Raith Go Top After Another Home Win
Raith’s stylish and richly deserved 2-1 win against Forfar Athletic at Stark’s Park this afternoon preserved their perfect home record in the league this season and continued their good run of form of late, but Ayr United’s defeat also meant Barry Smith’s men finished the day at the top of the league.
That the result was in doubt until referee Greg Aitken blew for time amid plummeting temperatures should not disguise the fact that Rovers created enough chances to win several games this afternoon, and the visitors would surely head north afterwards relieved not to have been on the end of a more convincing score line.
Despite the sides’ contrasting league positions, a close contest was predicted this afternoon. Rovers had prevailed 3-1 when the sides clashed back in August, though a 1-1 draw at Station Park in October was enough to convince Barry Smith’s men that The Loons should not be underestimated. Of course, the fact that Jim Weir’s men ended 2017 with a 3-2 win against league leaders Ayr – having come from two goals down – would not have been lost on the home side.
Rovers kicked off with the same eleven players who saw off East Fife on Tuesday, though it was the visitors who pressed during the opening exchanges. Josh Peters forced a corner kick after two minutes, and centre back Michael Travis almost took advantage of the resultant cross before his close range shot was blocked six yards out.
Rovers responded quickly with their first meaningful surge forward of the match. Dario Zanatta, who would go on to enjoy a man of the match afternoon, skinned Forfar right-back Jamie Bain down the left wing, his cross turned wide for a corner kick. Lewis Vaughan’s deep, floated corner kick was met by the head of Iain Davidson, though the ball was cleared amid a crowded penalty area.
For all Zanatta looked menacing on the left flank, Rovers enjoyed several early forays down the right wing too, and with ten minutes played tenacious work from Davidson won the ball for Liam Buchanan, who in turn fed Zanatta. The youngster’s shot was parried to safety by keeper Marc McCallum, though two minutes later the custodian would not be so fortunate.
Again Rovers patiently worked the ball down the right wing, and this time when the ball fell to Buchanan he squared the ball across goal towards striker partner Greig Spence who swept the ball into the net with the minimum of fuss from six yards.
A minute later, with the celebrations still buzzing within the south stand, Buchanan burst clear on goal, though the linesman’s flag stopped him in his tracks. Forfar responded with their first shot at goal, though Mark Millar’s shot from outside the box sailed over the bar.
Millar would not be denied, however, and with twenty minutes on the clock he set up Forfar’s equaliser. His low cross into the heart of the penalty area appeared harmless enough, but Peters reacted quickest to direct a low shot behind Graeme Smith at his near post.
This stung Rovers, who regained the lead within five minutes. Scott Robertson picked out Zanatta, whose whipped cross from out on the touch line was turned into his own net by the visitors’ trialist left-back.
Forfar’s Connor Duthie was spoken to by the referee following a late tackle on Ross Matthews, though the young Rovers midfielder recovered quickly to deliver a penetrating cross which almost fell to the in-rushing Zanatta.
Rovers continued to play with the confidence and energy you might expect from a side on such a good run of form and results, enjoying the lion’s share of possession and threatening to score with every foray up the pitch. Zanatta showed further attacking intent when he waltzed past several opponents before a scything tackle brought him to an abrupt halt.
Despite being hemmed in for the most part, Jim Weir’s side broke forward on occasion, and a cross from Peters drew a superb goal-saving challenge from Euan Murray to preserve Rovers’ lead.
There was a feisty end to the first half, when Connor Duthie was booked for a late tackle on Matthews, before Zanatta and Bain were spoken to by the referee following a wrestling match on the turf between the pair with the ball long since gone.
Rovers started the second half with clear intent on increasing their lead, a pattern which would continue for most of the next 45 minutes as several goal scoring chances were created and spurned. Zanatta miscued a shot following determined work by Spence, before at the other end of the pitch, Peters also made a hash of a scoring opportunity when he blazed wide with the goal at his mercy.
