Conroy nets as Rovers remain unbeaten
Raith Rovers went into today’s game at Recreation Park looking to consolidate their position at the top end of the Championship table. Up against an Alloa side looking to make amends after a disappointing result away to Queen of the South, Ryan Conroy’s third goal of the season was all that separated the teams in a keenly contested fixture.
Rovers had an almost unchanged starting lineup from the last game v Dumbarton; Mark Stewart retaining his place at the expense of the player withdrawn injured early doors (Calum Elliot), who dropped to the bench in Stewarts place.
Alloa lined up with a few familiar faces in their ranks: Buchanan and Holmes having lined up against Rovers for the Pars in recent years, while Stephen Simmons and Greig Spence needed no introduction to the travelling Rovers support.
Raith started the match defending the railway end of Recreation Park, but it was Alloa that created the first chance on goal – in the first minute Greig Spence got up to send a looping header goalwards, but Kevin Cuthbert in goal, resplendent in an all – pink outfit, gathered the ball easily.
Persistence from Jimmy Scott earned Rovers a throw in near the left corner flag, but McKeown’s long throw was cleared and Cawley, who proved to be a constant threat to Rovers, was able to break clear with the ball.
It was as early as the 4th minute when Rovers registered their first shot on target, and it provided the goal that secured the three points for the visitors; Grant Anderson took on Meggatt down the Rovers right wing, and did well to drive a cross goalwards. The hardworking Mark Stewart headed the ball on for Ryan Conroy to bullet the ball home from close range at the back post past a hesitant John Gibson. 1-0 to the Rovers
A minute later Anderson again drove down the right into the Alloa box only to be felled with a physical challenge that left him in a heap on the astro turf. Referee Muir was unmoved though, and play continued after Anderson dusted himself off.
Rovers goal motivated Alloa to come back into the game, and Ross Perry had to concede a throw in after good work by Cawley, before a cross by Alloa’s talented central midfielder Ryan McCord was caught by Kevin Cuthbert.
Next, it was Christian Nade’s turn to impress the crowd of 858 – receiving the ball in midfield he turned his marker and held off 4 Alloa players as he made his way towards goal. Laying off the ball to Scott, the big striker was disappointed that the resultant cross was overhit and drifted harmlessly out of play.
Martin Scott then conceded a free kick on the halfway line after he was adjudged to have slid in dangerously with a raised foot on McCord – a challenge in the cup game at East End Park that warranted a yellow card was only deemed worthy of a quick word from referee Alan Muir on this occasion.
Stephen Simmons then looked to release Doyle with a raking diagonal pass that McKeown was alert to and cut out to relieve the pressure on his defensive colleagues, before a clash of heads between Grant Anderson and Darryl Meggatt required attention on the sideline from the Alloa physio for a bloodied nose – the Alloa left back continuing after a minute or so.
It was 16 minutes before Rovers were awarded their first corner after good interplay between McKeown and Stewart, but (not for the first time) Ben Gordon was able to head clear Conroy’s effort. A minute later Alloa won their first corner after an uncharacteristic mistake by Watson out wide allowed Buchanan to send a dangerous cross in. Perry was on hand to head out for the corner which was eventually headed clear by McKeown.
Play was then stopped for nearly 2 minutes after Nade fell heavily in a challenge, but was able to play on after attention from the Raith physio. Martin Scott then conceded a free kick after fouling Simons in mid-air .
At this point control of the game was flowing evenly between Rovers and Alloa, and it was in a Rovers break that Mark Stewart showed the best of his abilities; linking well down the left with Rory McKeown, the former Falkirk man received the ball and cut in before unleashing a 25 yard effort that flew narrowly wide of Gibson ‘s goal. A foot to the right and it would have been a spectacular strike.
