Raith survive late onslaught for 2-1 win
Raith withstood a spirited Dumbarton fight-back to take the spoils in a 2-1 victory which extended the home side’s winning run to three games. First-half goals from Ryan Conroy and Grant Anderson were enough to take three points, although the visitors created several great chances in the final minutes to snatch an equaliser following Mitch Megginson’s late strike.
Following a quiet start to the match, Raith struck twice in three first-half minutes, and played a confident free-flowing style of passing football that suggested more was to follow in the second half. Manager Murray will be pleased to have a third consecutive win secured, given the numerous late chances created around Dave McGurn’s goal in the match’s final nervous moments.
With last week’s match against Queen of the South postponed, and a sickness bug which had troubled the home dressing room now clear, Raith went into today’s game with a clean bill of health for the first time this season. Grant Murray sent out an unchanged eleven from his side’s last competitive outing – the 0-1 derby win at Cowdenbeath.
For Dumbarton, the main issue was confidence after recent heavy defeats. The ‘Sons had lost sixteen goals in three recent games against the Championship’s top three teams, despite having a good record against sides near them in the table. Manager Ian Murray sent out a side including midfield tandem Scott Agnew and Chris Turner, experienced campaigners David van Zanten and Lee Mair, and a youthful attack led by former Rangers’ striker Archie Campbell.
Although Raith started the match passing the ball confidently enough, there was little to speak about in the opening stages. Grant Anderson tested his opposite number, crossing for Findlay to head clear; while at the other end a Hill back-pass was nearly intercepted by an alert Campbell. With ten minutes gone, Ross Callachan came inside to fire narrowly over Rogers’ cross-bar from twenty yards. A moment later, the young midfielder had another try, although this second effort sliced well wide. Scott’s header from a hanging Callachan cross flew over.
Callachan’s bursting runs forward was evidence of a recent tactical switch by Murray – the more familiar midfield pairing of Fox and Moon both started on the bench today, with Callachan given midfield licence to spread the play and support his strikers, with much hard graft coming from Martin Scott stationed in front of his centre-halves. The more astute Raith fans may reflect that Grant Murray has struggled so far this season to find a position for Scott, who’s strength and bite in the tackle offer qualities deserving of a berth in the first team. Recent results augur well for this relatively new midfield pairing.
The match sprang into life with twenty minutes gone. A sharp through ball from Campbell released Fleming between Hill and Watson. McGurn advanced to the corner of his box and diverted the visiting striker, who’s weak cross allowed Watson to thump clear. At the other end, Conroy’s deep centre was returned across goal by Anderson. Stewart’s clipped finish stuck a post before rebounding into Rogers’ grateful grasp.
Raith began to flow through midfield, with the front six all appearing keen to take control and engage their opposite numbers. Stewart was freed to shoot by Conroy, after Elliot had dropped off encouraging Thomson to join the attack, only to be narrowly flagged offside; and Conroy’s dipping free-kick from twenty-five yards had Rogers anxiously watching the shot fly just wide.
The home-side’s opening goal was fully deserved on the balance of play, when it arrived on twenty-eight minutes. Watson found Anderson on the right touch-line, who bamboozled Linton and set off for goal, cutting inside Mair only to be tripped inside the box by Turner. Referee McKendrick pointed to the spot immediately, and Conroy gave Rogers no chance from twelve yards.
With two wins behind them and a goal to the good, Raith pressed on with an assuredness that left Dumbarton chasing shadows. Conroy broke clear and fired just wide, as Raith passed the ball with purpose and poise.
Moments later, Raith scored a fine second. Callachan, taking a prominent role directing traffic, slipped an inviting ball through the inside-left channel to Elliot, who turned and chipped the perfect cross over Rogers allowing Grant Anderson to double Raith’s advantage with a header from point-blank range.
Dumbarton hadn’t been seen much as an attacking force up until this point. Falling behind to two quick goals prompted a reaction – Megginson freed himself from Scott’s attentions before finding Fleming who shot wide of McGurn’s goal. A better chance followed minutes later – Raith’s defence momentarily switched off, allowing Megginson a free header from Agnew’s cross. The Dumbarton No.10’s weak finish was a real let-off for the home side. Another burst from Campbell saw his whipped cross well headed clear by McKeown.
