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Team Pd GD Pt
1 Arbroath 16 28 42
2 Raith Rovers 16 14 29
3 East Fife 16 -1 23
4 Montrose 16 -7 21
5 Forfar 16 -8 21
6 Airdrieonians 16 0 20
7 Stranraer 16 -1 20
8 Dumbarton 16 -4 18
9 Brechin 16 -7 16
10 Stenhousemuir 16 -14 15
Updated: 8th Dec
Saturday March 15th 2014

Raith Rovers 2 – 1 Greenock Morton

SPENCE DOUBLE EARNS VALUABLE VICTORY

Two second-half goals from substitute Greig Spence gave Raith a hard-fought win over basement club Greenock Morton at Starks Park. The win lifts Raith above Alloa into seventh place in the Scottish Championship table, although Raith were pressed all the way by a Morton side now thirteen points adrift at the foot of the table.

Raith’s win arrests an alarming slump in form since Christmas, and gives Grant Murray’s side a much-needed boost heading into a critical stage of the league campaign with four more fixtures in the next two weeks.

It has been three months since Grant Murray named an unchanged side for reasons of injury, suspension, and form – he shuffled his pack again here, with Baird restored to lead the line with Smith alongside, Callachan dropping out of the starting line-up for the first time since mid-November. Watson started his second fixture back after return from long-term injury, partnering Dougie Hill at centre half. 

Although Morton have remained moored to the bottom of the table since early-season, they came into today’s fixture with marginally better form than Raith. With a league win as recently as mid-January over Livingston, and only three defeats in 2014, Morton have played with a spirit not suggestive of their status as relegation favourites. Although Fouad Bachirou was missing, Morton otherwise named a strong side. Celtic loanee and Scotland under-21 international Stuart Findlay began at centre-half, and club captain and season top-scorer Dougie Imrie started on the left.

1. John Baird.

John Baird battles for possession

As in the most recent league game against Alloa, Raith began the stronger of the two teams. Fox shot wide after a clever chest-down from Baird, and Anderson was unlucky not to play in Baird after a clever flick. Morton defender Cole was booked in the second minute for time-wasting, referee Charleston shaking his head in disbelief as he brandished the yellow card.

Although the bearded Vine raced clear to cross marginally beyond his strike partner Campbell after five minutes, the raid was the exception rather than the rule of the opening spell. Cardle’s through-ball was cleared by Fitzpatrick, Anderson’s header back across goal was claimed by keeper Gaston, and Smith was crowded out by a combination of Cole and McCormick while bearing down on goal. While their interplay and understanding was often lacking, Smith and Baird both buzzed early on, leaving Findlay and Cole regularly tracking back to cover.

 Again in common with the recent draw with Alloa, a fine goal against the run of play knocked the early wind from Raith’s sails. With Booth looking to advance, a long ball from Morton’s defence exposed his positioning. Vine, showing both excellent balance and real flair, lashed a superb cross volley inside Robinson’s far post from 20 yards. The visiting fans erupted in the cold March air, their team’s second foray into the Raith half rewarded in fine style.

8. Vine beats Robinson to put Morton ahead.

Vine beats Robinson to put Morton ahead.

Raith lost momentum, and for ten minutes struggled to regain the supremacy they had enjoyed since the first whistle. The crowd, mindful of Raith’s dismal recent run of league form, also turned. Loose passes and examples of poor control on the uneven surface were jeered, and for a spell Morton looked on top. A hurried shot high over the bar from Baird following Cardle’s lay-off was all the home side had to show for a troubled period following Morton’s opener.

Raith were playing with the wind in the first half, but if anything, the conditions more suited Morton’s rangy front pair. Vine and Campbell both ran inside channels well, chasing long diagonal balls from deep. With both Thomson and Booth eager to break forward, there was no shortage of space in the wide areas for Morton to profit. Having gifted space for Morton’s goal, Booth particularly struggled to keep his position – his body-check on an escaping McCormack earned the Raith full-back a yellow card. Anyone who has ever fallen on a blaize pitch at full speed (this author included) would have sympathised with Booth’s sprawling victim.

