ross 82), McIntosh 7, Semple 6 (Watson 75), Masson 6, Megginson 7. Subs not used – Demus, Livingstone, Graham, Brown, McAllister.
East Fife (4-4-1-1) – Long 6; Murdoch 5, Dunlop 5 (Watson 46), Higgins 6, Slattery 5, Dunsmore 5, Agnew 6, Newton 6 (Collins 69), Denholm 4, Hamilton 6 (Smith 80), Wallace 6 (Watt 80). Subs not used – Hart, Swanson, McLaughlin.
Referee – Gavin Ross 5.
Man of the match – Mitch Megginson.