No Goals But Points Shared At Cappielow
Raith Rovers may have managed to keep their first clean sheet in the league since October at a chilly Cappielow today, but that wasn’t enough to claim all three points, in a tight 0-0 draw with Morton.
There were two changes from the 2-0 home defeat from Dundee nine days ago. Jason Thomson missed out through suspension, so new signing Fraser Mullen slotted in at right-back, while Gordon Smith dropped to the bench, freeing up a starting slot for Grant Anderson.
For Morton, Kenny Shiels handed starts to all five of his recent signings, the most notable of whom was Gary O’Connor who started a game for the first time since being released by Russian second division side, Tom Tomsk, just over a year ago.
This meant both sides started the match with slightly differing variations of a 4-5-1. For Rovers, Calum Elliot was ploughing a lone furrow up front, while for the home side, O’Connor was asked to do the same, although ex-St Johnstone midfielder, David Robertson seemed to be tucked in behind him.
The new formation in the Raith ranks, coupled with a raft of new faces in the Morton starting XI, meant that both sides spent the first ten minutes, getting to grips with things. Morton probably started with slightly more fluidity, with Fouad Bachirou dictating the proceedings in the middle of the park, while Dougie Imrie and Barry McKay were also looking to get in on the act down the flanks.
However, the early stages were notable, purely for a Dougie Hill free-kick, which was smacked straight at an unsuspecting Liam Fox standing 8 yards away, which knocked him clean off his feet.
For all Morton’s possession at the back, their main plan of attack, seemed to be a long ball to Imrie, which was failing to catch out the Raith defence. That said, Morton should have been one up after 12 minutes, after some poor defending from Dougie Hill. The centre-half seemed to slip as he attempted to clear the ball, allowing David Robertson a clear shot at goal from close range. Raith keeper Laidlaw stood up well however, and blocked the midfielders drive with his shin.
While Rovers hadn’t created too many chances by this stage, that all changed after quarter of an hour. An excellent pass from Callachan released Cardle down the left hand side, and with Eliott waiting in the box, his cross was well cut out. Two minutes later, Elliot was the provider, playing a square ball across the 6-yard-box, which Hill somehow failed to connect with, despite a despairing lunge.
Morton forward, Garry O’Connor had rarely threatened at this stage, and while the ex-Hibernian man may never have been described as lithe, his physique, indicated that he is still some weeks away from full match fitness. A header that drifted harmlessly over the bar after 2o minutes was his only contribution to that point.
Raith then had a penalty appeal, and the ball in the net, both in vain, in a matter of seconds. First, Joe Cardle cut inside from the left hand side and drifted into the box, only to appear to be brought down in the process. The ball found Eliott however, and while his shot seemed to be going wide, Callachan prodded it home, only to be rightly flagged for off-side.
Cardle had looked lively in the first period, and he again drifted inside, this time from the right, but his smashed cross deflected off Elliot, and out for a goal kick.
Despite being second best for the first half, Morton then thought they’d scored the opening goal, but O’Connor had already been signalled for off-side before he stroked the ball past Laidlaw.
The final action of the half was Raith’s best move of the game, and it so almost brought the first goal. Fraser Mullen won the ball on the right, and fed it to Anderson, who beat his man and put in a great cross to the waiting Elliot, who flung himself at the ball, and made a great connection, only to look on in dismay,as his header was excellently kept out by Nicolas Caraux.
The second half began in a similar cagey fashion to the first, but Laidlaw had to be alert to get down sharply to hold onto an O’Connor shot after he was played through by Bachirou. Considering how well the former Paris St Germain man was playing in the middle of the park, it was strange that Morton were all too keen to by-pass him altogether, as they looked far more likely to create something when he was on the ball.
Morton were now on top at this stage, and only great goalkeeping from Laidlaw kept the scores level. Firstly, McKay got on the end of an O’Connor flick, but with just the Raith keeper to beat, his shot was blocked. Seconds later, the defence opened up again, but this time Imrie was denied from 8 yards out.
Despite starting the second half slower than their opponents, Raith still looked dangerous on the break, and Cardle twice came close, firstly seeing a deflected effort from outside of the box held by Caraux, then he did well to get his shot off, after gathering the ball with his back to goal, but his attempt was just wide.
With 25 minutes remaining, Grant Murray made his first change, swapping Gordon Smith on for Elliot, and 7 minutes later he made his second, replacing Grant Anderson with Lewis Vaughan, who took up Anderson’s position wide right.
Despite the changes, the game continued to flow towards the Raith goal, possibly even more so, with most Raith attacks now floundering with Smith struggling to hold the ball up. Despite that, Laidlaw wasn’t called into action, as first Imrie, then O’Connor could only watch as both their efforts went well over the bar.
With two minutes remaining, Raith thought they’d won it, but again, they were denied by the linesman’s flag. A long ball to Vaughan,
somehow saw Raith with a three-on-one, but although Smith looked clearly off-side, Cardle looked less so, and despite the winger gathering Vaughan’s pass and dispatching the chance into the corner, the effort was disallowed.
It was to be the last action of the match, and while both teams would be happy with a clean sheet, neither would have been entirely enamoured by a point. Raith remain fourth, two points clear of fifth placed Livingston, while Morton close the gap to Cowdenbeath to eight points.
Raith now travel to Dumfries, where they’ll hope to emulate their win against Queen of the South from earlier in the season.
Words: Shaughan McGuigan Pictures: Eddie Doig