ELLIOT BAGS VITAL POINT FOR 10 MAN ROVERS
Raith Rovers returned to league duty after a weekend without a Championship game due to Ramsdens Cup action and played out an entertaining 1-1 draw with Hamilton Academical in front of a somewhat sparse crowd in good playing conditions at New Douglas Park this afternoon.
Rovers made one enforced change going into the game in North Lanarkshire, with Laurie Ellis replacing Paul Watson, who limped off injured during last Sunday’s convincing 3-0 Ramsdens Cup victory over League 2 Annan Athletic at Stark’s Park.
Accies went into the game three points clear at the top of the Championship table, but were keen to get back to winning ways after a run of just one win from their last four games. Home boss Alex Neil made one change to his starting 11, dropping himself to the bench after a late fitness test and bringing in Stephen Hendrie as a replacement.
It didn’t take long for the first chance of the game to arrive and it fell the way of the home side. After a Jason Thomson foul Ali Crawford sent a dangerous ball into the back post, but Tony Andreu fired comfortably high and wide of David McGurn’s goal.
Rovers fashioned their first chance of the afternoon’s proceedings in 6 minutes. Calum Elliot, who caused problems for the home defence all game, won the ball inside his own half and played a sharp pass to Greig Spence. Spencey ran at the Hamilton back four and fizzed a shot from 25 yards which barely cleared home goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert’s crossbar.
The visitors created another decent opportunity after 11 minutes, but good work down the right wing from the marauding skipper Jason Thomson would eventually lead to a shot which was comfortably held by Cuthbert.
After a sluggish start, the game sparked into life after 12 minutes when a vicious tackle by Grant Gillespie in the middle of the park left Joe Cardle requiring treatment. The Rovers’ man went off the park briefly but was able to continue. Gillespie was booked for the initial foul.
The game really came into life in the 15th minute when a succession of crisp Hamilton passes eventually led to a shot from Accies’ number 99 – Mickael Antoine-Curier – lashing a strong shot at David McGurn, but the big man in the Raith goal safely held the shot. Dougie Hill was then harshly booked for a handball, a booking that would prove costly later in the half.
The visitors made another good chance in 19 minutes, with a Callum Booth corner landing on the head of Grant Anderson, whose effort on goal was closer to the Sainsbury’s car park than the back of the home side’s net.
Captain Jason Thomson then became the second Rovers player to have his name taken by referee Iain Brines in what was turning into a fiery affair, before Joe Cardle was then harshly penalised for a soft foul against James Keatings, much to the annoyance of the travelling fans in the Spice of Life stand behind the goal. Keatings would also play a key role later on in the afternoon.
With the game beginning to die down again the Rovers fans then directed a series of, shall we say, less than complimentary chants towards a well-known Raith fan enjoying an afternoon in the hospitality section of the Main Stand. Hope you enjoyed your afternoon Quinny.
With 25 minutes on the clock, the home side created arguably the best chance of the game up to that point, when Callum Booth was caught flat-footed by the tricky Accies frontman, Antoine-Curier. The Frenchman floated a glorious ball onto the head of James Keatings, who sent a header flashing across McGurn’s goal and narrowly beyond the left hand upright.
However, the breakthrough came just short of the half hour, and inevitably it was that man Keatings who provided it. Having been sent through one-on-one from what many visiting fans judged to be a suspiciously offside position, Keatings swept home his 8th goal of the season and his second against The Rovers – it was he who had scored the winner when the two sides met in Kirkcaldy on the opening day of the season.
Just when things couldn’t get any worse for Rovers, they did. Already a goal down, Dougie Hill then picked up a second yellow card for a foul on goalscorer Keatings. There was little argument as to the legitimacy of the second yellow card, even if Dougie’s first booking was somewhat contentious. David McGurn was also booked for his protestations over Hill’s red card.
If there’s one characteristic that the Raith Rovers class of 2013/14 have in abundance, it’s a ‘never say die’ attitude, and even with being a goal and a man down, Rovers continued to push the home side. Grant Murray then made a tactical switch to accommodate for the absence of Dougie Hill, moving Jason Thomson to centre-back and Liam Fox to right full-back.
