BARR AND ZANATTA SEAL LATE WIN
Two late goals saw Raith overcome a determined Albion Rovers at Starks Park this afternoon, keeping up the pressure on leaders Ayr United, who themselves needed a late goal to win away to East Fife, as the race for the League One Championship title goes into the final weeks of the season.
Goals from Bobby Barr and late substitute Dario Zanatta capped a battling performance by the home side, who were made to struggle for long spells by an enterprising and open display from the visitors. Man-of-the-match goalkeeper Aaron Lennox pulled off three excellent saves in the run-up to half-time, laying the foundations for Raith’s final flourish to take all three points.
Under grey skies and on a heavy pitch, manager Barry Smith shuffled his pack again following the midweek win over East Fife. Willis Furtado dropped to the bench following his early substitution on Tuesday night, with the lively Greig Spence starting upfront. Scott Robertson started again, having recovered from his own injury worries to complete all but the last fifteen minutes of the Fife Derby. Iain Davidson, fresh from his man-of-the-match performance in midweek, anchored a defence facing one of Scottish football’s most prolific marksmen in Albion Rover’s Alan Trouten, with his defensive partner Kyle Benedictus wearing the captain’s armband.
Raith’s visitors arrived in Kirkcaldy on the trail of a first win following four defeats in a row, notwithstanding finding the net in each of those games. Regular Albion Rovers fans have seen an astonishing 129 League goals all season, and their side continues to perplex – scoring regularly and often against all-comers, yet defensively the side doesn’t have its troubles to seek – Tuesday night’s last-minute defeat to Arbroath, with a goal from Colin Hamilton up from left-back, no less – typified the entertaining yet frustrating nature of many Albion games this season. Today, Kieron Wright took over in goals, with Daniel Potts relegated to the bench; Graeme Holmes started in defence with Craig McLeish dropping out; manager Brian Kerr retained his front four – McLean on the right, Higgins and Trouten in the centre, and Joao Vitoria on the left. Left-back Scott McLaughlin made his 600th senior appearance.
The early signs for Raith were encouraging – Vaughan pressing right up alongside Spence, and both Matthews and Barr racing to join in. Robertson strayed narrowly off-side when well-placed, while both Spence and Vaughan twisted and turned against their opposite numbers.
The visitors played lovely football in spells during the opening exchanges. In the first ten minutes, Trouten dropped deep and wide to both flanks, drawing others into play before speeding forward, Holmes and Ross Davidson spread the play well from central midfield, and McLaughlin was a willing runner attacking Raith’s right flank. With Raith losing possession almost as soon as they won it, it was Albion Rovers who had looked the more purposeful in the opening quarter of an hour.
For Raith, Spence was unlucky to be penalised for a pull on centre-back Perry, and moments later was caught in a tangle with Ross Davidson in midfield – both players needing treatment. The lull in the action became more pronounced with news of an early Ayr goal at East Fife.
On fifteen minutes, the first real chance. Trouten chased a lost cause deep into the corner; a poor Benedictus clearance found its way to Scott Maclean – the midfielder’s drive from twenty years was well turned round the post by Lennox. A minute later, a good spell of possession for Raith following a corner – Hendry spread the play left and right, before Barr was adjudged off-side looking to cross.
Lewis Vaughan created then passed up a glorious opportunity to put Raith in front – Trouten was caught in possession, and Vaughan battled his way through three challenges, eventually stepping inside Perry and lashing into Wright’s side-netting. Within moments, Joao Victoria showed similar footwork in the Raith area, only to be crowded out as he looked to shoot. Maclean fired wildly over from distance with Albion’s next chance.
Another clear chance came Raith’s way on twenty-six minutes – Spence won an aerial challenge with keeper Wright, Vaughan looking to chip the stranded goalie but underhit his effort on goal, Marr gratefully thumping clear.
Following the flurry of chances, the next ten minutes were more attritional – Spence and Vaughan struggled under the close attentions of the Albion rearguard, with the Raith midfield unable to generate either pace or width in their quest for an opener. With several niggly fouls punctuating play, and the visitors arguably winning the battle in the trenches in midfield, the South Stand became increasingly vocal as the half wore on. Maclean set up Ross Davidson on thirty-eight minutes, only for the latter to pull his shot wide. Maclean’s high cross was well claimed by Lennox in a crowded penalty area – although seconds later, Higgins’ drive from half-way nearly caught out the Raith keeper, Lennox having strayed from his line.
With a minute until half-time, a guilt-edged chance for the visitors – Holmes’ diagonal ball caught Davidson and Benedictus ball-watching, allowing Trouten to escape in on goal. Inexplicably, and fortunately for Raith, the striker chipped wide of the advancing Lennox, the ball falling wide of the unguarded goal.
Within minutes, two more chances – Vitoria and then Maclean driving at Lennox, the home keeper making two excellent saves. With Davidson rushing at the linesman claiming off-side, and the home support roaring their disapproval, referee Beaton’s half-time whistle brought the action to an end. The visitors trooped off in disbelief that the scores were still level; Raith indebted to their goal-keeper standing steadfast in the face of the visitors’ pressure.
