Home Comforts See Raith Extend Lead
Raith Rovers surged five points clear in the League One title race, after a 3-1 home win over Albion Rovers at Stark’s Park.
John Herron’s early strike gave the home side the lead going into the interval, and after Michael Hopkins had temporarily restored parity in the second period, another from Herron, and a third from Jason Thomson, made it 34 points from a possible 36 at home for Raith this term.
Barry Smith named an unchanged starting eleven from the side which won convincingly at Hampden Park on Saturday, although for arguably the first time this season, the manager also appeared to have considerable strength in depth on the substitutes bench.
Kyle Benedictus was again amongst the reserves as he continues his return to full fitness, but alongside him were names such as Scott Robertson, Greig Spence, Ross Matthews and Jonny Court, as Rovers looked able to draw on an almost fully-fit squad.
On a freezing cold night, you sensed Brian Kerr’s team’s best bet, would be to frustrate Rovers and hope to hit them on the break, but that plan was in disarray after just six minutes, as Raith took an early lead.
Thomson had gallivanted forward into an advanced position to help out with the attack, and after picking up possession on the right and spotting Herron’s unchecked run into the box, the full-back’s finely weighted pass was gathered by the midfielder, who easily steered past Kieron Wright to hand the home side an ideal start.
Even at this point, it appeared the away side may be in for a long evening, and it was almost two after quarter-of-an-hour.
Again, Thomson was involved, and after his cross was cushioned into Lewis Vaughan’s path by the livewire Willis Furtado, there appeared to be little danger in his mishit shot.
However, Wright failed to gather effectively, and after Liam Buchanan nipped in to take the ball away from him, he was unfortunate to see his shot across goal fail to find either the inside of the back post, or a willing recipient to slot it home.
The home side were given a shot across their bows five minutes later though, when a slack pass from Herron to Barr was cut out by Michael McMullin, who had strode forward from the left-back position.
He chanced his luck from fully 25-yards, and with Aaron Lennox initially looking to be struggling to get across in time, the Rovers fans were relieved to see it zip just past his right-hand post.
That effort seemed to usher in a change in the game’s early momentum, with Rovers struggling to bring Furtado and Buchanan into play, while Albion started to sense a way back into the match.
Centre-halves, Iain Davidson and Dave McKay weren’t giving too much away though, with the visitors best effort a 22-yard free-kick from Ross Davidson, which crept a couple of feet over the bar.
Rovers had fallen out the game somewhat, although Furtado attempted to pick up the pace again, running at a retreating back line, before teeing up Dario Zanatta, but his weak effort was easily held by Wright.
A second goal would obviously have eased nerves as the break approached, and a gaggle of opportunities all presented themselves in the half’s closing stages, with Furtado at the hub of most of them.
Just three days after scoring a rip-snorter at Hampden, he almost managed it again, albeit from closer range, as he received a pass from Buchanan on the edge of the penalty-box, before crashing an effort off the crossbar which was eventually cleared.
The former Airdrieonians and Stenhousemuir man was involved again a minute later, playing a one-two with Vaughan, allowing the latter a dig at goal from 20-yards, which Wright did well to tip wide to his left.
Despite the seconds ticking down, he was again involved in a good opportunity, but this time he perhaps should have done better, volleying over at the back post after good work from Zanatta, as the Coatbridge side went into the break, fortunate to just be just a goal down.
The last ten minutes of the first-period had been something of the Furtado show, and he was front-and-centre a few minutes after the restart, when on-loan Aberdeen defender Harlan Mbayo’s headed clearance dropped a little short, which the forward seized upon, whizzing a half-volley from the edge of the area just wide.
It was Albion Rovers who came closest to grabbing the next goal though, as Raith suddenly looked susceptible at the back.
Euan Murray got caught the wrong side of a long clearance, allowing Kane Hester a shot at goal which was deflected wide.
If that was a warning, it wasn’t heeded, as just a minute later, Davidson swiped at the ball inside the area, allowing his namesake, Ross, the chance to cross to the back-post, for Hopkins to slot home.
With both Ayr and Raith spurning chances to stamp their authority on the title race this term, the equaliser asked questions of the home side, but with plenty time on the clock, there was no sense of panic from the players, or fans.