With the first half moving along, Callum Elliot and Kevin Moon then clashed heads after a nasty collision. Both players went off the park for treatment for a few minutes, before coming back on.
The home side then created another decent opportunity three minutes from the break, with former Livingston man Tony Andreu playing in Darian McKinnon who hit a fierce drive at McGurn, which was comfortably palmed to safety by the Rovers’ stopper.
Goalscorer Keating was then booked for going down rather theatrically in the box when he had lost possession. He didn’t really need any more reasons to make himself more unpopular with the travelling fans.
The final chance of the half came in stoppage time, when Antoine-Curier jinked his way through the visitors defence, only to see his driving shot deflected away by Laurie Ellis.
It had been a first half of attrition and after a slow start the game had exploded in that three minute spell with the Hamilton goal and the red card for Dougie Hill. Understandably, there was a sense of déjà vu in the away end as the Rovers fans headed for a half-time refreshment.
Grant Murray made his first substitution of the afternoon at half time, bringing on Ross Callachan in place of Joe Cardle. There was speculation in the away end as to whether it was a tactical change or possibly an injury as a result of the earlier challenge on the ex-Dunfermline winger, but the fact that Calum Elliot dropped into centre midfield leaving Greig Spence to plough a lone furrow upfront probably suggested it was the former.
The first three minutes of the second half brought a series of fouls against The Rovers, none of which brought about a yellow card – but did see some unflattering shouts directed towards the female assistant referee, Lorraine Clark. Enough said on that front.
Whatever Grant Murray had said to motivate his players in the away dressing room at the interval was clearly working, because despite being a goal and a man down, Raith were playing by far the better football in the early second half exchanges.
Another flurry of chances followed at both ends but the turning point of the game, at least from a Rovers perspective, came in 65 minutes – with Gordon Smith replacing Greig Spence. Spencey had put in his usual excellent shift, and in fairness to the wee man had been left isolated up front for large parts of the game since Rovers were reduced to 10 men.
Three minutes after coming off the bench, Gordon Smith won a penalty for Rovers – much to the dismay of the small home support (plus the one aforementioned Rovers fan) in the home end. Smith went down under a challenge from Grant Gillespie and whistler Iain Brines immediately pointed to the spot. Calum Elliot stepped up and smashed the spot kick low into the left hand corner of Kevin Cuthbert’s net. On the balance of play in the second half, it was nothing more than Raith deserved.
The home side made a double substitution 11 minutes from time, with Tony Andreu and Darian McKinnon coming off to be replaced by Jason McGrath and Louis Longridge, before Alex Neil played his final substitution card with eight minutes to go, bringing on Jon McShane to replace Mickael Antoine-Curier. At the same time, Lewis Vaughan replaced the excellent Grant Anderson for Rovers. Grantie was given a thoroughly-deserved standing ovation by the Rovers support as he left the field, having run the show for much of the game.
The home side then created a few more chances, the best of which came in the final minute – with sub McGrath making a good run out wide, but he was unable to find a final pass and the chance was gone.
Both teams finished the game strongly, but it was a relief when referee Brines brought the game to a close after three minutes of stoppage time. Given the effort and commitment shown over the piece, Rovers can feel somewhat aggrieved at coming away with only a point – but, at the same time, if Grant Murray and his men before the game had been offered a 1-1 draw away against the league leaders they would have taken it.
Hamilton’s winless run now stretches to one win in five, but it’s early days yet in the Championship and there is still all to play for.
Onwards and upwards then to the visit of the Championship’s basement boys, Morton, to Stark’s Park next weekend and the possible return of a well-known ex-Rover in the Morton line-up, one Ignacio Javier Gomez Novo – otherwise known as Nacho Novo.
ACCIES: Cuthbert, Gordon, Hendrie, Devlin, Canning, Gillespie, Keatings, Crawford, MacKinnon, Andreu, Antoine – Curier.
Subs: McShane, Neil, McGrath, Longridge, Finnie, Garcia Tena, Currie.
RAITH: McGurn, Thomson, Booth, Hill, Fox, Cardle, Moon, Spence, Elliot, Anderson, Ellis.
Subs: Callachan, Smith, Vaughan, Matthews, Bates, Laidlaw.
Report: Martin Hart
Copyright Eddie Doig