With no substitutions from either side at half-time, the second half began – rain pouring, and floodlights illuminating the late afternoon gloom. An early burst of energy from Raith – Vaughan catching McLaughlin in the far touchline, Marr clearing the danger with Spence lurking. The visitors responded in kind – Vitoria exchanging incisive passes through the middle with Trouten and Higgins, only to lose his footing at the crucial moment. Maclean’s drifting free-kick floated dangerously through the airspace above Lennox’s goal.
Willis Furtado was introduced on fifty-five minutes for Greig Spence, and almost immediately, manufactured a shot on Wright’s goal. Vaughan created room for Murray to cross, and Furtado’s flick rose up and beyond Wright’s far post – an early statement of intent from the Frenchman.
Two bookings in quick succession in the visiting rearguard – Holmes and Perry both cautioned for pulls and tugs on escaping Raith forwards. With Davidson also booked for dissent following any number of feisty exchanges in midfield, the match was simmering as a spectacle – needing only a goal to bring the contest fully to life. Maclean’s neat inside header fell just short of Higgins, and moments later, Trouten and Higgins exchanged passes, the latter’s cross narrowly evading Vitoria arriving at the far post.
On sixty-eight minutes, Furtado escaped wide on the left following a Marr slip, his driven cross narrowly behind Matthews. Play surged in the opposite direction – Maclean’s swerving cross was just too strong for Trouten at the other end.
With the match losing some of its shape, chances became scarce as the quality of possession fell away. Barr did well to shoot on the turn following a deflected high cross on seventy-seven minutes, and Vaughan narrowly failed to turn a bouncing ball into the path of the onrushing substitute Herron seconds later. The South Stand urged Raith to greater efforts – Ayr, having been a goal down at Bayview, now having equalised.
Raith came again, finally getting the better of their opponents, and flowing well through midfield. Vaughan turned and twisted down the inside-left channel, his driven cross falling just behind Furtado. On eight-three minutes, Hendry’s drive required visiting keeper Wright to be at his best.
With five minutes to go, and increasing amounts of space as legs tired on both sides, joy unleashed for the home fans. Substitute Zanatta worked the ball inside under real pressure; and, two passes later, the ball found its way to Bobby Barr – the midfielder set himself, and lashed high beyond Wight to open the scoring. Cue bedlam in the South Stand, borne as much from an outpouring of relief as celebration at the emphatic nature of the finish.
With Albion Rovers introducing Scullion for the enterprising Vitoria and forcing a corner soon after, a counter-attack led directly to Raith’s second. With the visitors carelessly losing possession from a throw deep in Raith territory, Barr set off toward goal, freeing Furtado down the left. The Frenchman lowered his shoulders, driving for the by-line; his cross perfectly weighted for Zanatta, who put the match beyond doubt. There was fury on the away bench amidst the Raith celebrations, the visitors claiming the throw should be re-taken, but referee Beaton awarded the goal – sealing the three points for the home side.
Following the late drama, the remaining two minutes played themselves out without further incident. News of Ayr’s 3-2 win at Bayview filtered through the home support – Raith leaving the pitch to the cheers of their supporters celebrating the three points, but tempered by the knowledge that the gap at the top of the table remains as it was at the start of play. All eyes turn to Raith’s trip to Arbroath next weekend.
Barry spoke to RaithTV after the win over Albion Rovers
After disposing of East Fife in midweek to move to within three points of top-of-the-table Ayr United, Raith host Albion Rovers this Saturday, as they look to gain further ground on The Honest Men.
That’ll be easier said than done however, despite Brian Kerr’s men languishing in ninth spot in the league.
Raith have struggled against Albion Rovers this season, with a return of just four points from three games, with all three games featuring goals and late drama.
Their defeat came in the first meeting back in September, when Alan Trouten and Connor Shields fired the home side two up, and although Greig Spence reduced the arrears, the Cliftonhill side easily held on to take all three points.
Rovers got their solitary win against them in February, when a John Herron double and Jason Thomson effort sealed a 3-1 win, but it was a different story just 11 days later, as Rovers toiled to a 2-2 draw back at Cliftonhill.
Euan Murray and a Jason Marr own-goal had twice handed Barry Smith’s side the initiative, but two goals from Trouten, the second from the penalty spot in injury time, saw Rovers lose ground in the title race.
One thing which should be guaranteed in this fixture is goals, with just two nil nil draws ever over a sequence of 84 matches, while Albion Rovers 31 league games have featured an astonishing 129 goals this season.
Despite their recent poor form against Albion Rovers, Raith have won five and drawn three of their ten most recent meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Graham Beaton.
Head-To-Head Home Record Versus Albion Rovers:
Raith Rovers Wins: 28
Albion Rovers Wins: 7
Raith Rovers Goals: 95
Albion Rovers Goals: 43
Raith Rovers: D-D-L-L-W-W
Albion Rovers: W-D-L-L-L-L
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 22, Greig Spence 13, Liam Buchanan 12
Albion Rovers: Alan Trouten 27, Connor Shields 12
Raith Rovers: 2/5
Albion Rovers: 13/2