SUPERSUB HARDIE AT THE DOUBLE
Raith sealed a first League win since October as two second-half goals from sub Ryan Hardie saw off a spirited St Mirren. A superb header and a gifted second gave the Raith striker a double, lifting Raith back up the Championship table and arresting Rovers’ horrendous recent run of results.
Despite conceding the balance of possession to energetic and vibrant visitors, Hardie’s first goal – a glancing flick from a Bobby Barr cross – was the game’s one moment of real quality. Following a goalkeeping error which provided Rovers’ second, Raith’s defence held out until full-time, leaving the Starks Park faithful to celebrate a long overdue three points. While Raith have shown comparable spirit and endeavour in recent weeks, tonight the Rovers also had luck at the right time, rising now to seventh in the Championship League table.
St Mirren started the better, looking sharp and lively in the opening minutes. Sutton and Magennis looked to test M’Voto and Barr for pace, with Morgan and Mallen striving to get beyond their frontmen. A Smith shot following sharp exchange between Eckersley and Morgan was blocked away – an early statement of intent from a mobile midfield. St Mirren, unlike their hosts, were keen to commit numbers to the attack.
After three games in charge, manager John Hughes sent out his Raith side with a now-familiar look. Mark Stewart was restored upfront alongside Declan McManus, starting wide on the right – the only outfield change from the side which started at Ayr United. Kyle Benedictus continued at left-back, with Kevin McHattie dropping to the bench. In goals, 6ft 4in Slovak stopper Pavol Penska made his debut – with three injured goalkeepers, Raith continued without cover on the bench.
Together with Chris Johnston and Bobby Barr, Stewart had a brief to support McManus where possible. The Raith no.9 nipped inside to fire a shot wide of O’Brien’s near post in the third minute. In the early stages though, it was evident Rovers would struggle to get numbers forward quickly enough – several neat flicks in midfield would peter out as St Mirren’s ranks retreated to snuff out any potential danger.
Chances were rare in the first quarter. McManus raced beyond Barr to collect a through-ball, but was overtaken by Davis – the defender showing admirable speed on the turn. Eckersley headed a Bobby Barr cross away when greater numbers in the box may have drawn dividends. Finding himself striding over half-way, Benedictus clipped a shot over O’Brien’s bar from thirty yards – the lack of supporting options a factor in the decision to shoot.
A glimpse of a chance on twenty-seven minutes for Raith. Stewart had departed with an ankle injury early on, but still Rovers struggled to find a rhythm moving forwards. The first change was a half-chance – Callachan scampered cross-field, and Barr’s first-time centre bounced through to Johnston. Eckersley’s timely intervention cleared the danger.
Unlike Raith, St Mirren have experienced something of a revival since the turn of the year. Recent League wins over Hibs, Ayr United, and Dundee, together with Cup wins in the Scottish Cup and Challenge Cup, have lifted the spirits of a side which looked bereft before Christmas. New faces have also helped – Crewe Alexandra loanee Harry Davis scored recently at Parkhead, Cammy Smith has joined on loan from Aberdeen, and Cypriot full-back Stelios Demetriou scored both in a recent win over Hibs. All three started here.
Enjoying greater possession in midfield, and showing a greater willingness to get men forward, St Mirren forced a number of corners in the opening stages. A combination of Penska and Davidson blocked a Morgan drive after a Raith lapse allowed room for the shot. The flow of play was toward Raith’s goal – while the number of shots on goal was low, Magennis and Mallan particularly were visible making tracks into spaces beyond Callachan and Johnston.
McGinn patrolled the midfield effectively throughout the first half. Mixing challenges when necessary and moving the ball intelligently, the visiting captain was perhaps the game’s most significant figure – several Raith forays into St Mirren territory foundered on McGinn’s positional play; Steve Mallan and Harry Smith constantly bounding forward at McGinn’s prompting.
The best chance of the first half fell to St Mirren’s Morgan – Sutton burst into the box, and with both M’Voto and Barr grasping to make a tackle, Morgan bundled a snap-shot just wide, Penska holding his breath as the ball drifted beyond his post.
Toward half-time, Raith conceded a number of niggly fouls around their own area. Mallan, Smith, and Morgan each drew fouls as they buzzed in the gap between Raith’s defence and midfield. Mallan’s set-pieces caused danger – Thomson failed to clear incoming fire leading to a scramble in the six-yard box; Penska swung and missed another, with centre-back Mackenzie’s shot fizzing over.
Overall, an anaemic first half proved a disappointment. On a cold night, there was little to get pulses racing. With the last action, McManus fired a free-kick from distance, nicking O’Brien’s post on its way behind.
The second half began in much the same vein, with the first’s two key themes repeating themselves: McGinn winning tackles in midfield, and Raith without numbers forward to generate either territorial possession or pressure. From a long Penska kick from hand, Callachan controlled and drove a cross through the box – McManus was flagged off-side.
