HARD-FOUGHT WIN PUTS RAITH CLEAR
Raith extended their lead in this year’s Scottish League One with a hard-fought but deserved three points in a physical and at times bad-tempered contest against Arbroath. A long-range drive from Lewis Vaughan and another fine headed goal from Jason Thomson were the difference, Raith’s quality in possession overcoming the stern physical challenge offered by the visitors.
With Ayr drawing at Airdrie, and Albion Rovers falling to defeat at East Fife, Raith have now opened up a clear five-point gap after the first quarter of the League campaign.
Arbroath, with an undefeated away record stretching back 19 games in to 2016, arrived at Starks Park full of confidence. Travelling fans to the Lichties’ last two away journeys – to Stranraer and to local rivals Forfar – had seen their favourites hit six and five goals respectively. The long bus trips back to Gayfield would have been happy ones in recent weeks. With four wins from eight League outings so far, manager Dick Campbell sent out a familiar side. O’Brien, Denholm, and Swankie – each signed from Forfar in the close season – all started. Bryan Prunty – a torment for Raith in his Dumbarton days – began on the bench.
For the Rovers, getting used to life at the top of the table, Barry Smith shuffled his pack in anticipation of a packed visiting midfield. The key change was to break-up the attacking three – Liam Buchanan retired to the bench, with an extra presence in midfield in the shape of Scott Robertson. Iain Davidson returned to the centre of defence alongside Euan Murray with Greig Spence starting furthest forward, in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Cheered on by a noisy travelling support, the visitors were keen from the off. Midfielder O’Brien walloped a volley at Smith in the first minute, the Raith keeper palming away well in front of the South Stand. A sharp free-kick from McCord again found O’Brien in space – although the lineman’s flag brought a halt, Rovers’ manager Barry Smith was apoplectic at a lack of defensive awareness.
After seven minutes, a Raith opener that wasn’t. Herron won a challenge on the edge of the box, and poked through to Vaughan – the youngster slipped his shot past the advancing Hutton. With the ball rolling just wide, Spence nipped in to turn home. After a good five seconds, the linesman’s flag rose – indicating if not indecision, certainly a lengthy discussion between the officials, and one for fans to scrutinise television replays after the event. A let-off for the visitors, but the clear indication of weakness in the visiting defence would not have gone un-noticed in Raith ranks.
Ryan McCord was a key figure for Arbroath early on. Dropping deep and using his physical presence to win a tackle on the quarter-hour, the front-man released right-back Gold with a sweeping pass. The full-back’s deep cross found McCord having made good ground to the far-post – only a despairing clearance from Murray kept the scores level. Minutes later, after a clear foul by Davidson, McCord’s driven cross led the onrushing Denholm to thump Smith’s cross-bar. With Spence struggling for service and possession upfront, Arbroath were winning the physical and tactical battle early on.
The match was twenty minutes’ old before the next Raith chance – Bobby Barr chasing a deep ball lofted a cross in Spence’s direction, the Raith striker unable to generate power in his nod toward goal. Not only were Raith fewer in numbers upfront than in previous games, the visitors were well-drilled. A Spence pass allowed the flash of a counter-attack – within moments, Arbroath’s two banks of four restored their lines to flush out the danger. It was half-an-hour before Vaughan saw the front-line in open play – a neat nudge on his marker Whateley nearly giving an opening.
Two minutes later, a real gem from Raith’s top scorer and a goal worthy of breaking the deadlock. Slipping away from Yule in midfield, Vaughan flew into the acres of green space ahead – and from twenty yards, struck an inch-perfect drive beyond Hutton and in off the far post.
Raith’s next attack nearly drew a second – Vaughan’s turn and shot deflected over by O’Brien. From the resultant corner, a Raith second, and a fourth goal of the season for Jason Thomson. Lewis Vaughan’s driven corner was met perfectly by the left-back, unmarked, to blast a header beyond Hutton.
Approaching half-time McCord clattered Davidson, rightly seeing yellow. Thomson was felled as he escaped down the left-flank seconds later – Vaughan’s fierce in-swinging free-kick had Hutton at sixes and sevens in the Arbroath goal. McCord then fired wildly over Smith’s bar on forty-four minutes, to the jeers of the South Stand.
Arbroath’s Hamilton whacked Vaughan’s ankle, earning yellow. The following melee – with Iain Davidson at its centre – saw referee Cook show yellow to several who should have kept their opinions to themselves. What had been an entertaining first-half of contrasting styles ended amid darkening skies, with distant thunder rumbling amongst both camps.
Vaughan had the second-half’s first chance – with Jason Thomson already having burst forward on two occasions, Herron gave the full-back space to cross low toward goal, Vaughan’s flicked finish just over.
The visitors had early chances too – Euan Murray stretched, deflecting a Swankie cross through the six-yard box, and McCord blasted a strike from the edge of the box, blocked by Davidson, with Herron completing the clearance.
John Herron was showing real authority in the centre of the park, looking to pass and go when the opportunity presented itself. With an assured first-touch and great awareness, the midfielder was one of Raith’s real performers in a game won and lost in midfield.
