Raith Close Gap At Gusty Gayfield
Considering the season is only reaching the half-way stage, it’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty just how important Saturday’s 2-1 win at Arbroath was, but it certainly felt like a big three points.
Leading 2-0 at half-time, thanks to goals from Greig Spence and Dario Zanatta, Raith stood up to a second-half, wind assisted onslaught from Dick Campbell’s side, emerging with a win which closed the gap to Ayr United to five points at the top, after The Honest Men lost for the first time in 10 matches at Airdrie.
Barry Smith made one change from the two all draw last time out against Airdrie, with Iain Davidson coming in for Jamie Watson.
He slotted in at centre-half alongside, David McKay, allowing Jason Thomson to move back to his more natural right-back berth, with Euan Murray moving to the opposite full-back position.
Raith were shooting with the wind in the first period, and as always seems to be the case at Gayfield, it was a gust that would probably feature reasonably high on the Beaufort scale.
Home goalkeeper, David Hutton was struggling to get any distance on his kicks, a situation which was keeping the Red Lichties under the cosh in the early stages.
Hutton had to look alive in the opening moments, throwing himself to his left to keep out a Thomson diving header from a set-piece, as Raith looked to press home their wind-blown advantage.
The wind was making things difficult for both sides though, with the Rovers players struggling to judge the pace of any through ball, leading to the majority of them frustratingly bouncing straight out of touch.
As a consequence, there weren’t too many stand-out moments from the opening quarter-of-an-hour, other than a slightly embarrassing moment for Arbroath left-back, Colin Hamilton, whose shorts fell down after a coming together with Ross Matthews.
However, Rovers took the lead in the 20th minute, with a goal that had a slight touch of good fortune about it.
Lewis Vaughan’s deep corner was gathered by Davidson at the back post, and although his drive ricocheted off the inside of Hutton’s upright, it fell just right for Spence, who turned the ball home from inside a congested penalty area.
Arbroath had rarely been seen as an attacking force at this stage, although they almost drew level five minutes later, but Graeme Smith was alert enough to tip Blair Yule’s goal-bound shot from nestling into the top-left corner of his net.
Considering the severity of the gale which Raith would be up against in the second period, a bigger lead seemed essential, and the vital second duly arrived in the 32nd minute.
Liam Buchanan was able to turn and gets a shot off inside the area, but it was Dario Zanatta who got the final touch, diverting the ball past Hutton to double Raith’s advantage.
It should have been three just a couple of minutes later.
Spence managed to spring the offside trap, and despite having just Hutton to beat, he got his shot from an angle horribly wrong, shanking his effort yards wide of the target. The concern as the players trooped off at the interval, was that they’d have cause to rue the error.
Arbroath certainly didn’t look resigned to defeat as the second-half began, taking the game to Rovers from the off, and the hacked clearances and sliced punts from the away side, suggested the Rovers players were a little anxious at what they were about to face.
They certainly had a let-off in the 54th minute.
Jason Thomson attempted to divert a through ball away, but he appeared to direct it away from Smith, who was now out of his goal, with Danny Denholm running through. However, from an acute angle, his effort flashed across goal, with no-one in the vicinity to tap it home.
The respite didn’t last long though.
Barely a minute later, a corner was swung in from Raith’s right-hand side, and with the defence static, the ball seemed to strike Ross Matthews before crossing the line.
It was the worst possible start to the half, and with the Rovers defence struggling with the conditions and Arbroath’s bombardment, you felt at that stage it was going to take an extra special performance to weather the storm.
Hutton was called into action again after 60 minutes, smartly turning away Buchanan’s fierce drive, but it was all-hands-to-the-pump after that, as the Red Lichties took control.
A long ball forward parted the Raith defence with about 20 minutes remaining, allowing Denhom the opportunity to sprint clear, but his first touch took him away from goal, leaving him with too much to do, although Smith still had to look alert to turn his effort away.
The away side had a large slice of good luck a few moments later, when a wild swipe from Murray, bounced over Smith and was heading in, only for the ‘keeper to dive back and claw it away for a corner, which also appeared to be heading straight in, until Smith just touched it onto the post.
The Rovers goalie was now the busiest man on the park, although he missed a deep free-kick from Rovers left, but with Hamilton possibly taken by surprise, he failed to guide his header into the empty net.
There was still time for one more piece of involvement from Smith, and what an intervention it was.
Gavin Swankie had been introduced as a late sub, and after gathering possession at the edge of the box, he cut inside and unleashed a goal-bound effort into the top-left corner, which Smith did exceptionally to turn behind.
It was the final piece of action in a game which was the very definition of ‘a game of two halves.’ While the first saw Rovers dominant, they had to show a different, far grittier side to their character in the second period to take the three points home.
RaithTV chatted with Barry after the 2-1 win against Arbroath
RaithTV chatted with Euan Murray after the 2-1 win against Arbroath
After a week in cold storage due to the enforced cancellation of last weekend’s match against Albion Rovers, Raith head to Gayfield this Saturday to take on Dick Campbell’s Arbroath.
The Red Lichties go into the game on the back of a 2-1 defeat to Stranraer, a loss that sees them sit just outside the playoff spots in fifth, but they’d shown good recent form until that point, with three successive wins.
That mid-table position is driven by their form at Gayfield, as despite having League One’s third best away record, only Forfar, Queen’s Park and Albion Rovers have picked up fewer points at home.
It’s certainly not a lack of goals that’s holding them back from taking up a top-four position, with Arbroath the second top scorers in the division, with 34 strikes in 15 games, a figure that only Ayr United have surpassed to date.
Ex-Raith midfielder, Ryan McCord has been Arbroath’s most dangerous player to date, with nine goals to his credit, but his performances in general have marked him out as one of the most creative players in the third tier this season.
The clubs last met at Stark’s Park in October, and despite a bright start from the visitors, two goals in five first-half minutes from Lewis Vaughan and Jason Thomson sealed a 2-0 win for Barry Smith’s men.
It’s been over eight years since Raith last visited the venue in a competitive fixture, when goals from Robert Sloan and Mark Campbell sealed a 2-0 win for John McGlynn’s team.
Raith Rovers have a good record in this fixture, with just one defeat in the last ten meetings, with five wins and four draws in that sequence.
Saturday’s match referee will be Euan Anderson.
Head-To-head Away League Record:
Arbroath Wins: 13 |Raith Rovers Wins: 14 | Draws: 3
Arbroath Goals: 53 | Raith Rovers Goals: 51
Raith Rovers: L-L-L-W-W-D
Top Goal Scorers:
Arboath: Ryan McCord 9 | Danny Denholm 8 |Bobby Linn 4
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 18 | Greig Spence 9 | Liam Buchanan 8
Arbroath: 15/8 | Raith Rovers: 11/8 | Draw: 13/5