St Mirren sought to lift the tempo – Eckersley’s cross was nodded away from an advancing Sutton, and Smith’s shot was gathered low by the Raith keeper. On fifty-seven minutes, centre-back Davis stole beyond his man to bring down a Mallan free-kick, Penska’s despairing dive forcing a hurried shot high over. Davidson clipped the escaping Smith, earning yellow. Mallan’s free-kick was gathered at the second attempt by Rovers’ new keeper.
Over the ninety minutes, Raith’s alliteratively-pleasing new keeper Pavol Penska was a comforting presence for Rovers’ fans (several supporters perhaps bringing their gloves to the game, ready to answer the call if needed). Under the high ball, a tendency to punch generated some concern. However, one clear tactical point was evident – Penska often cleared long from hand instead of playing out, as is the modern way. While possession was often lost as a result, the somewhat elderly tactic was certainly safer, and compared well against the calamity which would befall his opposite number late on.
On the hour, a great chance for Raith – after winning a throw, Benedictus beat Demetriou and crossed low into the six-yard box; after a deflection, McManus nodded the bouncing ball just over. For the first time, the South Stand roared its encouragement.
Moments later, a penalty shout for the visitors – Magennis escaped toward the bye-line, his cross blocked and cleared, accompanied by a scream of handball from players and fans alike. Referee Allan had a clear view, but turned away protests. The Cypriot Demetriou crossed just beyond Sutton two minutes later, as the Buddies continued to seek the opener their possession perhaps merited.
John Hughes introduced Ryan Hardie for the tiring Davidson as the match entered its final quarter. With McManus dropping deeper, the change in focus brought an immediate chance – McManus scampering beyond Demetriou to hit the bye-line; Johnston’s resultant corner whizzed through the St Mirren box, setting alarm bells ringing in the visitors’ rear-guard.
Moments later, a goal for Raith. After a succession of Raith corners, a Benedictus throw found Barr – his driven cross was attacked by sub Ryan Hardie, beating Mackenzie to flick inside O’Brien’s far post. The header was perfectly placed, the forward stepping in front of his marker to generate the crucial yard to reach the cross first. A display of excellent centre-forward play had given Raith an unlikely lead.
St Mirren continued to press. A Smith cross was hacked clear, Mullan probed around the edge of the box, and a penalty shout for a tug on Sutton – from fans more than players – was dismissed.
On seventy-eight minutes, a disaster for visiting keeper O’Brien, and a second for Ryan Hardie. Looking to clear, O’Brien looked left and right, hesitating, before throwing down the middle. Hardie was alert to block, rounded the keeper with a touch, and finished coolly into the empty net. After a struggle of a first-half, Raith were two up with ten minutes to go.
Two down, St Mirren’s attacking composure deserted them. Within ten minutes, the visiting midfield became disjointed, passes went astray, and Raith’s confidence soared. M’Voto’s lusty clearances spoke of a resolution absent from Raith play for several weeks.
Released again by Barr, Hardie sprinted beyond Mackenzie and Todd, the latter drawing a deserved yellow for bundling the Raith substitute in an unseemly tangle of arms and legs. The South Stand howled for red – Crawford Allan deemed a booking sufficient.
As the clock wound toward ninety minutes, and as visiting fans headed for the exits, Mackenzie headed wide from a well-placed Mallan corner. Todd’s centre just evaded Sutton, as Penska gratefully gathered the substitute’s cross.
Celebrations greeted the final whistle. Without a League victory in several months, relief was etched across the faces of the Rovers’ players in the immediate aftermath. Whether Raith did enough over the ninety minutes to win the game didn’t matter – a moment of real quality, a gift, and some dogged defending had given Raith the win and a very welcome boost of confidence.
RaithTV spoke with the Gaffer after the clubs 1st win since October
RaithTV chatted with Goalscorer Ryan after the 2-0 win over St Mirren
RaithTV chatted with new signing Pavol after the 2-0 win over St Mirren
Raith Rovers go head-to-head with St. Mirren this Wednesday, in a vital six-pointer at the bottom of the Championship.Just a few short weeks ago, St. Mirren seemed almost certain to be facing relegation to the third tier of Scottish football, but a huge overhaul of their playing squad during the January transfer window, has prompted a significant turnaround in their fortunes.Just one defeat in eight league and cup games up until the weekend’s fixture against Celtic, has seen the Buddies close the gap between themselves and Ayr United to just five points, while a win at Stark’s Park would see them move just three behind John Hughes men with a game in hand.That recent good run has also taken them to the final of the Irn Bru Cup, where they’ll face Dundee United, and the quarter finals of the Scottish Cup, where they lost out to Celtic on Sunday.Raith and St Mirren have met twice already this term, with the sides clocking up a win apiece.A Declan McManus brace and a strike from Ross Callachan sealed a 3-1 win for Rovers back in August, but St. Mirren came out in top in December, when a Lewis Morgan goal was enough for all three points to stay in Paisley.
Raith Rovers hold a slight advantage in the most recent fixtures, with five wins and a draw from the last ten league meetings.
Wednesday’s match referee will be Crawford Allan.