RAITH HIT STRANRAER FOR THREE
Two goals from man-of-the-match Lewis Vaughan and another from Greig Spence sealed a fine 3-0 win over a spirited Stranraer side, as Raith got their home League One campaign off to the best possible start. A goal before half-time put Raith in front, before a splendid second half in which Raith could have added further goals to their tally.
Following an evenly matched first-half in which both sides had spells of momentum and possession generating clear chances, the first goal would be crucial – Vaughan’s first putting distance between the sides at the break, and allowing the hosts to stretch away in the second period.
For Raith’s first home game of the season, there was an “official” season’s debut for Kevin McHattie, following his second-half appearance as a trialist at Recreation Park. In another attacking change reflecting last week’s more positive second half, Bobby Barr began the match wide on the left, Ross Matthews dropping to the bench. With Barry Smith looking to make Starks’ Park a fortress this season, agility and pace on both flanks would be necessary – Smith’s starting eleven sent an attacking message to the visitors from the south-west. Spence, Buchanan, and Vaughan combined to win a corner in the first 30 seconds.
With the Dysart Colliery Silver Brass Band’s version of the Proclaimers’ “500 Miles” ringing in their ears, Stranraer made the long journey to Starks Park with an unchanged line-up. Following last week’s opening day victory over East Fife – more comfortable than the 1-0 score-line suggested – strikers Turner and Wallace began upfront, with support from wide areas from Ryan Thomson and a familiar face in Grant Anderson. The experienced Jamie Hamill anchored a steadfast midfield.
Refreshingly playing in shirts numbered 1 to 11, Raith spread the play and sought to advance from the off. Lewis Vaughan’s confidence was evident in opening minutes. Centre-half Neill thumped clear a teasing cross after the Raith youngster bamboozled full-back Liam Dick on five minutes.
Stranraer set themselves up very similarly to their hosts: with Dick and Thomson on one side, and Robertson and Anderson on the other, the visitors showed pace and energy down both flanks – their yellow and blue attire sparkling in the Kirkcaldy sunshine in the opening stages.
The first clear chance came from a mistake – Barr’s chip inside was misjudged by Barron. Off like a whippet after the loose ball, Spence’s shot drifted just past the far-post. For Stranraer, Wallace bundled his way straight through the middle of Raith’s rearguard moments later, only the linesman’s flag halting his progress.
Another mistake on nineteen minutes nearly gifted Raith an opener – Thomson jinked past his man to cross. Goalkeeper Belford let the centre slip from his grasp and, floundering on his goal line under pressure from Spence and Vaughan, was rescued by a whistle from referee Roncone. At the other end, Ryan Thomson slipped beyond his namesake Jason, the Stranraer man’s firm drive across goal was well gathered by Lennox.
With twenty-five minutes gone, Stranraer created their best opening. A controlled passing movement probed the Raith defence from several angles, mostly with the experienced Hamill linking well with Anderson, Wallace dropping deep to inject forward momentum. With numbers on the right-flank, space opened for full-back Robertson to cross. With his opposite number Dick well forward, Benedictus defended stoutly, clearing well. Barry Smith’s positional change – moving Vaughan wide-left and bringing Barr to the right – seemed to have had a negative impact. Stranraer were growing in confidence and enjoying greater and better possession. After Raith turned the ball over in midfield, sharp passes saw Wallace cross, Thomson’s flick was scooped off the line by Lennox.
Liam Buchanan had been quiet in the first half-hour, shackled well by a combination of Neill and Barron. His first break came on thirty-two minutes – Callachan’s long through ball allowed the striker to test Belford, his low shot well-saved. Thomson’s flick from the resultant corner whistled past the post. Buchanan escaped again from a hack from Neill, finding Robertson in space – the midfielder should have done more to test Belford with a clear strike from eighteen yards.
One of the match’s intriguing personal battles was on Raith’s left, with the advancing Grant Anderson running at Kevin McHattie. At his best, Anderson can look like a thoroughbred, galloping into space, thundering across the ground with others trailing in his wake. McHattie also flies at top speed. Neither player shirks a challenge, and both came together regularly in the first-half here. Anderson’s strength in the air is also notable – his flick from Hamill’s free-kick troubled Lennox during Stranraer’s best spell.
With half-time approaching, Raith regained some control. Spence controlled a high cross, and allowed Barr to shoot – there were shouts of handball as Neill blocked and cleared.
The opening goal came on forty-two minutes. After a corner was cleared, Callachan gathered possession and fed Vaughan. On the left corner of the box, the youngster looked for a one-two with Spence – with the Raith forward grappling and falling to the floor with his marker, Vaughan seized on the loose ball, took a touch, and beat Belford low to his left-hand side. A clinical finish was what Raith had been lacking thus far – Vaughan’s 8th goal of the season had put Raith’s noses in front at a crucial time, just before the interval.
