Playoffs to Crown Season after Royal Result
A decent sized support travelled down to Dumfries in spring sunshine knowing that the season could be prolonged if the Rovers maintained their good run. After last week’s draw against the now Champions the Rovers rung the changes – Callachan, Davidson and Thomas made way for Robertson, Connolly and Hardie. Ex Rover Ryan Conroy was on the bench for the hosts and Raith legend Scott Thomson’s lad Robbie was in goals.
In the third minute a Queens cross was headed at Cuthbert. The Rovers first attack was prompted by good work from the returning Robertson, his persistence saw the ball played into the box and a clearance fell to Craigen whose volley was tipped over by the alert keeper. From the resulting corner Connolly’s ball found Kyle Benedictus who’s firm header from six yards found the side netting to make it 0:1.
With 82 minutes remaining to try and prolong their season the Queens didn’t seem keen on giving up. A cross into the Raith box was too strong then following a corner the ball pinged about in the box before being stabbed wide by a home man. Longridge did well to carve an opening after good interplay but his effort failed to meet the same standard as the build up. Another good bit of attacking play from the Rovers saw Thomson get wide and his ball in was laid off by Longridge to Connolly. Aiden’s drive from the edge of the box was viciously struck but blocked by a defender.
At the mid point of the half Iain Russell went down in the box with Barr by him. It was not a dangerous position and referee adjudged the Queens man to have tried to maximise his teams advantage giving the Rovers a free kick and the veteran a talking too but no card. Moments later the winger should have known better than to kick out a Benedictus – but he was lucky the officials didn’t see him do so. The Rovers support however had a perfect view of his petulance. By this point the rest of the Queens were trying to get back into the game by fairer means and the Rovers had to withstand pressure up until the half with Longridge and Hardie almost combining on the break being a rare Raith foray forward. Hutton shot high and wide, Cuthbert took a cross well in traffic before Oliver fired a direct free well kick onto the terracing. A good cross, which followed another poor one, was headed firmly at goal by Brownlie and Cuthbert had to throw himself to his left to touch it away before the defence mopped up. Another chance from a free kick saw Cuthbert tip over an effort before a home man was penalised. The last chance of the half saw Connolly breaking and Hutton hack him down cynically at midfield – he was also spoken to but unpunished.
Rovers support were pleased to hear the whistle knowing that the players would relish a break from the pressure the Doonhamers had been exerting.
The first minute of the second half made clear that the home side were not letting up in their push for an equaliser as Barr cut out a dangerous ball well in the Rovers six yard box. At the other end a long throw from Rory was not claimed by keeper Thomson and his blushes were spared as he saved Longridge’s first time effort rather unorthodoxly sat on his, erm, bum on the six yard line. The Rovers had been guilty of letting the Queens back four have time to find a pass and were punished for doing so when a good ball forward saw Dale Hilson take a good touch and elude Barr before firing well past Cuthbert from just inside the box.
Almost immediately after the re-start Tapping scampered into the Rovers box and Cuthbert again did well to block over his shot as the Rovers rocked. Scott Robertson who this week signed up for another year played an excellent ball forward for Longridge. Louis did well running in controlling his shot as he fired the ball at the top corner. Robbie Thomson however did even better knocking the shot away for a corner. That was the Accies loanee’s last involvement as Harry Panayiotou came on to replace him. The Rovers had been playing with Hardie looking a bit lonely up front and Harry moved into a more offensive central role as McKinnon tried to avoid the curse of the Manager of the Month award.
Harry almost scored with his first touch Barr heading on a long throw and Hardie’s touch was perfect for the Leicester man who’s volley on the spin went into the ground losing some of its sting making it easier for Thomson to claim. Kyle Hutton at the other end did well to get on the end of a good free kick heading for goal but another man who had committed his future to the Rovers Kevin Cuthbert did more than well to knock it away for a corner.
Just after the hour Tapping was booked for fouling Harry P – who again was showing some great touches. From a corner the Rovers re-took the lead, Barr headed goalwards and Iain Russell on the post blocked the net bound effort. A home boot cleared the ball but Craig Barr chested the ball down 19 yards out and rifled a low drive into the bottom corner leaving Thomson with no chance. Coolly he ran to the Rovers fans with his arms out as they celebrated his strike. 1:2
Again the Queens had to try and come from behind. Higgins poked an effort wide from a good position following a corner then Craigen – who’d had a quiet game – tried to curl an effort in despite having passing options.
