Penalty Save Earns Raith A Point
Goalless draws can be rather dull affairs, but Raith Rovers and Dundee United bucked that trend this afternoon in serving up a clash that, for all the net didn’t bulge, offered up entertainment and talking points aplenty in an absorbing pre-festive ninety minutes.
Rovers manager Gary Locke welcomed back Kyle Benedictus following suspension, and Bobby Barr enjoyed his first starting berth for some weeks, as the home side looked to regain momentum following a run of results that has seen them fall out of the play-off places thanks to a resurgent Morton. United, of course, have no such worries, given they are currently sharing top spot with Hibernian in what is undoubtedly a fiercely competitive division.
The home fans welcomed back former boss Ray McKinnon and defender Lewis Toshney, though the latter would have little reason to fondly recall his return to Stark’s Park as the afternoon unfolded.
As could have been predicted in a fixture with two sides with ambitions of at least pay-off spots next May, the opening exchanges were frantic and competitive, though we had to wait seven minutes for the first shot on target, however United forward Tope Obadeyi’s shot failed to trouble home keeper Kevin Cuthbert, who nonchalantly escorted it round the post. Rovers winger Chris Johnston, who enjoyed a lively afternoon, then won a free-kick just outside the box, though Barr’s delicately lighted cross was easily cleared.
Kevin McHattie, who turned in what would become a man of the match performance, found himself with an opportunity at the back post, but his effort was blocked by Arabs keeper Cammy Bell, and shortly afterwards a bit of urgent repair work on the net at the Rovers goal – as the action was raging the other end, but no matter – drew hearty cheers from the home support, a set of ladders and a chap sporting nifty antlers doing the needful as far as SFA netting regulations were concerned.
After quarter of an hour, the dangerous Obadeyi meandered into the Rovers box without a challenge worthy of the name, although he was eventually crowded out just as he readied himself for a shot at goal. In response, Rovers broke up-field, and Declan McManus’s incisive pass found Ross Callachan galloping forward with purpose, though the midfielder’s low shot was easily smothered by Bell.
Blair Spittal, having won a soft-looking free-kick for the visitors 25 yards from goal, sent his short straight down Cuthbert’s throat – the keeper could have ho ho ho’d festive greetings at this present – though both he and Ian Davidson had to look lively to keep United at bay shorty afterwards with a series of blocks within the box. United, on the front foot at this stage, then enjoyed an audacious shot courtesy of Mark Durnan from fully fifty yards, but David Beckham-esque this wasn’t as the ball dribbled out for a goal kick, much to Cuthbert’s obvious amusement.
Former Rovers player Toshney, who had predictably attracted the ire of the fans within the home stand, picked up the game’s first caution for a mindless tackle on former team-mate Benedictus (the pair didn’t exactly exchange festive greetings in the immediate aftermath of Toshney’s indiscretion), and little did the 4,000-plus crowd know that that would come back to haunt the big defender later on.
McManus then indulged in a darting run down the right wing, his adroit cut back cut narrowly failing to find any takers. Shortly afterwards, Kevin McHattie picked up the first yellow card of the contest for a late tackle on Toshney. A mistake by Jean Yves-M’Voto then presented Obadeyi with a chance, but the striker’s shot sailed harmlessly into row z accompanied by obligatory cheers.
As the interval approached, United’s Spittal was very fortunate to escape a booking having continued his forward dash with a shot – which cleared the bar by some distance in any case – despite the referee’s offside whistle being audible to those taking a stroll along Kinghorn beach at the time. M’Voto had a chance to score but his header lacked conviction then some typical Johnston trickery almost led to the opener, though Skacel’s header rebounded off the bar with the keeper beaten.
The second half opened with the two evenly matched sides looking for an opening, though Davidson had the home fans’ hearts in their mouths with a headed backpass that had Cuthbert scrambling across his six-yard line. Johnston, not for the first time, tried to grab the game by the scruff of its neck with a dinking run from the right flank, but his curling effort never looked likely to trouble the net. By way of response, Obadeyi tried his luck with a rasping shot which lacked direction if not power. Ross Callachan then elected to try a long range shot, an for all he applied commendable accuracy, his shot was easily gathered under his crossbar by Bell.