On the half hour mark Rovers captain Jason Thomson embarked on his first run down the wing, having been kept busy by Buchanan for most of the game. Thomson’s burst down the right resulted in the ball going out off Meggatt for another Rovers corner that the impressive Ben Gordon again headed clear. Martin Scott then flashed a strong drive over Gibson’s goal as Rovers attempted to extend their lead in the game.
Kevin Cawley then took the opportunity to test Kevin Cuthbert’s shot stopping skills with a long range effort that was saved low to the keepers right for a Alloa corner. Set piece specialist McCord whipped the corner in but Ross Perry did well to clear under pressure.
Soon after, Alloa had their best goalscoring opportunity of the game; Another McCord corner was headed onto the inside of the post by Jason Marr, with the ball then flying all the way across goal and out for a goal kick, with no Alloa player able to apply the finishing touch to score an equaliser.
The effort off the woodwork marked the start of a 10 minute spell that was almost entirely devoted to pressure being applied by the home team in the Rovers half; Thomson conceded a free kick after bringing Cawley down on the breakaway, Scott conceded a free kick on the edge of the box for handball (somewhat harshly, given that the big midfielder wasn’t looking at the ball at the time) before Buchanan sent a looping header well over the goal. Rovers only respite in this spell of Alloa pressure was a McCord corner that was cleared by Fox to Stewart who was tracked all the way by Doyle and the danger snuffed out.
The last notable Rovers incident of the first half was when Nade was tackled in the box, but with the Rovers support and the striker appealing for a spot kick ref Alan Muir waved play on and Mark Stewart wasn’t able to net the rebound.
Alloa ended the half with a header over by Buchanan from a good position, when scoring looked the more likely outcome
HALF TIME: Alloa Athletic 0 – 1 Raith Rovers
Rovers started the second half with a Stewart shot that Gibson easily saved, then Alloa responded when McCord shot high and wide of Cuthberts right hand post. Conroy then unleashed a drive from distance that was well saved by the Alloa ‘keeper.
Christian Nade was then presented with a good opportunity to add to his fist league goal of the season last weekend, when the ever impressive Mark Stewart played him in on the edge of the box; the French Ivorian’s fist touch wasn’t good enough and the ball ran through to a grateful John Gibson.
Liam Fox then teed up a volley for himself that flew over the Alloa goal before another Conroy corner was headed well clear by Darryll Meggatt.
The 9th minute of the second half saw the first yellow card of the match for the Wasps Doyle, after he handled the ball in midfield to stop a Rovers counter attack before Nade played Anderson in. Cutting in from the right Anderson unleashed a vicious shot that was heroically blocked by Marr at full stretch.
Kevin Cawley – easily Alloa’s most dangerous player – then warmed Kevin Cuthberts gloves with a shot to the Raith ‘keepers right. Paul Watson then went up against Spence in a test of pace to prevent the former Raith man breaking through on goal.
Doyle, already on a yellow card, then clashed late with McKeown after the Northern Irishman had done well to track back and clear the ball under pressure to halt an Alloa surge. Sensible refereeing from ref Alan Muir, where others might have brandished a second yellow, the official had a quiet word with the Alloa right back.
By the time play flowed to the other end of the pitch Mark Stewart had tested the Alloa defence with an acrobatic ‘scissor kick’ that was deflected off the field. The resultant corner was cleared for another, from which centre half Ross Perry had a strong drive blocked and cleared by Gordon.
Alloa striker Greig Spence’s name made its way into the ref’s book after the former Celtic, Hamilton and Rovers man caught McKeown late. No arguments from young Greig, who managed to crack a joke with McKeown about the incident.
On 65 minutes the first substitution of the game was made by Alloa manager Barry Smith; Liam Buchanan had had a frustrating game up front for Alloa and was replaced by midfielder Iain Flannigan with the more mobile Kevin Cawley pushing on to partner Spence in attack.
Martin Scott, maybe with the memories still fresh of a spectacular goal scored from the halfway line last season for Livi, then attempted an audacious effort from a mere 30 yards that went straight to Gibson.
