Fine Start As Lions Tamed
Raith Rovers got their Championship season off to the best possible start this afternoon, with a 3-0 opening day victory against Livingston at Stark’s Park.
With Kyle Benedictus suspended, it was expected that Raith may have been short-handed at the back, but with Lewis Toshney surprisingly passed fit after turning on his ankle a fortnight ago, it was he and 18-year-old David Bates who anchored the defence.
Up-front, Craig Wighton replaced the injured Lewis Vaughan, with the on-loan Dundee forward partnering Mark Stewart, whilst Iain Davidson took a place on the substitutes bench, after the former Raith captain was snapped up by manager Ray McKinnon on the eve of the new season.
The match started with Livingston shooting towards the South Stand, and they chiselled out the first chance of the match.
Good work from Myles Hippolyte down the right-hand side led to Livingston winning a corner, and from Danny Mullen’s delivery, Darren Cole forced a downward header towards goal, which Kevin Cuthbert did well to trap between his legs.
It was the first of three corners which Mark Burchill’s side won in the opening exchanges, but Raith dealt with them well as Livingston started the match brightly.
Despite this, it was Raith who took the lead after eight minutes. Ryan McCord looked like he was going to send a free-kick into the congested penalty-area, but instead, he slid it wide to Wighton, whose sidefoot shot from the edge of the area lacked muster. Fortunately, the ball fell kindly to Mark Stewart, who calmly dispatched an effort past Darren Jamieson from close range.
Rovers may have had their noses in front, but Hippolyte on the right, and Mullen on the left, were proving to be a constant threat to Rovers. Firstly, Jason Thomson had to time a sliding tackle to perfection after Mullen advanced from a deep position, and then the same player got a shot off after combining with Scott Pittman, which Cuthbert saved comfortably.
The goalkeeper then almost became a creative force for Raith, as his huge punt up-field caught out Declan Gallagher, allowing Stewart to gallop in on goal, but he swiped at his shot on the bounce and sent it wide.
The match was now an open and entertaining end-to-end affair, and after Jordan White had plonked a shot into the side netting, Cuthbert prevented that man Mullen from restoring parity, excellently palming away his goal-bound shot, after more good work from Pittman.
Back came Rovers in an ebbing, flowing contest, and after a well-worked move across the edge of Livi’s penalty area, the ball was eventually rolled into Rory McKeown’s path, and after the left-back grabbed his first goal for the club last week, he almost nicked his second in two games, but his shot dribbled just wide of Jamieson’s left-hand post.
Rovers did extend their lead in the 33rd minute, and it arrived in controversial circumstances. Grant Anderson’s cross inside the box was initially blocked, which the winger instantly appealed. However, play continued, and his second attempt fell to Wighton, whose shot was diverted onto a post by James Craigen. To most viewers surprise, referee Mat Notherton had pointed to the penalty spot, much to the Livingston players chagrin.
Darren Jamieson has a fine record at saving penalties, including stops against Raith over the last few seasons, but Ryan McCord was undeterred, dispatching his shot to Jamieson’s left as the ‘keeper went to his right.
Livingston were downheartened but far from out the game, and a mix-up between Cuthbert and Toshney allowed the ball to run to Hippolyte, but his lob attempt from outside the box cleared the crossbar.
Cuthbert then denied the visitors twice in the closing stages of the half, firstly denying Liam Buchanan when the former Alloa forward attempted to dink it over him, and then he reacted well to a Mullen free-kick, tipping it away to his right in the dying embers of the half.
The second-period brought some new arrivals. The first, was Gary Glen, who replaced Jackson Longridge as Mark Burchill went with a back-three and five in midfield. The second, was a baby seagull, which took up residency on the park, close to the tunnel, seemingly content as play raged on around it.
Curiously, the interloper almost had a hand in a goal, as a long ball forward should have been gathered by Jamieson, but he seemed to pause as the bird took flight across his path, allowing Craigen to scoop up the loose pass, but his cross was blocked.
The second-half had a more stifled feel to it, and if anything, the alterations to Livi’s system appeared a hindrance as opposed to a help. Neither side were as fluent as they’d been in the first 45, but Livi’s creativity especially had dwindled away.
With half-an-hour remaining, Raith were inches away from going three up. Grant Anderson picked up possession and scampered forward, freeing up Ross Callachan, whose cross to the back-post was headed towards the back post by Stewart, but with Wighton on-hand to poke it home, his attempt was deflected away for a corner.
They came even closer three minutes later, when Anderson was able to sprint clear of the Livi defence, but with just the ‘keeper to beat, his firmly struck shot cannoned back off the post, much to Anderson’s disgust.
On 70 minutes, Ray McKinnon made a double substitution, replacing McCord and Anderson with Davidson and Mitch Megginson, and it didn’t take the latter of the two subs to make their mark. Pressing the ball deep inside the Livingston half, his challenge diverted the ball into Wighton’s path, but his weak shot allowed Jamieson time to get down and divert it away.
While Livingston pushed for a way back into the match, the Rovers defence dealt with most things reasonably comfortably, and as the game started to wind down, Rovers grabbed another goal.
Excellent work down the right by James Craigen preceded his pass inside to Megginson, and despite receiving the ball with his back to goal, he turned superbly, before crashing a shot beyond the helpless Jamieson.
The full-time whistle meant Raith had secured their third consecutive victory, and their third consecutive clean-sheet, meaning they travel to Falkirk next Saturday in both good form, and fine fettle.
The match highlights video will appear here shortly
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2015
Raith TV spoke with the gaffer after the game
Both teams have won their first two cup ties against lower league opposition. While Ray McKinnon’s men were dispensing with Cowdenbeath and Albion Rovers in the Petrofac Training Cup and League Cup respectively, Livingston had a double-header against Barry Ferguson’s Clyde team.
Both were tight affairs, with Livingston emerging by a single goal on either occasion. The first, saw excellent strikes from Miles Hippolyte and Danny Mullen take The Amber Machine through to the next round, although Michael Bolochoweckyk reduced the arrears late on.
Last Saturday’s match was even closer, eventually requiring extra-time after 90 goalless minutes, before Jordan White’s winner prevented the match from heading to penalties.
Mark Burchill had a hectic summer period, bringing in a dozen new faces in the build up to the new term. In defence, former Alloa Athletic captain, Ben Gordon has been brought in, while full-backs, Ross Millen and Jackson Longridge have been acquired from Dunfermline and Stranraer.The Livingston boss also raided Alloa for their 14-goal striker, Liam Buchanan, and he’ll be expected to lead the line this weekend.
Raith had a fine record at Almondvale Stadium last season, winning both matches without conceding a goal, but it was a different story here at Stark’s Park, where Raith lost heavily in both matches.
In December, a red-card for Ross Perry in the opening few moments was the pre-cursor to a 5-1 defeat, while in April, Livi were again clear winners in a 4-0 away win.
There’s rarely a draw in this fixture, with just four in 26 meetings, the last of which was in 2012. However, the recent head-to-head record does see Livingston hold the advantage, with six wins to Rovers four in the last ten fixtures.
Saturday’s match referee will be Mat Northcroft.
Head-to-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 3 | Livingston Wins: 8 | Draws: 1
Raith Rovers Goals: 11 | Livingston Goals: 25
Raith Rovers: W-W | Livingston W-W
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 2 | Kyle Benedictus 1 | Rory McKeown 1
Livingston: Jordan White 1 | Danny Mullen 1 | Miles Hippolyte 1
Raith Rovers: 6/5 | Livingston: 9/4 | Draw: 5/2