Stranraer – who had grounds for wondering how they could be a goal down at half-time, having put at least as much into the opening period as their hosts – seemed to begin the second period with less wind in their sails. Raith were the stronger: Callachan’s shot after Jason Thomson’s header brought a save from Belford, and Vaughan made a nuisance of himself, troubling Barron. On fifty-five minutes, Vaughan’s lovely improvised flick sent Buchanan through, Barron recovering well to clear the danger.
The midfield battle began to turn Raith’s way. Stranraer’s Hamill – who, despite having passed his MOT again this season, looks to have too many miles on the clock – has his best years behind him. While still a muscular presence, several times the younger Spence or Vaughan would steal possession, allowing Raith to spring forward.
On the hour, Raith doubled their advantage. With McHattie in control with time in his own half, his lofted through-ball tempted Belford to rush from his line. Vaughan reached the ball first, touching beyond the stranded keeper. With Buchanan in attendance, Greig Spence found the empty net, wheeling away to celebrate in front of the South Stand.
Moments later, following a Stranraer free-kick deep in Raith territory, a lightening break brought a Raith third. Thomson’s long clearance down the right found Bobby Barr at full speed. Out-pacing his man, Barr offered a goal on a plate to Lewis Vaughan for the youngster’s second of the day and 9th of the season.
Raith charged forward again. Callachan burst out of midfield, surviving one hack from Wallace before being felled by a second – the Stranraer man was booked following a good advantage from referee Roncone. In the stramash, Barr’s shot stung Belford’s palms.
At the other end, Stranraer – struggling to get a foothold – were denied their first: Hamill’s bundled effort cleared by Callachan. To re-ignite a campaign that was looking forlorn, manager Fallon made three changes to the visitors’ ranks, with the youthful Stephen Okoh upfront. Barron was booked for a petulant boot at Bobby Barr. Steven Bell followed his team-mate into the referee’s note-book, as much for his reaction to the whistle as for his clip of Robertson’s heels.
Stranraer substitute Okoh nipped between Murray and McHattie, almost winning a penalty for his side with a tug on his jersey as it flashed past his markers; Lennox comfortably gathered Agnew’s flighted free-kick. Although light-weight, the young striker showed good confidence and no little skill in his half-hour appearance here. With ten minutes to go, Agnew released Wallace, the striker’s centre was well blocked by McHattie with Okoh lying in wait.
Over as a contest, the match wound toward full-time without further incident. Barr blasted at Belford with Vaughan perhaps better placed; Stranraer sub Woods pinged a shot just over; and Agnew ran in behind Euan Murray, lofting his chip just over Lennox’s bar – a late goal perhaps the least that the visitors deserved for their efforts.
The longer this match had gone without a goal, the match may have developed into a real test of Raith’s character. The first goal undoubtedly was the critical moment – a defensive lapse and a sharp finish from an in-form striker giving Raith the springboard for a fine second-half. The Rovers will be aiming to follow this with further similar performances, as Barry Smith’s side seek to mark their authority on this season’s League One campaign.
RaithTV spoke with the gaffer after the 3-0 win against Stranraer
After last week’s 1-1 draw at Alloa, Raith Rovers face their first home league game this weekend against Stranraer.
Steve Farrell’s side got off to the perfect start in their opening game, with his new-look team picking up where they left off at the end of last term, with an impressive 1-0 win over East Fife.
It was their first competitive win of the season, after they finished bottom of a difficult looking League Cup section, which also included Livingston, Airdrie, Partick Thistle and St. Mirren.
As you’d expect, Farrell, who replaced Brian Reid midway through last term, has brought in a number of new faces over the summer.
Defenders Tom Lang and Morgynn Neil were brought in from Dumbarton and Livingston respectively, while in midfield, ex-Raith winger Grant Anderson has been signed after he left left Peterhead.
He could be joined in the middle of the park by new additions Jamie Hamill after he left Queen of the South, and Stephen Okoh who was formerly at Lewes.
Up-front, Farrell has brought in Danny Stoney from Neilston and Ryan Wallace from Albion Rovers.
These two sides haven’t met each other since the 2008/09 season, when Rovers won all four match-ups on their way to winning the Second Division title. Stranraer would eventually finish bottom of the table that term, after picking up just 16 points.
Those four wins have contributed to Raith having an excellent record in this fixture, winning seven and drawing two of the last ten league meetings between the sides.
Saturday’s match referee will be Mike Roncone.
Head-To-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 15 | Stranraer Wins: 3 | Draws: 7
Raith Rovers Goals: 48 | Stranraer Goals: 26
Raith Rovers: L-L-W-W-D
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 5 | Liam Buchanan 3
Stranraer: Scott Agnew 2
Raith Rovers: 13/20 | Stranraer: 21/5 | Draw: 3/1