Sensing that the win still wasn’t guaranteed, Stewart broke away again but the move broke down when the ball was laid off to Fox who delivered the ball to early and Conroy was unable to chase it as he would’ve been flagged offside by the assistant referee. Then, with quarter of an hour remaining Thomson, Nade and Anderson combined well in a flowing move down the entire right hand side of the pitch to play Stewart in who was crowded out on the touchline.
Rovers gaffer Grant Murray, who opted for a different look on the touchline by wearing his Challenge Cup Final suit from last season, then made his first substitution of the match; Kevin Moon (making his first senior competitive appearance of the season after playing the first hour of the Fife Cup tie at Burntisland Shipyard in midweek) replacing wide man Grant Anderson. Moon moved into the middle to partner Liam Fox with Martin Scott taking Anderson’s place on the right. At the same time Alloa boss Smith replace McCord with Ferns, who moved up front to partner Spence with Cawley dropping back to his preferred midfield patch.
On the 84th minute Rovers final substitution was made with the impressive Mark Stewart being replaced in a like-for-like switch by young Lewis Vaughan. The former Bradford and Falkirk man can be rightly pleased with his contribution to the league campaign so far, and will give Grant Murray a pleasant dilemma over who to partner Nade with v Hearts next weekend.
The main incidents of note in the final 5 minutes of a game (that somehow had another 4 minutes of added time) were Greig Spence receiving the ball out wide on the left before cutting in and attempting a long range effort on goal that didn’t trouble Cuthbert and Martin Scott picking up a yellow card for a foul on Stephen Simmons on the halfway line.
Overall, Rovers can be happy about picking up 3 points at a ground where the opposition have always provided a stern test – in the end one goal was enough to seal the deal at Recreation Park, and defensively Rovers looked sound throughout. The first big test of where Rovers are looms large when Hearts visit Starks Park next Saturday…..
© Eddie Doig 2014
Raith Rovers head to Recreation Park to face Alloa Athletic on Saturday, looking to build on last weekend’s promising 3-1 home win over Dumbarton.
Second-half goals from Paul Watson, Ryan Conroy and Christian Nadé, meant that Raith ended the first round of fixtures at the summit of the Championship table, a position that they’ll be hoping to consolidate against Barry Smith’s side.
Alloa will be hoping to get their first points on the board, after a 2-0 defeat at Queen of the South on the opening day. The scoreline only tells part of the story however, with Queens’ 2-0 half-time lead slightly flattering, after Alloa started the match brightly. Like Raith, the Wasps have brought in several new faces over the summer, with Barry Smith concentrating predominantly on refreshing his forward options, as well as bringing in some attack minded midfielders.
Greig Spence is obviously well known to the Raith fans after two years at Stark’s Park, and he could be partnered up-front with ex-Dunfermline and East Fife forward, Liam Buchanan, or former Stirling Albion striker, David Weatherston. Goalkeeper John Gibson has been signed from Dundee, after the talented Scott Bain left the Rec’ during the summer, to head in the opposite direction. Left-back Mark Docherty has signed up after leaving Stranraer, while former Motherwell midfielders, Adam Ashgar and Steven Hetherington, have both been reunited by Barry Smith.
While a Callum Booth free-kick was enough to hand Raith the victory the last time the two sides met at this venue in March, Recreation Park has been far from a happy-hunting ground for the Kirkcaldy club recently. That 1-0 win was Rovers first in eight visits, a run that went all the way back to April 2007. However, in the last ten league meetings between the two teams, Rovers have won five and lost only twice.
Saturday’s match referee will be Alan Muir.
