Unbeaten Run Continues As Smith Grabs Late Winner
Raith Rovers remained in touch at the top of the table, after a dramatic 2-1 win over Morton this afternoon, thanks to an injury-time winner from Gordon Smith.
Raith made one change from the side that started last week’s match against Hamilton, with Paul Watson returning from injury to partner Laurie Ellis in the centre of defence, with Dougie Hill missing out through suspension.
For Morton, it was a return to Stark’s Park for Ignacio Javier Gomez Novo, alternatively known by the thankfully more succinct moniker of Nacho Novo.
It didn’t take the diminutive Spaniard long to make an impression on his old stomping ground, as he received a cross from Craig Reid in the opening minutes, but his tame header was straight at McGurn. The next chance also went the way of the visitors, when a speculative effort from Dougie Imrie bounced harmlessly wide.
Despite the early half-chances for the away side, neither team settled particularly well, with the opening period of the game punctuated by niggly fouls and frustrating stoppages. To say that this was the reason that Raith struggled initially, would be doing Morton a disservice however, as their five man midfield harried the Raith players and generally restricted their time in possession, something that was clearly stunting Rovers creativity.
As a result, despite Raith having the lions share of the ball, the front men were restricted to bits and pieces, rather than any clear-cut chances. Indeed, the next chance again fell to Novo, and while his angled shot from inside the box ruffled the net, it was the side netting that the ex-Dundee striker had found with his attempt.
With half-an-hour gone, Raith were at last starting to prise open some gaps in the Morton defence. Anderson teed up Spence, and while the Raith striker managed to dink the ball over Caraux, Fitzpatrick was on hand to head off the line. Two minutes later, a move involving Cardle, Anderson and Elliot, ended with the latter trying a shot from the edge of the box which was blocked.
Whilst the play was now mostly in the Morton half, the away side looked sprightly on the break, and the Raith defence received a let-off when a Novo header was ruled out for off-side. While the decision was correct, a source of worry must have been the room that the former Sporting Gijon striker was allowed.
Suddenly, with the game seemingly petering out towards the half-time interval, Raith were a goal to the good, thanks to a strike that warranted a far better game to be taking place around it.
A pass over the top by Jason Thomson was run onto by Kevin Moon, and his wonderful chip over Nicolas Caraux , just evaded the defender chasing back, and nestled into the net.
The Morton players were out early for the second half, but if the intention was to come out the blocks hard in the second period then it didn’t work, as Raith looked to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Moon was involved again, running at the defence and picking his moment to play in Calum Elliot, who appeared to be fouled by Marc Fitzpatrick, although referee George Salmond waved play on. Perhaps due to his frustration at the decision, Elliot wasted a good opportunity a few minutes later, blasting over from distance, despite Grant Anderson finding himself in yards of space in the penalty box.
Much of Raith’s good play was coming down the left-hand side, in particular from Callum Booth, and the on-loan Hibs player almost got on the end of a one-two with Joe Cardle but Caraux was out quickly to block.
On the hour mark, Raith could, and should have got the second goal that possibly would have finished the game off. A throw in on the left hand side, eventually worked its way to Anderson, who had again found space inside the area, but with just Caraux to beat, the impressive French goalkeeper spread himself well to block the shot.
Two minutes later Grant Murray made his first change, replacing Kevin Moon who had sustained a knock, with Ross Callachan.
The substitution, perhaps combined with the fact that they hadn’t found a decisive second goal, seemed to unnerve the Raith side, who suddenly began to retreat slightly deeper. Certainly their confidence in possession seemed to shrink, as did their domination, as Morton started to create some discomfort for the Rovers back four.
Raith’s left flank was becoming increasingly exposed, with Novo and Imrie at times doubling up on that side, to put in a number of chances which, although being cleared, were creating a fair degree of panic. It was no surprise then, that it was this combination, which conjured up the equaliser in the 70th minute.
An Imrie free-kick was whipped in to the back post, to be headed home from close range by Nacho Novo, after the ex-Legia Warsaw forward found himself in space inside the box.
Within five minutes, things got worse for Raith, as David McGurn was stretchered off after coming for a cross and appearing to land awkwardly. He was replaced by Ross Laidlaw.
Despite the blow of losing a goal, Raith appeared the more likely to grab a winner, and they almost snatched one in bizarre circumstances, when a slide tackle by Jonathon Page on Calum Elliot, 35 yards from goal, almost caught out Caraux.
Murray then made his final change, replacing Greig Spence with Gordon Smith with 10 minutes remaining.
While the flow of the game continued towards the Morton goal, the final stages of Rovers moves continued to cause frustration, with either a pass going astray, or a body getting in the way.
However, just when it seemed a draw was inevitable, Callum Booth broke down the left hand side, gallivanting over two-thirds of the park, before spotting a back-post run by Gordon Smith. The full-backs low cross was a perfect one, and Smith showed great composure to guide the ball home despite the onrushing keeper and defender.
The celebrations in the stand were reproduced on the park, with Smith eventually being caught by his team-mates after he’d run behind the goals, before being buried under a mass of jubilant Raith players.
The game barely had time to restart, before the referee blew for full-time, giving Raith a dramatic, and crucial, three points.
Whilst the victory was a sweet one, there was a sour note in regards to the injury concerns. David McGurn was clearly struggling, while Calum Elliot and Kevin Moon both appeared to pick up knocks, although they looked to be minor. Grant Murray will be hoping to have as many of them fit as possible for Tuesday night’s game against Livingston, when Raith will be looking to leapfrog Dundee into second place.
Report: Shaughan McGuigan / Photos: Tony Fimister
Photographs copyright Tony Fimister
Grant chatted with Davie after the last minute winner v Morton
Match – winning goalscorer Gordon Smith chatted with Raith TV before facing the national press