Raith falter as Falkirk hit four
A confident and robust Falkirk side eased past Raith Rovers at Starks Park this afternoon, condemning the home side to a 4-1 defeat, putting clear distance between Raith and the main play-off contenders in this season’s Scottish Championship.
Despite having taken an early lead, Raith were unable to overcome the early loss of debutant Ryan Stevenson, with Falkirk gaining the upper hand in each of the game’s key areas. Gary Locke’s side have now gone eight games without a League win, and the Rovers’ lack of confidence was evident as the visitors seldom looked under pressure once they put their noses in front in the first half. Raith’s management team have real work to do to restore Rovers after this energy-sapping and demoralising defeat.Under grey winter skies, Raith started brightly. Whilst required to make one enforced defensive change – Jean-Yves M’Voto dropping out after sustaining a knock in last Saturday’s derby defeat; Kyle Benedictus returning following suspension – Locke introduced his two recent signings to the front line. Ryan Hardie and Ryan Stevenson present two different propositions in, on paper, a well-matched and complimentary front-line. Hardie’s pace coupled with two quick feet should sit well with Stevenson’s traditionally full-bodied and physical approach to the role of striker.
The early signs were good. Stevenson’s early shot forced Raith’s first corner, and a subsequent flick-on released Johnston to chip over Murdoch to give Raith a deserved lead. Visiting defenders Grant and Watson – no shrinking violets themselves – girded themselves for a long afternoon.
Raith’s rearguard had looked long when passing forward, aiming for Stevenson as a platform deep in enemy territory. Controlling possession or nodding into space, Stevenson allowed Hardie and his midfielders to feed off good-quality second balls. In ten minutes though, disaster struck. The impressive Johnston swung in an inviting cross, and Falkirk’s young keeper Rogers punched clear, clashing heavily with Stevenson in the process. The Raith striker needed two minutes of attention on the park, and was substituted shortly after with delayed concussion, a hospital visit inevitable. With McManus introduced as Hardie’s strike partner, the dynamics of Raith’s forward-play would change.
Falkirk composed themselves, and levelled shortly after. With the experience of Kerr and Sibbald in the centre, and the constant endeavour of Baird supporting the excellent McHugh, the visitors were soon creating chances of their own. Callachan fouled Sibbald, and from twenty-five yards, Hippolyte’s free-kick nestled in Cuthbert’s net with a beautiful addition to his goal tally for the season.
Raith sought a second – an intricate exchange between Johnston and Hardie gave Callachan a sight of goal. The South Stand roared the quality of the build-up play, despite the Raith midfielder’s shot being hacked clear.
Falkirk striker John Baird has impressed with his tenacity, clever link-up play, and genuine endeavour throughout his career. A fans’ favourite at Starks Park, Raith were reminded of Baird’s qualities throughout this afternoon’s match. Harrying defenders or dropping into midfield to win vital challenges, Baird forever seemed to be scampering into space, releasing colleagues, or poised on a defender’s blind-side looking for a through-ball. Cutting across the Raith formation, Baird released Taiwo in the twenty-second minute, who in turn fed McHugh – with a sharp turn, the Falkirk striker finished powerfully beyond Cuthbert to put Falkirk into a lead they would not surrender. Moments later, Baird ran at Jason Thomson, crossing dangerously and calling Cuthbert into action.
The match took its decisive turn shortly before half-time – with Raith having steadied themselves following Stevenson’s departure, a glorious chance for an equaliser fell to Benedictus. The Raith defender’s thumping header was palmed clear by keeper Rogers with a tremendous reaction save. With the crowd still digesting the keeper’s agility, Sibbald found space to deceive Cuthbert from the edge of the Raith box – while Cuthbert’s reaction suggested he should have done better, the fiercely-struck shot took a slight deflection and bounced before the Raith keeper. The net bulged, the away fans roared, and as one, Raith heads dropped. Another Baird cross fizzed through Cuthbert’s airspace as referee Dallas blew for half-time.
While Raith trooped off and a dejected home support registered their disapproval, the management team of Locke and Jackson would have to work hard at half-time to restore their team’s fragile confidence if Raith were to take anything from the game.
Instead, it was Falkirk who sought to kill the game as a contest early in the second-half. A lovely exchange between Hippolyte, Sibbald, and Kerr allowed McHugh to sprint to the by-line – only Davidson’s sliding challenge prevented Baird zero-ing in on Falkirk’s fourth.