And then, ten minutes into the second half, all hell broke loose. Lewis Toshney was sent off after receiving his second yellow card for felling Barr as he darted into the United danger area – not a happy return for the defender – then Arabs defender Durnan was cautioned for protesting, though he was perhaps fortunate to avoid following Toshney into the early bath in light of his sarcastic applause behind the referee’s back afterwards. The referee then exchanged pleasantries with the United bench before a deflected shot was parried round the post by Bell, though the dive had a distinct Hollywood ring to it.
United manager McKinnon then shuffled his pack with a couple of substitutions, though Bell had to look lively to keep out a smart Callachan header. Rovers then came within a whisker of taking the lead. McHattie won a typically-robust challenge before feeding Skacel, whose whipped cross was glanced narrowly wide of the far post with Bell beaten and the home fans rising to acclaim the goal that never came.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, United looked dangerous on the counter attack, and if anything they enjoyed supremacy for most of the closing stages. Mark Stewart was introduced for Rovers at the expense of the tiring Skacel, before Rovers conceded a penalty for a clumsy Benedictus challenge inside the box. However, as the tangerine-clad occupants of the north stand readied themselves to celebrate, Cuthbert’s diving save low to his right maintained parity, and the Rovers fans celebrated as if Santa had come early.
The final ten minutes or so proved highly entertaining, as both sides sough a winning goal. United were on the offensive for the most part, certainly enjoying the lion’s share of possession and territorial advantage, with Rovers struggling to clear their lines and seeking to hit their opponents on the break. McManus went close with a header before being yellow carded for a lunging tackle, then Johnston flashed an ambitious shot high over the bar following good work on the right wing.
Rovers then introduced Lewis Vaughan in an attempt to win the three points, but United’s defence would not be breached. Stewart’s intelligent cut back was cleared with fellow-sub Vaughan set to pounce, and as the game entered added-on time an inviting ball was met by Callachan, though the shot arched high into the dark sky before the final whistle sounded.
Rovers will be relatively satisfied with a share of the spoils against one of the best sides in the division, albeit they failed to take full advantage of the additional personnel for the final half hour. For all goals and points are hard to come by in the Championship, Locke’s men will go into next week’s Christmas Eve encounter with Hibernian hoping for some festive cheer to take on to 2017, with a certain derby clash in the offing.
RaithTV spoke to the gaffer after the draw with Dundee United
Chris Johnston spoke to RaithTV for the first time after the match
Dundee United visit Stark’s Park competitively for the first time since 1996 this weekend, as Raith look to bounce back from their first defeat in seven last weekend.
The 1-0 defeat to St Mirren meant that Rovers failed to take advantage of dropped points from the teams above them, with Falkirk drawing 2-2 with Queen of the South, whilst Morton lost to Dunfermline.
Those results left Raith fifth in the Championship, just outside the playoff places on goal difference from Morton
Dundee United on the other hand are the form team of the division, with Ray McKinnon’s men now unbeaten in 11 consecutive league and cup matches, with their last loss coming against Falkirk back in September.
That run has seen them close the gap to Hibernian, which at one stage stretched to seven points, to just goal difference, with Hibs now topping the table by the slenderest of margins.
If this Saturday’s match is anything like the last meeting at Tannadice back in August, then those in attendance are going to be in for a treat.
Willo Flood opened the scoring for the home side after 17 minutes, before Cammy Smith doubled the lead from the penalty spot.
Undaunted however, Rovers grew into the game after the half hour mark, with Jordan Thompson reducing the deficit before the interval, while a Kevin McHattie drive from distance brought Rovers a deserved share of the spoils with 18 minutes remaining.
The most recent head-to-head record between the pair is reasonably even, with three Raith wins to United’s four from the last ten league meetings between the pair.
Saturday’s match referee will be Steven Kirkland.
Head-To-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 6 | Dundee United Wins: 10 | Draws: 5
Raith Rovers Goals: 33 | Dundee United Goals: 37
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-D-D-L
Dundee United: W-W-W-D-W-W
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Mark Stewart 5 | Declan McManus 4 | Ross Callachan 3
Dundee United: Tony Andreu 9 | Simon Murray 8 | Cammy Smith 5
Raith Rovers: 27/10 | Dundee United: Evens | Draw: 5/2