FRANTIC FINISH AS RAITH WIN AGAIN
A nervous and exhausting last five minutes saw Raith take three points from an eventful match at the New Boghead. The visitors, three goals to the good after the hour, escaped after a late defensive collapse nearly allowed the home side to steal a draw after missing a hatful of earlier chances.
Raith rode their luck over the course of the ninety minutes, making the most of the opportunities that came their way whilst the hosts passed up theirs, and surviving two late defensive lapses which almost gifted Dumbarton a share of the spoils. Exciting, this certainly was; convincing, this certainly was not.
Manager Grant Murray named what is becoming a settled first-team line-up for Rovers this season. Grant Anderson and Joe Cardle have made their wide-midfield slots their own, and have contributed goals also. Watson and Hill continued to build their robust centre-half partnership, with Thomson again the captain.
For Dumbarton, returning from a successful raid to Dumfries the previous week, tweaked their line-up due to injuries – midfielder Hugh Murray faces several weeks out with a broken ankle, and Colin Nish was dropped to the bench. Garry Fleming and the impressive Bryan Prunty continued in their upfront roles. Dumbarton striker Kevin Smith and his brother Raith striker Gordon were chosen to start on the bench by their respective managers.
Raith began the better, forcing a number of early corners. Cardle’s deliveries from left and right asked questions of the home defence and in particular home keeper Ewings. Centre halves Graham and Barry looked uncomfortable early on. Spence nipped into spaces between home defenders, while both Elliot and Moon had shots blocked.
After fifteen minutes, Raith opened the scoring. Thomson lofted in a high-ball after a deeper corner was partially cleared – Hill’s knock-down found Calum Elliot, who had space and time to round his man and fire home.
Raith deserved their lead, having earned greater shares of both possession and territorial advantage in the opening exchanges. Dumbarton though had had chances too – Gilhaney and Prunty having asked questions of McGurn. Front-man Megginson had also posted an early warning of his speed and drive into the heart of the Raith defence – one early run had both Thomson and Watson retreating before the danger was cleared.
There was a brief flurry of penalty claims – each of the sort football supporters debate with trenchant and vociferous opinions one way or the other. A bouncing cross struck Dumbarton defender Barry’s arm as he shepherded the ball out of play; Cardle fell under a challenge from Graham, earning a booking for simulation; and, at the Raith end, Thomson’s elbow in Prunty’s back underneath a tempting Gilhaney cross drew howls from the home support. Referee Colvin was unmoved.
Raith enjoyed greater possession, and seemed more suited to switching the angle of attack with cross-field passes on the lush surface. Perhaps to do with their last game being on the much faster surface at Palmerston, Dumbarton were turned by Raith’s lengthy passing, the ball holding up after its first bounce. Anderson enjoyed much space with on Raith’s right, Cardle roaming freely on the left. Fox and Moon fed both flanks regularly, Spence and Elliot benefitting from the regular service.
Dumbarton’s forward flurries were kept fairly narrow – although Prunty Megginson and Fleming interchanged passes quickly and often, Watson and Hill were able to keep shots to a minimum. All four Raith midfielders worked hard in defending the middle third.
Following the penalty appeals traded earlier in the half, both sides struck the wood-work in quick succession. Just after the half-hour, Fox controlled a clearance from a corner and struck a fine 20-yard half-volley with the left foot. With Ewings beaten, this sweetest of shots rebounded from the junction of post and bar.
Moments later, a one-two in midfield released Turner down Raith’s left. Having tricked his way past Thomson, his drifting cross nicked the Raith bar while McGurn and Watson looked on.
Both sides had chances before the interval. Joe Cardle broke from deep, exchanged passes with Elliot, but opted to try from distance where a pass may have borne greater dividends. Grant Anderson also tried from distance without troubling Ewings in the home goal.
Moments before, Prunty rattled the Raith bar again – McGurn’s weak punch from a corner fell to the feet of the prolific Dumbarton front-man who’s blast should have levelled the scores. Raith had another let-off moments later when a troubling free-kick from wide was met by Turner, although the ruck of bodies took the power from the midfielder’s header and McGurn gathered gratefully.