Seconds later though, the match was decided as Falkirk unlocked the Raith defence for a fourth time. Young full-back Gallacher drew defenders and fed McHugh in space; Sibbald blasted goalwards, and a heavy deflection off the prone Benedictus gave Cuthbert no chance.
The air gone from Raith sails, little or no forward progress was made in the minutes which followed. Callachan and Jordan Thompson pushed and probed, and both Barr and Johnston sought to stretch their opposite numbers, but the quality of service couldn’t outfox Falkirk’s defensive bulwarks of Watson and Grant. Raith’s possession was forced from one side of the park to the other, with Falkirk seemingly comfortable patrolling the defensive midfield with numbers, supressing any forward forays from their hosts.
Gary Locke withdrew full-back McHattie and brought on Mark Stewart, bravely moving to a three-man defence (Benedictus moving left of the central Davidson), seeking to salvage pride and generate momentum to take into next week. Stewart’s energy created an immediate impact – hustling to the byline, his whipped cross was cleared in front of the onrushing Hardie with Falkirk’s defence in full retreat. Hardie blasted toward goal twice soon after, each blocked clearance symptomatic of the Raith striker’s frustrating afternoon.
With twenty minutes to go, it was clear this wasn’t to be Raith’s afternoon in any sense. Shorn of their attacking lynchpin Stevenson in the early stages, Jason Thomson required urgent treatment for a head-knock a following a sliding challenge on Hippolyte; Mark Stewart and Peter Grant both required physio’s attention following a nasty-looking clash of heads; and Callachan burst through several untidy midfield challenges only for referee Dallas to halt play to book Hippolyte, just when Raith’s midfielder looked to break clear. In the closing minutes, presented with a rare sight of goal, Stewart pulled his shot wide of Rogers’ near-post, turning away in anguish.
As with the Fife derby earlier in the week, there was to be no grandstand finish. With Falkirk looking a step quicker in every department, the final chance of the match saw Hippolyte burst between a tiring Davidson and Thomson, only for Cuthbert to gather the striker’s goal-bound effort. A bruised and demoralised Raith could barely lift their heads to salute the home support on the final whistle, as Falkirk took the plaudits from their travelling support after a well-organised, professional, and clinical performance.
The match highlights video will appear here shortly
RaithTV chatted with the Gaffer after the 1-4 defeat at home to Falkirk
Raith Rovers have the chance to put their derby disappointment behind them this Saturday, by moving back into the play-off positions with a win over Falkirk at Stark’s Park.
Admittedly that’s something they’ve struggled to do in recent times, with the last home league win over the Bairns coming back in 2012, when goals from Grant Anderson and David Smith secured a come-from-behind 2-1 win.
They have had one other competitive win in Kirkcaldy since then however, when a Greig Spence goal was enough to put Rovers into the Ramsdens Cup semi-final draw at the expense of the Bairns back in September 2013.
Since then though, Falkirk have enjoyed their trips to the Lang Toun, and are now on a run of seven games without loss at Stark’s Park.
Both teams are going into the match on the back of a defeat, with Peter Houston’s men going down to defeat against Hibernian on Hogmanay thanks to a late Kris Commons free-kick, after Jason Cummings had earlier equalised a Craig Sibbald opener.
Although Rovers failed to capitalise on that result on the second of January when they went down to that 2-0 defeat to Dunfermline, a win for Rovers this weekend would lift them above Peter Houston’s men in the table, despite having played a game fewer this season.
Both teams have a win apiece from this fixture this term. Goals from John Baird and Tom Taiwo sealed a 2-0 win for Falkirk at Stark’s Park back in September, while Rovers emerged victorious from a six-goal-thriller at the Falkirk Stadium in October, after a double from Mark Stewart, and single strikes from Iain Davidson and Declan McManus cemented a 4-2 victory.
The most recent head-to-head record between the clubs sees Rovers with just two wins and four draws from the last 10 match ups.
Saturday’s match referee will be Andrew Dallas.
Head-To-Head League Record At Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 29 | Falkirk Wins: 28 | Draws: 20
Raith Rovers Goals: 115 | Falkirk Goals: 110
Raith Rovers: D-D-L-D-D-L
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Mark Stewart 5 | Declan McManus 4 | Ross Callachan 3
Falkirk: Myles Hippolyte 7 | Lee Miller 7 | John Baird 6
Raith Rovers 15/8 | Falkirk 6/4 | Draw: 23/10