Just before half-time, Raith put together another fine passage of attacking play. Although Elliot was crowded out following a neat interchange between McKeown and Scott, there was a real brightness and spark in some of the home side’s forward movements, with several forwards making angled runs offering options. A two-goal lead at the break was deserved on the balance of play.
For all Raith’s composure in the first half, the second half began with Dumbarton on the front foot. Megginson headed over in the opening seconds, and Turner steadied himself and issued a rising shot from distance which flashed across McGurn’s radar. Dumbarton manager Ian Murray had clearly demanded of his team greater quality of possession in the second half, with greater numbers being committed forward.
This approach nearly came unstuck on forty-nine minutes. From a Dumbarton corner, Raith broke quickly. With a three-on-two, Elliot chipped inside to Scott, who committed a defender before releasing Stewart. With Rogers bearing down on him, Stewart’s curled finished just crept beyond the post.
Notwithstanding that scare, Dumbarton had their best spell of the match in the opening quarter following half-time. Agnew scurried around the central third, frequently making good use of possession, and creating several openings for Campbell, Fleming, and Meggison ahead of him.
On the hour-mark, Agnew fired shots at McGurn – once from distance following great wide play by Dumbarton captain Andy Graham and Megginson, and once from a more advanced position with his stinging drive gathered by McGurn following Scott and Conroy failing to clear.
Findlay headed wide following a deep Agnew cross; Campbell chipped just beyond Megginson with Watson and Hill looking on; and young centre-half Findlay stepped out of defence and was inches away from releasing Campbell with a fine threaded through-ball. Young centre-half Stuart Findlay – who joined Dumbarton on loan from Celtic this week – was impressive both in defence and linking with Agnew and Turner when striding forward.
As the match moved into its final quarter, Raith managed to re-assert themselves. McGurn commanded his area, claiming an Agnew corner under real pressure; this act of resilience seemed to lift his outfield team-mates. A McKeown long-throw nearly fell for Conroy although the ball wouldn’t sit for the Raith striker to test Rogers; a raking cross-field pass from Callachan just fell beyond Grant Anderson escaping beyond his marker; and following a scramble in the six-yard box, an Elliot shot on the turn following a fumble by Rogers was bundled clear by Linton. With his head up at the corner-flag, Anderson found a marauding Jason Thomson, with Rogers’ saving the man-of-the-match’s effort low to his right.
With Murray withdrawing Scott and Stewart for Moon and Nadé, Dumbarton moved to a back three, introducing Cuthbert to a wide-left role and committing Fleming as an additional centre-forward. The move began to reap dividends straight away – McGurn didn’t make a clean connection with a van Zanten cross, and in the confusion, an Agnew shot was blocked clear by Watson.
Within moments, Dumbarton had clawed a goal back. Agnew escaped into space and fired a fierce shot at McGurn. The Raith keeper did well to block the goal-bound effort, but Megginson was on hand to fire home the rebound.
For the minutes that followed, Raith clung on to their one-goal advantage, their lead looking more and more slender as manager Ian Murray waved his players forward. Following a high cross, McGurn was challenged in the air, and Megginson’s rising rebound clipped the Raith bar with the goal gaping. Megginson, and the travelling support, held their heads.
Grant Murray introduced Barrie McKay in an effort to make better use of the possession Raith were able to gain in midfield, and the young winger’s confidence in possession made a real difference in injury time as Raith looked to see out the closing minutes.
Given Dumbarton’s final surge since Megginson’s goal, it seemed inevitable that the visitors would have one final chance to steal a point. From Cuthbert’s high cross, Agnew’s goal-bound shot was turned onto the cross-bar with McGurn at full stretch, with captain Graham’s header from the rebound nodded to safety by McKeown. Within moments, referee McKendrick blew the full-time whistle, music to the ears of the Raith faithful. Having hit the woodwork twice in the closing stages, several Dumbarton players sank to their knees at the final whistle, denied any reward for their second-half efforts.
As previous results have shown, these two sides are well balanced and well matched – although Raith had the better of the first half, Dumbarton had two glorious chances for equaliser late on, and put Raith under real pressure in the second half of this pulsating encounter. The Raith management team will reflect positively on three wins in a row, and the encouraging midfield performance of Callachan and Scott although both tired here late on – despite the late scare, Raith should head into a testing run of games against the Championship’s heavyweights full of confidence.
© Tony Fimister 2014
Davie caught up with the gaffer after the match
Grant Anderson talked about the game to Davie