Raith fans – mindful of last week’s late concession to Falkirk – wondered at half-time whether Murray would send his team out in the second half to look for further goals. Instead, it was Dumbarton who almost scored. Within twenty seconds of the restart, Gilhaney moved the ball out of his feet to clip a shot just beyond McGurn’s top-right hand corner.
Despite having created arguably the game’s better chances, Dumbarton conceded again in 53 minutes. Watson’s header from another Cardle corner was well saved by Ewings, diving full-stretch to his left. Cardle’s next delivery wasn’t cleared first-time, Hill reached a bouncing ball first, and took a whack from McGinn in the process – referee Colvin, well-positioned, pointed to the spot. Following a spell of treatment for the young Raith defender, Spence dispatched the spot-kick.
Dumbarton were struggling to deal with Joe Cardle, who was having another influential performance on the left-wing. He tormented his opposite number McGinn, and chased back to add numbers in midfield when not in possession. On the hour, he had a hand in Raith’s third, taking down a bouncing ball beautifully to create room to cross. Hill rose the highest, heading wide of Ewings and in.
While there weren’t three goals between the teams judging on their respective performances, Raith fans would point to chances taken rather than squandered. Raith keeper McGurn was also playing his part – Gilhaney’s run evaded Thomson on 62 minutes, McGurn getting down quickly to take the sting out of the front-man’s shot. With great awareness and athleticism, the Raith keeper scrambled back to scoop the ball off his own line.
Dumbarton made three attacking changes – the mobile Agnew was withdrawn for Nish, with Kirkpatrick and sticker Kevin Smith also introduced. For Raith, Hill Spence and Cardle were taken off in the closing stages for Donaldson Vaughan and Gordon Smith.
Notwithstanding the three-goal deficit, the home side successfully created real momentum as the game entered the final ten minutes. Raith’s Booth was booked for deliberate hand-ball to prevent Gilhaney escaping, Fox also went into the referee’s notebook for a clip on an advancing Megginson, while Nish and Kevin Smith fired shots on McGurn’s goal. Watson was impressive at the heart of Raith’s defence, winning header after header, even when challenged by the taller Nish following the substitute’s second-half introduction. Raith sub Donaldson however took time to get up to speed – his error in leaving a through ball for Megginson allowed the strike clear down the inside left channel. His cross shot ran narrowly past.
With three minutes to go, Raith’s defences were breached. Following a defensive header, Gordon Smith shielded the ball facing his own goal. Under pressure from a posse of Dumbarton attackers, he sought to find McGurn with a short back-pass, laying the ball on a plate for the grateful Prunty, who wasted no time in beating McGurn and racing back to half-way.
Moments later, the deficit was only one, and again Prunty was the central character. With play largely on Raith’s right, a long-cross field ball left Donaldson alone with Prunty two steps behind. With the Raith sub looking for an offside, he could only retrieve the situation by bundling into the Dumbarton striker’s back as he looked to shoot. Referee Colvin rightly showed a straight red card. McGurn’s net bulged for the second time in as many minutes as Prunty converted from the spot.
Frantic action followed – the home support’s boisterous encouragement for their team was matched in volume by the Kirkcaldy fans’ fury, seeing three points hanging by a knife-edge. Centre-half Barry was sent forward, as the pressure on Watson in the heart of the Raith defence mounted. A Megginson shot was held by McGurn as Raith’s defence momentarily looked at sixes and sevens.
With Dumbarton an equaliser, the match was finally decided with a Raith break-away. Gilhaney found himself outnumbered in midfield, Anderson poked the ball to Gordon Smith, and the young striker showed good composure in beating the last man, drawing Ewings from his line and squaring for fellow sub Lewis Vaughan to prod home. The delight in the Raith celebrations spoke more of relief than joy, the victory now assured.
The victory keeps Raith second in the Scottish Championship, but again Raith showed a clear weakness in closing games out. With Rangers’ manager Ally McCoist looking on, perhaps speculating to a forthcoming Ramsdens’ Cup Final, Grant Murray must have been concerned at the lack of experience which lead to the hair-raising finish. A great three points, but almost two points gifted to a mobile and persistent Dumbarton. Other teams in the Division will have taken note.
Report: Andrew Fairlie Photographs: Eddie Doig
Copyright Eddie Doig