Shot Shy Raith Falter Again
Raith made it six games without a win, and five without a goal, as their poor start to 2014 continued today, after a 1-0 defeat to Cowdenbeath, at a sodden Central Park.
Raith made just one change from their defeat a fortnight ago at Palmerston, with new signing John Baird coming in for Grant Anderson. This meant a return to a more orthodox 4-4-2 formation, with Ross Callachan starting wide on the right.
With the park looking heavy, the conditions looked fairly difficult, while the foreboding, grey looking sky suggested that the pitch would be receiving even more rain fairly soon.
Jon Robertson made light of the tricky surface after just a couple of minutes however, easily evading a couple of challenges down Raith’s right-hand side, before getting to the bye-line and cutting it back. With the roll of the ball deceptively slow across the six-yard-box, Raith were relieved to see Dougie Hill reach the ball first, and lash it clear.
Five minutes later it was Hemmings who was creating the danger down that side, again reaching the line, before pulling it back to Fowler, whose shot was gathered well, low down at his left-hand post by Laidlaw.
From a Raith point of view, the opening quarter-of-an-hour was fairly anaemic in terms of chances created. A couple of corners hadn’t amounted to much, while Baird had two speculative efforts, which didn’t trouble Thomas Flynn in the Cowdenbeath goal. By this time, the rain was incessant, making the playing surface even more treacherous.
Despite the lack of chances, Raith were probably just shading the middle part of the first half, although the game was getting bogged
down in the middle of the park, and not just because of the mud. Joe Cardle’s tendency to come inside, allied with the fact that Ross Callachan isn’t a natural wide player, meant that the middle of the park was becoming congested, especially as the home side had lined up with five in midfield.
Despite this, it was the two wide midfielders who created Rovers best two chances of the half, both in the space of a few minutes. First, Cardle’s dinked ball into the box, saw Baird steal a half yard on his marker, but his header went over the bar. Then, a drilled ball into the penalty area by Callachan found Cardle, whose cross was almost steered into his own goal by Jon Robertson.
By this time, the rain had subsided, and so had the majority of the action, with neither side summoning up much in the way of goalscoring chances.
With ten minutes to go till half-time, Jason Thomson had to be alert to intercept a James Fowler pass, after Cowdenbeath found themselves with a three-on-two, after a Rovers corner had broken down.
It was a passage of play that summed up the opening period for both sides, and while the drenched turf was obviously having a detrimental effect on proceedings, that didn’t change the fact that both sets of players had contributed to a fairly abject opening forty-five minutes.
The early stages of the second period saw no discernible change in the flow of the game. Rovers looked to play it long, much to Calum Elliot and John Baird’s frustration, with the ball often running straight through to Flynn.
Cowdenbeath should have been a goal up after 50 minutes. Dean Brett was afforded far too much room down Raith’s left-hand side, and his cross picked out Kane Hemmings, whose diving header was well palmed out by Laidlaw, although the Championship’s leading scorer would have been disappointed by his finish.
A minute later it was Greg Stewart who suddenly found himself in yards of space, but again, the end product was lacking, and his shot drifted over from the edge of the box.
Rovers first chance of the half came on the hour mark. Cardle’s deflected cross found its way to Callachan, but his downward back post header was well gathered by Flynn.
Two minutes later, John Baird made his way into referee’s book, after George Salmond felt he’d made a meal of a challenge on the edge of the box.
By this stage, Cowdenbeath were starting to turn the screw, and while Laidlaw hadn’t been forced into making a significant stop, the momentum seemed to be swinging towards the home team.
Stewart and Hemmings were starting to become a bigger influence on proceedings, while the Blue Brazil’s wide players were beginning to exert some authority.
Kenny Adamson’s run and cut back into the box was the next dangerous scenario that Raith had to deal with, but Callum Booth just managed to get a toe on the ball, and the chance was thwarted.
The parity didn’t last too much longer however, and the home side deservedly went a goal up, with just over twenty minutes remaining. A corner from Raith’s right, was nodded goalwards, and Hemmings bundled it over the line, from just under the crossbar. It was a goal that had been coming, and manager Grant Murray immediately made a substitution, swapping Liam Fox for Grant Anderson. Anderson went across to the right-hand-side, while Callachan reverted to the middle.
The personnel change made no alteration to the paucity of Raith’s performance however, and five minutes later, Spence joined the fray, replacing John Baird.
The final throw of the dice came with ten minutes left, when Gordon Smith replaced Calum Elliot, but in truth, the most likely looking
scorers at this stage were the home side.
With five minutes to go, Greg Stewart ran at the defence, before cutting inside, leaving just Ross Laidlaw to beat. However, with Hemmings hoping for a pass to give him an easy tap-in, his poor shot was easily saved, and Rovers remained in the game.
With a few moments to go, Smith attempted to spread the play to Jason Thomson on the right-hand side, but the pass was so far ahead of him, that despite sprinting for ten yards, and a desperate slide to keep it in, the ball still careered off onto the race track. It was a moment that seemed to encapsulate Raith’s error strewn second-half performance.
The full-time whistle, brought an end to a poor game, played under wretched conditions, that ultimately provided a desperate result.
The Scottish Cup tie at Easter Road next week, may prove a welcome distraction, from a league campaign that has gone somewhat off-track. While only 2 points separate Raith from fourth place, it’ll take a considerable change in the teams fortunes, if Raith are to remain in the hunt for a top-four spot.
Words: Shaughan McGuigan Pictures: Eddie Doig
Copyright Eddie Doig