If Raith were to get back into the lead, it appeared Furtado was the most likely to provide the spark, and his run onto a through pass from Barr allowed him a sniff, but from a tight angle, his shot was straight at Wright.
Vaughan was next to try his luck, latching on to a dipping clearance just outside the box, but despite catching it well, Wright did superbly to tip it away.
Rovers were really needing to cash in when they were on top, and they did so in the 62nd minute, with an extremely similar goal to their first.
Herron had again made space for himself inside the area, and after receiving a knock down from Furtado, he reproduced his composed close-range finish from the first-half to restore Raith’s lead.
Scott Robertson was then introduced for Buchanan, with Vaughan heading up-front alongside Furtado.
Rovers were really starting to stretch the visiting defence, and the points seemed to be assured with 15 minutes remaining, as Rovers got the goal their dominance deserved.
A bouncing ball wasn’t dealt with at all by the static Albion defenders, allowing Thomson to steal in and prod the ball home from 12-yards.
They should really have extended their lead a few moments later, when they found themselves with a three on two, but with Vaughan in possession and Furtado and Herron either side of him, he elected to go himself, blootering a shot into a defender’s shin, leaving his colleagues, especially Herron who was on a hat-trick, looking nonplussed.
The win meant Raith have now lost just once in 12 matches, and with Ayr in Scottish Cup duty against Rangers at the weekend, Rovers have the chance to go eight points clear with a home game against Airdrie, as the season approaches it’s final third.
© Eddie Doig 2018
Barry was pleased with the 3-1 victory v Albion Rovers
Goalscorer John Herron spoke to RaithTV after the match
After going two points clear at the top-of-the-table at the weekend, Rovers have the opportunity to move five ahead of Ayr on Tuesday evening, with a home match against Albion Rovers.
Raith’s 3-1 away win at Queen’s Park, combined with Ayr’s 2-1 defeat at home to Alloa, saw Barry Smith’s team leapfrog The Honest Men in the League One table, in a title race that changes complexion on a seemingly weekly basis.
That win at Hampden means that Raith have lost just once in their last eleven matches, and with Ayr not in league action this weekend due to Scottish Cup commitments, Rovers have the chance to put distance between themselves and Ian McCall’s side.
If that is to occur however, they’ll have to perform far better than they did the last time they played The Wee Rovers back in September, when they went down by two goals to one at Cliftonhill.
Alan Trouten and Connor Shields gave the home side a 2-0 lead, and despite Greig Spence providing Raith with a toehold in the game with three minutes remaining, there’d be no grandstand finish to the encounter, as Brian Kerr’s side pulled off one of just two home wins they have to their name this term.
That result was the Coatbridge side’s fourth win in five at the time, but they’ve only won twice since then, a sequence which has seen them slide down the table to eighth, just a point ahead of Forfar, and four clear of tenth placed Queen’s Park.
Shields won’t be able to reproduce his heroics at Stark’s Park, after the youngster signed for Sunderland during the transfer window, but Albion Rovers did manage to bring in some new faces to bolster their defensive options during the month of January.
Former Dundee, Peterhead and Montrose centre-half, Callum MacDonald has signed after leaving The Mo’ last summer, while fellow central defenders, Daniel Baur and Harlain Mbayo have signed on loan from Hearts and Aberdeen respectively.
Eighteen-year-old Baur has made two appearances for the Jam Tarts in the Premiership, while Congolese-born Mbayo has yet to make an appearance for The Dons after joining from Oxford United.
Despite defeat to Albion last time out, Rovers have the upper hand in this fixture, with six wins and two draws from the last ten meetings.
Tuesday evening’s match referee will be Alan Newlands.
Home League Record Versus Albion Rovers:
Raith Rovers Wins: 24 | Albion Rovers Wins: 7 | Draws: 8
Raith Rovers Goals: 92 | Albion Rovers Goals: 42
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-L-D-W
Albion Rovers: D-L-L-L-L-L
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 19 | Greig Spence 13 | Liam Buchanan 12
Albion Rovers: Alan Trouten 24 | Connor Shields 12 | Joao Victoria 6
Raith Rovers: 4/11 | Albion Rovers: 15/2 | Draw: 4/1