As the play ebbed and flowed, Davidson and Millar were booked by the referee for an off-the-ball tussle, before Rovers were denied what appeared to be a clear penalty. Neat work by Vaughan played Buchanan in and, as the forward set himself to shoot, he was pushed to the ground by a clumsy challenge. The howls of derision which met the decision to ignore the penalty claims echoed around the south stand and served to fire the home side further. A flurry of corner kicks rained down on McCallum’s goal, but somehow the visitors held frim and retained a foothold in the match.
With Twenty minutes remaining, Zanatta brought a fine save from Bain, and the resultant corner kick led to an almighty scramble in the box which ended with Murray’s scuffed shot wide of the post from 8 yards out. Lewis Vaughan was next to try his luck with a fizzing first-time shot from 18 yards which shaved the bar.
Ross Matthews then drew a smart save from Bain, before Buchanan should have eased Rovers’ nerves when presented with a clear sight of goal from Thomson’s cut-back, though the forward rushed his shot and it dribbled wide of the post.
Rovers continued to pepper the Forfar goal, but despite the pressure they could not convert the multitude of chances created. Vaughan flashed a shot wide of the target before Barry Smith made his first substitution as the final few minutes ticked away, Jonny Court being introduced for the tiring Buchanan.
Of course, the failure to secure a match-winning third goal created a degree of nervousness among the Rovers faithful, the fear being that the home side would rue so many missed opportunities. This feeling was exacerbated when Vaughan’s clever cross somehow evaded Spence on the goal-line, although the final whistle shortly afterwards allowed the fans to enjoy another deserved three points.
News then filtered through of Ayr’s loss to Arbroath, a result which leaves Rovers a point clear at the top of the league, having played two games fewer than the Honest Men. The raucous cheers which greeted confirmation of that score reverberated around the freezing south stand as the fans drifted out into the cold night, with the match against Ayr in Kirkcaldy next week already being eagerly anticipated.
RaithTV chatted with Barry after the 2-1 win against Forfar
Raith Rovers began 2018 with a 3-2 win at Methil on Tuesday, and they’ll be hoping to extend their happy start to the new year, when Forfar Athletic are the visitors to Stark’s Park this Saturday.
Goals from Scott Robertson and an own-goal gave the away side the lead twice against The Fife, but despite being pegged back on both occasions, a late goal from Dario Zanatta, ensured Rovers remained two points behind Ayr at the top-of-the-table, having played two games fewer.
Forfar also go into the game on the back of a local derby, but unlike Rovers, they failed to take anything from their match against their local rivals, with a Leighton McIntosh enough to ensure all three points went to Dick Campbell’s Arbroath.
That defeat meant that Forfar remained bottom of the table, two points behind ninth placed Queen’s Park, and seven behind Albion Rovers.
Despite their lowly league position, Rovers can take nothing for granted at the weekend, with the Loons pulling off an excellent 3-2 win against Ayr at Somerset Park in their final match of 2017, coming back from 2-0 down in the process.
Rovers have also already dropped points against Jim Weir’s team this season, with a 1-1 draw at Station Park in October. John Herron had prodded Rovers in front with around half-an-hour remaining, but a Mark Millar penalty, following the dismissal of Iain Davidson, handed the Angus side a deserved share of the spoils.
Rovers did come out on top in the last meeting at Stark’s Park in August though. Millar had blasted the away side in front with an early free-kick, but goals from Lewis Vaughan, Liam Buchanan and Greig Spence, saw Raith take all three points.
It’s been almost 13 years since The Loons last recorded a win in Kirkcaldy, a 2-0 Second Division win back in October 2005, a season where Raith would finish seventh in the third tier, with Forfar one place behind.
Raith Rovers have won five and drawn two of the last ten competitive meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Greg Aitken
Head-To-Head Home League Record Versus Forfar:
Raith Rovers Wins: 24 | Forfar Athletic Wins: 10 | Draws: 4
Raith Rovers Goals: 87 | Forfar Athletic Goals: 53
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-W-W-W | Forfar Athletic: L-L-W-L-W-L
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 19 | Liam Buchanan 11 | Greig Spence 11
Forfar Athletic: Mark Millar 7 | David Cox 4
Raith Rovers: 1/4 | Forfar Athletic: 10/1 | Draw: 5/1