Somerset Sorrow As Raith Defeated
Raith Rovers may have ended the day still top of the League One pile, but the title advantage now lies with second place Ayr United, after a one sided victory for Ian McCall’s side.
For the second time this season, Rovers were blown away at Somerset Park by an Ayr side, who could have racked up more goals than the three they managed without reply.
For the fourth time in succession, Lawrence Shankland opened the scoring in this fixture, and his strike was quickly followed by goals from Jamie Adams and Michael Moffat, as Raith completely failed to deal with the Honest Men’s intensity.
Barry Smith made two changes from the two-all draw with Arbroath, with Iain Davidson missing through suspension, meaning a return to the left-back berth for Kevin McHattie.
That meant Euan Murray partnered Kyle Benedictus in central defence, while in midfield, Regan Hendry made his first start since joining on loan from Celtic, with Scott Robertson missing after picking up a knock in the opening stages of that draw with the Red Lichties.
After limited playing time since his arrival, the inclusion of Hendry was something of a surprise, with the Celtic youngster playing alongside Lewis Vaughan and Ross Matthews in the middle of the park.
Right from the off, Ayr demonstrated they were up for the occasion, creating the first chance in the opening minute.
Mark Kerr was alert enough to pick out Declan McDaid wide on the right, but after cutting inside McHattie to fashion a decent shooting chance inside the area, he could only curl his effort well wide of target.
Kerr was the architect of their next chance too, picking out Paddy Boyle on the left, whose low cross picked out Moffat inside the penalty box, but from ten-yards out, his snap-shot was smothered by Aaron Lennox.
Rovers were needing to take the sting out of proceedings, and they had a chance to in the seventh minute, when Vaughan’s free-kick into the area was met by Murray, but his header was well wide of Jack Ruddy’s goal.
They forced Ruddy into action in the 10th minute however, when Barr’s cross to the back post found Dario Zanatta, who attempted to curve an effort inside the ‘keeper’s left-hand post, only for the Ayr custodian to scramble it away.
Despite the extra man in midfield, Ayr were dominating possession, with Furtado looking increasingly isolated up-top, with his colleagues sitting deep in their own half.
Considering what was at stake, the game didn’t need too much added spice, but there was some decent beef developing between the two sides, with both Matthews and Barr going down off the ball, although referee, Gavin Ross took no action on either occasion.
Euan Murray was then spoken to for going in late on Shankland, before Moffat appeared to take some retribution by leaving a leg in on the Raith defender a moment later.
A goal appeared to be on the cards, and when it came in the 33rd minute, there was no surprise that it was for the home side.
McDaid got the better of McHattie, and after having his shirt pulled by the left-back, his set-piece was headed home by Shankland, as the Raith defence inexplicably left Ayr’s best striker in oodles of space inside the area.
The question was now how, or perhaps even could, Raith find a way back into the match, but with Furtado effectively 20-yards away from any team-mate, and marked by two centre-halves, every Rovers clearance was coming straight back at them.
As such, there seemed an inevitability that Ayr would increase their advantage, which they did in the 43rd minute, through a goal that was entirely avoidable.
A cross from the Rovers left-hand-side was nodded back into the danger area, rather than away by Jason Thomson, allowing Adams the chance to power home a shot, which slithered under Lennox’s body and over the line.
It was a terrible goal to concede and a terrible time to do so, and with Rovers struggling to contain a rampant home side, it was difficult to see exactly how they were going to force a way back into the match, even with half the game still remaining.
To that end, Barry Smith brought on Johnny Court at the interval for Zanatta, with Furtado moving out wide, and Vaughan more advanced alongside the substitute.
The changes counted for nought though, with the game essentially over as a contest within eight minutes of the restart.
Again, the Rovers defence was incapable of dealing with a cross into the area, this time from a corner, allowing Moffat to hook the ball home from close range.
It had been a long time since Rovers had had a shot at goal, never mind one on target, but Furtado came close in the 58th minute, with a deflected effort which skimmed just past the post.
Liam Buchanan then replaced Regan Hendry, but despite having a plethora of attacking options on the park, there seemed no discernible plan about how they were supposed to function together, as Ayr continued to look the likelier to score, with Steven Bell’s half volley flying just over Lennox’s crossbar.
They came close again with ten minutes remaining, when a quick breakaway from a Raith breakdown, saw Moffat tee up Shankland, but his bobbling effort was straight at Lennox.
They came even closer to a fourth just a few moments later, and again the problem came from a set-piece, with Geggan getting his head on the end of McDaid’s corner, only to be denied by a good reaction stop from Lennox.
The full-time whistle was something of a relief to the travelling Raith fans, with this Tuesday’s match against Forfar now even more vital as Rovers look to keep their noses in front.
The match highlights video will appear here the day after the match
Photo Gallery will appear here shortly
Barry spoke with RaithTV after the match at Somerset Park
All roads lead to Somerset Park this weekend, as Raith Rovers and Ayr United lock horns in a match which could go a long way to deciding the destination of the League One title.
With both teams having their fixtures cancelled last weekend, and in midweek, Rovers continue to hold a four point lead over their rivals, albeit Ian McCall’s team have played a game fewer.
If Rovers are to extend that lead however, they’ll have to buck the trend when it comes to their Somerset Park form, with just two wins from their last ten visits to the venue, stretching back to 2008.
That said, Raith are unbeaten in six League One games, and just one defeat in 15 since losing to Ayr in November.
That loss was a heavy one, with goals from Lawrence Shankland, Robbie Crawford and Craig Moore ensuring a comfortable 3-0 win.
The other two meetings have been far closer affairs though, with one draw and one win for Barry Smith’s team.
Despite going in at the interval a goal down through Shankland’s close range effort, Raith won the first meeting in September, with their turnaround coming thanks to second-half strikes from Lewis Vaughan and Jason Thomson.
The last meeting came in January, and once again Shankland opened the scoring, only for Greig Spence to restore parity in a game which finished one each.
Ayr’s form certainly seems to be returning in recent weeks, with two consecutive wins after defeats to Alloa Athletic and Rangers at the start of February. Rovers fans will be crossing their fingers that they don’t manage to reproduce the form they demonstrated between October and December though, when a run of 11 wins and one draw in 12 fixtures, took them to the top of the table.
That sequence also helped them become the first Scottish club to score 100 goals in all competitions this term, with their 70 league goals 15 more than the league leaders have accumulated to date.
The two sides can’t be split in terms of the recent head-to-head, with three wins and four draws apiece.
Saturday’s match referee will be Gavin Ross
Head-To-Head Away League Record Versus Ayr:
Ayr United Wins: 33 | Raith Rovers Wins: 16 | Draws: 22
Ayr United Goals: 92 | Raith Rovers Goals: 72
Ayr United: W-W-L-L-W-W
Raith Rovers: D-W-W-W-D-D
Top Goal Scorers:
Ayr United: Lawrence Shankland 23 | Craig Moore 21 | Michael Moffat 11
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 20 | Greig Spence 13 | Liam Buchanan 12
Ayr United: 5/4 | Raith Rovers: 19/10 | Draw: 13/5