By the half-hour, the home side had battled to regain the authority – Fox’s dipping volley from distance was turned over by Gaston, and Grant Anderson had a clear sight of goal from the penalty spot after a cross broke to him, although the winger’s snatched finish was high and wide. Both Morton’s McCormack and Raith’s Booth were spoken to by referee Charleston following over exuberant challenges, as temperatures rose approaching half-time.

As half-time approached, Raith knocked on the door again. Smith’s flick from Thomson’s cross was cleared by a mixture of Gaston’s outstretched palms and Cole’s hefty clearance. Cardle was narrowly flagged off-side with Baird screaming for a centre, while moments later, the Raith striker’s shot was smothered at his near-post by the Morton ‘keeper.

Despite several chances in the run-up to the interval, Raith were booed off at half-time, the home support discouraged by the score if not the level of intensity shown by the home side. The teams were separated by the one genuine moment of quality in a first half full of endeavour and application, but mostly falling short of the level of composure needed to find the net. Grant Murray had work to do to rouse his troops before the second half.

Morton had the sea breeze at their backs in the second half, and began the brightest. While captain and top scorer Dougie Imrie had to be withdrawn at the interval through injury, Morton were purposeful from the off. Campbell stung the palms of Robinson from distance.

With ten minutes of the second half gone, Murray removed Gordon Smith and introduced Greig Spence to partner Baird upfront. Smith had struggled against centre-half and Celtic loanee Stuart Findlay, the young defender’s pace and positional sense denying the Raith frontman any real traction in the final third. Although ending up on the losing side here, the eighteen-year-old Findlay was impressive and showed composure beyond his years.

21. Paul challenges in the box.

Watson challenges in the box.

Both sides created chances as the tempo increased – Vine’s bouncing shot required Robinson to stretch following an excellent cross-field ball from Robertson, while Moon’s clever chip was cleared at full pelt by a retreating Cole with Baird lurking. A long-range blast from Findlay was on target before being blocked away by Hill.

Raith were also troubled by journeyman frontman Rowan Vine, relishing the freedom of a loose role behind his strike partner Campbell. Having started the season at Hibs following a successful spell at St Johnstone, Vine joined Morton in the New Year. His leggy style and excellent close control gave the Raith back four difficulty in picking up his movement across and in front of them. In sixty-four minutes, he beat Booth to cross, with Campbell unlucky not to make a connection. 

Mid-way through the second-half, Raith were back on terms. Anderson squeezed between two defenders and was bundled over by retreating left-back Fitzpatrick. Substitute Spence lashed home the spot-kick high to Gaston’s right-hand, and raced back to half-way, exhorting his team-mates to press on for the full three points.

14. Moon tackles McCormack.

Moon tackles McCormack.

What a difference the goal made. Raith were much sharper, more precise, and keener into the tackle following the Spence equaliser. Fox and Moon won their challenges, with Spence and fellow sub Lewis Vaughan haring off down either flank. Following a midfield break, Cardle worked space to cross – with the home support on their feet, only Vaughan will know how he contrived to miss from within the six-yard box.

Within five minutes, Raith took the lead their overall play had deserved. While Morton may have had the more eye-catching individual performances, Raith’s midfield had been turning the tide in the home team’s favour. With Baird dropping deeper, Murray had created the extra man in midfield to build a platform for a final push for victory. Baird’s 80th minute through ball held up in the breeze, drifting in front of Spence and the back-tracking Cole. Spence showed good strength to hold off his man, and composure to finish low beyond Gaston.

A nervy final ten minutes followed. Findlay’s flicked finish from a corner was turned over acrobatically by Robinson. Morton’s final throw of the dice was a late cameo from former Hibernian front-man, Gary O’Conner. The sizeable striker, who’s days of running the flanks are clearly beyond him, gave a renewed focal point to the Morton attack – his jink and shot found the Raith side netting in the final minute.