On fifty-four minutes, a great save to keep Rovers’ lead at two. O’Brien had fed Linn, with the winger’s cross troubling the home defence; from the clearing header, McCord’s drive was well saved and held by keeper Smith in a crowded box.
Swankie’s drive – narrowly tipped over by Smith – came during a fractured spell of play. Raith sought to control the tempo, yet O’Brien and Yule working through midfield frequently found space. With Vaughan playing closer to Spence, Arbroath’s defence didn’t look comfortable, but at the other end, McCord and Denholm buzzed around Raith’s back-line with real intent. Whateley’s chipped cross put Smith under pressure at his far-post.
A real glimpse of Lewis Vaughan’s talents on sixty-nine minutes – slipping as he controlled a throw-in, the youngster regained his footing, side-stepped his man, and took off like a whippet toward goal. Eventually crowded out, the endeavour drew deserved applause from all present.
With twenty minutes to go, a goal-saving tackle from Arbroath’s O’Brien – Spence had given away possession seconds earlier, but with Davidson returning the ball with interest, the striker had a clear sight of goal from Vaughan’s flick. O’Brien made up the ground and took ball and man with a splendid sliding challenge.
A flashing counter-attack moments later – from an Arbroath throw, Bobby Barr won possession and scampered over half-way. Left-back Jamie Watson showed real pace to join the attack, his rocket of a shot blocked by keeper Hutton. Vaughan’s follow-up header was walloped clear by Whateley.
With Hester introduced for a tiring McCord, Arbroath still sought the first of two goals needed to take a point. Gold’s flighted nine-iron was met by O’Brien’s head – keeper Smith saved comfortably. The mobile Blair Yule was drawn further back into the Lichtie’s defence, allowing defenders Whateley and O’Brien to venture further forward.
With eighty minutes on the clock, substitute Liam Buchanan’s first chance. Escaping on to Robertson’s through-ball, Buchanan nipped inside the retreating Yule but was crowded out. The former Livingston striker was central again minutes later, turning sharply from a throw and slipping Matthews into space, the youngster’s drive drawing a fine save at full stretch from Hutton.
From the following corner, Euan Murray’s header found the net, only for the off-side flag to rule out Raith’s third.
Arbroath continued to press late on – a corner into a packed box drew howls for a penalty for hand-ball, and substitute Hester drove at man-of-the-match Euan Murray looking to shoot. O’Brien looked forlorn as his fierce drive flew ten yards wide, whizzing away from Smith’s goal. At the other end, Buchanan’s smart turn and shot stung the palms of Hutton.
With the clock ticking down, referee Cook had to keep his eye on several squabbles breaking out across the pitch. With Herron and Yule booked after the final whistle, and tempers rising as the teams made their way towards the tunnel, the competitive nature of the encounter was underlined for all supporters. With not much between the teams, a moment of magic from Lewis Vaughan had put Raith’s noses in front, and home side’s strength and determination had secured the three points. The return match at Gayfield before Christmas will be keenly contested indeed.
RaithTV chatted with Barry after the 2-0 win against Arbroath
RaithTV chatted with Graeme after the 2-0 win against Arbroath
After an excellent 3-1 Challenge Cup win over St. Mirren last weekend, Raith Rovers return to the bread-and-butter of League One this Saturday, with a home fixture against Arbroath.
Last Season’s League Two winners have continued their fine form from last term into this, and in particular, their stunning record away from Gayfield, with Dick Campbell’s men unbeaten on their travels in the league since losing to Clyde in September 2016, a sequence of 19 matches unbeaten.
After overhauling Forfar to land the title last term, Campbell raided their Angus neighbours for three of their star turns over the summer, with Tom O’Brien, Danny Denholm and Gavin Swankie making the short trip to join the Red Lichties. They were joined by goalkeeper, David Hutton who left Dunfermline, James Henry who was released by Aberdeen, and Josh Skelly from Dundee.
Rovers fans will also be familiar with Ryan McCord, who has been in fine fettle this term with six goals to his credit already, including a hat-trick during the recent 6-2 win over Stranraer.
Arbroath’s impressive start to the campaign, sees them sitting fourth in the table, five points behind league leaders Raith, and two ahead of fifth placed East Fife.
These two clubs haven’t shared a division since the 2008/09 season, a campaign where Raith took 10 points from an available 12, with the final match, a 0-0 draw on the final Saturday of the season, coming a week after Rovers had secured the title.
You have to go back a little further for Arbroath’s last win at Stark’s Park, which came back in August 1993, with a 2-1 win in the second round of the League Cup.
Rovers have a good record in the most recent head-to-head meetings between the sides, with five wins and four draws from the last ten meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Barry Cook.
Head-To-Head Home League Record:
Raith Rovers Wins: 19 | Arbroath Wins: 8 | Draws: 7
Raith Rovers Goals: 64 | Arbroath Goals: 37
Raith Rovers: W-W-W-W-L-W
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 16 | Liam Buchanan 7 | Greig Spence 6
Arbroath: Danny Denholm 6 | Ryan McCord 6
Raith Rovers: 4/6 | Arbroath: 15/4 | Draw: 16/5