Harry P seemed to be enjoying himself and he played in Rory wide who sent in a great cross but no Rover was able to take advantage. Robertson was showing no sign of tiring despite his injury lay off and he did well tracking a runner who was trying to get on the end of a deep ball into the Raith box.
The game remained even and Harry had an effort blocked. Thomson the keeper was keen to prompt a counter attack and ran to the edge of his box looking to throw the ball on. He ended up a full yard outside his box with the ball still in his hands but was rather luckier than his Dad was in a Cup Semi Final Raith fans remember all too well. It was as obvious a free kick and booking as there will have been in the country but somehow Kevin Clancy and his well positioned linesman both failed to act. Derek Lyle – who had come off the bench – almost took advantage shooting wide after a stramash in the Rovers box while Robbie at the other end no doubt had a large sigh of relief.
Grant Anderson replaced Craigen and won a header wide with his first touch. Then the pacey wide man got past a defender and crossed well. Aging tan fan Derek Lyle used width at the other end and a Queens man will have been gutted to see his header stopped by a great save from Cuthbert. As the hosts tried to keep their season going a cross came back off the bar and Millar saw yellow for losing his cool and berating the whistler after shooting wide.
Iain Russell got on the end of a great pass and goal side saw his low effort stabbed away by the foot of on form Cuthbert. Joel Thomas came on for Hardie who had had little change out of the home centre backs. As time started to wind down on their season the Queens tried again to beat Cuthbert Lyle shooting on the angle when he should have squared it. Then as if to typify his approach to the match Iain Russell eluded a strong challenge from Thomson outside the box – which was probably a foul – before going down with Barr beside him in it. Clancy ignored his rather obvious tactics as Barr remonstrated the home man – perhaps he was reminding him that he’d be busy in the post season while Iain and his colleagues won’t or maybe he was just asking him for a tip for the Grand National…
That was the last incident of the match as the Rovers continued their run as the Divisions form team. There was no Manager of the Month curse for Ray McKinnon but all present will know that was more to do with the performance of Kevin Cuthbert between the sticks than anyone else.
All The Goals From Saturday’s Match
© Eddie Doig
RaithTV spoke to a delighted Ray McKinnon after securing the playoff spot in Dumfries
At one point on Saturday, it appeared that Rovers appearance in the play-offs was confirmed with the point Rangers, however, the Doonhamers were also involved in their own last-gasp excitement, with Iain Russell’s equaliser in their 2-2 draw with Falkirk, ensuring Rovers fourth position in the table wasn’t quite signed, sealed and delivered. After the incredible drama of Saturday’s 3-3 draw against Rangers, Raith Rovers head to Dumfries this weekend, looking for the point which will confirm their place in the end-of-season play-offs.
However, if this match goes the way of the other meetings this season, then Rovers will have the final place sewn up by Saturday evening.
A Kyle Benedictus header sealed all three points in a 1-0 win in September, but the Kirkcaldy side were reliant on a Robbie Thomson own-goal to open the scoring in the return game in December, only for Iain Russell to level things up early in the second-half, in a match which finished 1-1.
Last month’s match was a far more straightforward affair for Rovers, with Mark Stewart and James Craigen scoring the goals in a perfunctory 2-0 victory.
This season’s fixtures means Rovers have now went four league games unbeaten against Queens, their best sequence since they went 8 league games without loss, although unusually, that stretched from 1987 to 2003.
The current run will face a stern test this weekend however, against a side who have only lost once at home in their last nine fixtures, a 1-0 defeat against Rangers in February.
Saturday’s match referee will be Kevin Clancy.
Head-To-Head Record at Palmerston Park:
Queen of the South Wins: 18 | Raith Rovers Wins: 15 | Draws: 16
Queen of the South Goals: 77 | Raith Rovers Goals: 67
Queen of the South: L-L-L-W-L-D
Raith Rovers: W-D-W-W-W-D
Queen of the South: Derek Lyle 10 | Iain Russell 10 | Gary Oliver 5
Raith Rovers: Mark Stewart 11 | James Craigen 8 | Kyle Benedictus 4 | Ryan Hardie 4
Queen of the South: 11/8 | Raith Rovers: 15/8 | Draw: 5/2