As the referee whistled for full-time after an anxious four extra minutes, Raith players hugged in delight. Arguably having forgotten how to win, this victory gives Raith much needed impetus for the final exchanges of the league campaign. With all other teams in the bottom half of the table losing today, Grant Murray’s team now have some momentum and have ended the longest winless streak the club have endured in recent years.

Photos: Tony Fimister             Report: Andrew Fairlie

0
Rovers shooting towards the south stand...
2
Cole booked for time wasting in the 2nd minute! Ball had gone out for a throw and he booted it down the tunnel.
5
Anderson almost plays Baird in at one end with a smart pass, then Vine fires wide at the other end
8
Decent break through the middle by Cardle, but well defended
11
Smith played in by Moon, but crowded out for a corner. Watson shot blocked then Hill header caught by Gaston.
12
Baird cross, Anderson nods back across goal but Smith can't reach it.
14
Smith crowded out by Cole and McCormack again - he's looking very lively though
16
Gaston gathers another cross ball with Smith and Baird both lurking
17
Goal Morton. Vine lashes an unstoppable volley into the top corner. Cruel on Rovers who have been totally dominant.
21
Baird nets but the whistle had already gone - well offside
22
Cardle along the edge of the box, lays it off to Baird who blasts miles over
26
Booth booked for a body check on McCormack
28
Fox with a dipping volley, tipped over for a corner
29
Booth slightly fortunate not to get a second yellow - he caught Robertson with a clumsy challenge but he made a meal of it
33
McCormack in studs up on Cardle, but he's okay
33
Anderson fires over as the ball breaks to him from the free kick
37
Close! Smith flicks a Thomson cross, but Cole is there to block
39
Fox curls another shot just over from the edge of the box
40
Cardle flagged offside with Baird unmarked in the middle - a very close call
42
Vine defends very well to deny Thomson - corner to Rovers but it comes to nothing
45
Baird shot gathered at the near post on the stroke of half time
45
Morton have done very little to trouble the Rovers defence, but somehow go into the break ahead. Rivers playing well despite the score line.
46
Fulton on for Imrie who had been limping the last 5 mins of 1st half
47
Campbell shoots from distance straight at Robinson
49
Fulton pulls back Thomson. Free in a good position but Hill penalised for fouling
52
Spence on Smith off
53
Fulton studs up on Thomson....yellow
55
Moon tries a cute chip for Baird but Cole alert and clears
57
Mccormack cross Vine shoots into the ground and Robinson tips over the bar
60
15 mins gone no sign of an equaliser
64
Baird in space following a break but Booth's cross had too much on it
66
Yellow Campbell for blocking Robinson as he attempted a quick clearancr
68
Penalty Rovers...anderson fouled by Fitzpatrick
68
Spence takes the penalty.....GOAL
69
The penalty well struck to the keepers right as he went the wrong way....1-1
71
Anderson off Vaughan on
72
Corner Rovers.....grabbed by Gaston
74
Robinson does well to cut out a Fulton pull back with the defence at sixes & sevens
76
How did he miss??? Cardle low cross needed a tap in but Vaughan miscontrolled a yard out!!
81
GOAL Spence 2-1
81
Baird lovely thru ball and Spence holds off Cole to shoot low to keeper's right
83
Findlay shoots from a corner...good save from Robinson tipping over
86
O'connor on McCormack off
86
Shiels and ref having a wee chat....
87
MoM Spence
89
O'connor shoots into side netting from.a tight angke...getting nervy
90
+1 Corner Rovers.....another corner now
90
+2 corner Morton and Hill heads clear
90
+4 Full Time and a very welcome 3 points with Cowden getting thumped
Raith Rovers
Robinson, Thomson, Booth, Watson, Hill, Fox, Cardle, Moon, Anderson, Smith, Baird
Subs: Spence, Donaldson, Ellis, Mullen, Vaughan, Matthews, Laidlaw (GK)

Morton
Gaston, Taggart, Fitzpatrick, Findlay, Imrie, Campbell, O'Brien, Vine, Robertson, Cole, McCormack
Subs: O'Connor, O'Ware, Knight, Fulton, Russell, Careaux (GK)

Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014

Rovers gaffer Grant Murray chatted with Niall after the match