Saints Held In Entertaining Draw
Raith’s pre-season continued at Stark’s Park today, with both a creditable result, and more importantly performance, against Scottish Cup holders St. Johnstone.
Grant Murray made several changes from the midweek draw against Edinburgh City. Jason Thomson came back in at right-back, replacing Ross Matthews who dropped to the bench. In midfield, Kevin Moon moved into the middle of the park in place of Ross Callachan, while Grant Anderson was wide right at the expense of Wednesday’s trialist. On the opposite side, new signing Ryan Conroy came in for Mark Stewart.
Retained in the heart of the defence were Laurie Ellis and youngster, David Bates, and while they may have been relieved to see no Stevie May on the teamsheet, they were still faced with the challenge of tempering lone striker Steve McLean.
Although they were missing May, Saints fielded a strong starting XI, ahead of their Europa League match against Swiss side FC Luzern this coming Thursday.
Despite the absence of a number of their new signings, it was Raith who made the brighter start, although there were worries all round when one of the new additions, Nade, went down injured after a couple of minutes.
Collecting a pass from McKeown, he spun away from his marker on the half-way line. As he accelerated towards goal, a clumsy challenge from Wotherspoon saw the Frenchman down clutching his ankle. After some treatment however, the former Dundee striker was able to continue.
The first attempt was registered by Raith after 5 minutes, and it was started and finished by Jason Thomson. The captain played the ball out of defence and continued his run, eventually receiving the ball back just inside the box, but his finish was rushed, and failed to trouble Mannus. Two minutes late however, Raith took the lead, with a goal that was both well worked, and excellently finished.
Anderson started the move down the right, and he fed Elliot, who in turn teed up Nade, who in one swift move, controlled it on his chest, swiveled away from his man, and volleyed past the stranded Alan Mannus from around 25-yards.
The excitement about the goal was somewhat tempered by the coming together of Lee Croft and Kevin Moon in the centre-circle. While both players took hefty blows, Croft was deemed fine to continue, but Moon was substituted for Ross Callachan 10 minutes later, possibly just as a precaution.
Conroy then showed what he was capable of with a fine back post cross, but with two Raith players homing in on it, neither were able to turn it home.
St. Johnstone were now starting to come into the game, and the trio of Croft, Michael O’Hallaran and Liam Caddis were all trying to support McLean. The striker was attempting to time his runs between Ellis and Bates, but was being well marshalled by the duo.
Croft and O’Hallaron were starting to click though, and it was the latter who had the first real attempt for the away side, shooting over after being supplied by Wotherspoon, and riding a couple of challenges.
With half-time approaching, St. Johnstone had a spate of chances to restore parity. Firstly, McLean timed one of his runs to perfection, slipping past Bates and opening up his body to slide the ball past Laidlaw, only for the Raith keeper to get a toe to the ball and deflect it wide. Next, a 25-yard shot from Croft thumped off the base of Laidlaw’s post, then an Anderson header from a corner was aimed straight at Laidlaw.
Despite this, Raith could have went in two goals up at the interval after a fine move. Fox swept the ball wide to Anderson, his cross was flicked on by Nade, finding Elliot in space in the box, but from an angle, his shot pinged wide of Mannus’ left-hand upright.
St. Johnstone made one change at the interval, swapping McLean for Chris Kane, who impressed on-loan in the Championship last season with Dumbarton.
He made an impression right away, getting in behind the back-line and holding the ball up, before laying it off to O’Hallaran who was wide left. His cross found Croft at the back post, but he couldn’t quite get it under control and the chance was lost.
Anderson then won possession in midfield, playing the ball to Elliot who did well to get to the bye-line. Looking up, he saw Nade in space at the back post, but his cross was just too high. While the Frenchman did well to get anything on it, his header lacked purchase, and Mannus gathered.
Raith were made to pay for that profligacy a moment later, when St. Johnstone brought the scores level. Frustratingly, Raith actually frittered away possession, gifting the ball unnessecarily to Wotherspoon, who looked up, and curled the ball past Laidlaw from just inside the box.
Getting a lift from the goal, Saints started to boss the game, with Wotherspoon in particular starting to find pockets of space in midfield. The Raith front two were having to drop deeper and deeper to get involved, with Nade in particular almost becoming an auxiliary midfielder at times as he rallied to help.
The away side almost went 2-1 up in the 56th minute, after a Curtis Miller drive from 25-yards was palmed out by Laidlaw. While the goalkeeper may have been disappointed at not gathering the first attempt, he recovered well, with an astonishing point-blank stop from Kane who was following in.
The game was then punctuated by a number of substitutions, with Grant Murray replacing Christian Nade with Lewis Vaughan, and then with 10 minutes remaining, Liam Fox went off for Ross Matthews.
While the game slowed down considerably in the final stages, Raith understandably looked the more tired of the two teams, and they almost lost out late on, when a ball over the top from Miller, allowed Kane the chance to turn inside the box, but from 8-yards out, his finish was high and off target.
While the 1-1 full-time scoreline was a positive, manager Grant Murray will presumably have taken good heart from a strong team performance. Both full-backs got forward well, while young David Bates could be pleased after a fine performance against top-tier opponents. The midfield were at times outnumbered, but they coped manfully, while Elliot and Nade showed in glimpses that there is potentially a productive partnership there.
The build up to the new season now moves to Tuesday evening, when York City are the visitors to Stark’s Park.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014