What the Manager Said:
Raith Rovers versus Dumbarton games tend to be goal-laden affairs, and Saturday was no exception, with Raith eventually emerging with a 3-1 victory. While Grant Murray felt the first-half was tight, he thought that his side were worthy winners, after a dominant second-half showing,
“We had a few high-scoring games between ourselves and Dumbarton last season, and we knew that they were the second highest scorer’s in the division last year, so we very aware of that going into the game. I didn’t think there was a lot in it in that first-half. Dumbarton had a couple of chances, but I felt we came into the game once we got to grip with things, and we started to look a lot livelier. It was important to get the opener, and once we did, I thought we ended up with a reasonably convincing win.”
“We said at half-time, that in tight games, you really have to be clinical when a chance comes your way, and punish the opposition. Thankfully we did that on Saturday, when Paul Watson was there, reacting to a ball that had been won in the box. Once he stuck that away you could see the difference it made and the lift it gave us in terms of confidence.”
“Ryan Conroy’s goal put us two up, and what a finish it was. We were well aware of what he can do with set-pieces, because he did it often enough while playing with Dundee. At that point, I thought the game opened up a wee bit, as Dumbarton really had to go for it, but then Christian Nadé got on the end of a good ball from Mark Stewart, and it was a cool finish from the big man.”
“Even after that, I felt we maybe could have had a fourth, with the amount of chances we’d created. We were happy with the three goals though, and we were disappointed about the one we conceded right at the death, when they were pushing a lot of bodies forward, but overall we’re pleased. Every team wants to get off to a good start, and thankfully we did, with a god win in front of our own fans.”
There’s been big changes to the playing staff over the summer, with several players departing, and seven new arrivals coming in. Christian Nadé already appears to be a big favourite with the fans, but Grant is happy with how everyone has bedded in,
“We’ve a nucleus of new-faces now, with seven new players coming into the club over the summer. That’s a big turnover, but we had to react to the players who departed. We feel we’ve added some good quality players to the quality we also re-signed, and I think they’ve slotted in well. We’ve had some injuries and niggles over the pre-season, and at this moment in time, we’re missing Dougie Hill and Craig Barr, which is unfortunate.”
“Of the guys we’ve brought in, we’re pretty familiar with what they can all do. I’ve known Kevin Cuthbert since he was a fairly young player coming through, but he’s now a very experienced goalkeeper. We were a bit unsure about how that position was going to look at the start of the season, in regards to David McGurn’s injury, but Kevin’s come in and provided some good competition.”
“It’s the same with the other players who have come in, they’re all very capable, and adding something to the side. Craig Barr is still out, but Christian Nadé, Ross Perry, Rory McKeown, Ryan Conroy, Martin Scott and Mark Stewart have all come straight into the side and contributed, which is really encouraging.”
Rovers will be up against a couple of old-faces on Saturday, with potential starting places in the Alloa line-up for Stephen Simmons and Greig Spence, and while the home side lost their opener against Queens’, Murray feels you can’t read too much into the result,
“This is always a very competitive league, but with the addition of the Hearts, Hibs and Rangers, everyone is trying to give themselves a wee bit of a boost, and Alloa have added a few players over the pre-season. It looks like they were a wee bit unfortunate to find themselves behind on Saturday against Queen of the South, because they created a good few chances before Queens’ took the lead. That they’re getting players in goal scoring positions isn’t a surprise, when you look at who they’ve brought in. Of course, we’re very familiar with Greig Spence, and alongside him, they’ve brought in Liam Buchanan, a guy whose got experience of playing in the top tier. We’re aware that it’s a strike force that we’ll need to be prepared for come Saturday.”
Head-to-Head League Record at Alloa:
Alloa Athletic wins: 17 | Raith Rovers wins: 21 | Draws: 6
Alloa Athletic goals: 72 | Raith Rovers goals: 82
Top Goalscorers in all Competitions:
Alloa Athletic: Greig Spence 4
Raith Rovers: Ryan Conroy 2 | Calum Elliot 2 | Chritian Nade 1 | Paul Watson 1
Alloa Athletic: 19/10 | Raith Rovers: 5/4 | Draw: 12/5