ROVERS TOP TABLE AFTER FINE WIN
Raith swept back to the top of the Scottish League One with a resounding three-goal victory over Stranraer at Stair Park. In glorious Spring sunshine, Rovers started quickly, scoring twice in the first half, before a late third from Lewis Vaughan sealed victory. With Ayr not in action until Sunday, Raith now enjoy a one-point lead at the top of the Championship table.
Manager Barry Smith only made one change – Regan Hendry reintroduced into midfield with John Herron dropping to the bench. Hendry and Scott Robertson looked to stem the flow from Stranraer’s Kyle Turner and Scott Agnew. Wide on Raith’s right, Jason Thomson showed early drive to get forward, embodying his manager’s demand for a high early tempo – Thomson’s first cross zipped through Currie’s box and away.
With four straight wins at their backs, Stranraer were keen to finish the season on a high. For their last home game of the season, Scott Agnew was resplendent in midfield, the familiar figure of Grant Anderson was deployed up front in a central role, with the experienced Jamie Hamill patrolling the centre of Stranraer’s defence. In the only change from last week’s sensational win at Somerset Park, young Rangers’ loanee Ross Lyon dropped out, with Cameron Elliot stepping in. Grant Anderson narrowly strayed offside in trying to release Okoh in the first minute, putting Murray and Davidson on notice.
In the bright sunshine, a tremendous start for Raith – the merest of near-post flicks from Euan Murray from a Vaughan corner was enough to beat Mark Currie in the home goal. Despite a scrappy start, Raith had struck first in three minutes. The traveling Raith support – some in fancy dress – roared their approval.
Stranraer looked to respond – young MacPherson, playing wide right in midfield, despite wearing the number three, burst into the Raith box twice; Iain Davidson alert to the danger on both occasions. Kyle Turner was busy in midfield, all neat turns and flicks.
The home pitch, looking pristine from a distance, seemed hard and rutted in places – several passes bounced or bobbled off their intended course. Neither Thomson nor McHattie relished driven low passes from their centre-halves, the ball doing its best to evade close control. Turning inside from a Hendry pass, Zanatta did well to win a free-kick twenty-five yards out – Vaughan, taking time to settle himself, thumped the face of Currie’s cross-bar with a fine dipping free-kick. Buchanan scrambled the follow-up goalwards, a despairing home leg clearing off the line.
Although Raith had the better of early possession, Stranraer had chances too. MacPherson was generating mileage on the right – with one driving run taking McHattie to the touchline, MacPherson’s cross was met first time by Stranraer’s Robertson – his first-time right foot shot was well blocked away by Graeme Smith.
With nineteen minutes gone, a lightning counter-attack – Vaughan pinched the ball from Agnew’s feet, and Raith were away. Robertson found Zanatta, who fed Barr at full speed – a miraculous late challenge from Stranraer’s Robertson prevented a Raith second. A minute later, another golden opportunity – McGowan’s poor defensive header let in Buchanan on the angle. With Vaughan screaming for a centre, his strike partner opted to shot, holding his head as his strike drifted the wrong side of Currie’s far post.
Bobby Barr showed his pace on numerous occasions – running up the stand side, he looked to burst beyond Stranraer’s Robertson, giving respite to his defenders, and offering a deep option for Vaughan dropping into midfield. The Stranraer defender matched the Raith winger’s early sprints, but Raith would continue to generate real width down that side.
As the match passed the half-hour, a real midfield battle was brewing between Regan Hendry and Stranraer’s youthful Kyle Turner – with both players full of energy and showing genuine composure in tight spaces, neither gave the other an inch in the first half. If one escaped, the other chased hard to regain position and cover. With the hard pitch making close control difficult, both players were fully engaged and energised, giving fine first-half displays.
With five minutes till the half, and the home side flowing well through midfield, a fine chance for an equaliser. The rangy right-back Robertson escaped beyond both Barr and McHattie, chipping inside – neither Okoh nor Elliot took responsibility, the latter’s rushed shot poor reward for the build-up play.
In forty-three minutes, a classic sucker-punch for Raith’s second – all stemming from a poor defensive header from Morgyn Neill. Bobby Barr’s quick throw-in found Vaughan, who quickly switched the play to Thomson and Zanatta. The young Canadian winger bewitched his opponent, offering a flighted cross – Liam Buchanan had a step on Robertson, heading beyond Currie for Raith’s second.
As expected, the hosts looked the begin the second half on the front foot. Kyle Turner blasted over Smith’s bar after muscular centre-forward play from Grant Anderson, and both Okoh and Elliot looked to press up against Murray and Davidson. McHattie’s fifty-second minute clearance caught the branches of a tree on the far side, where it remained for the duration.
Cameron Elliot’s powerful header straight at Smith on fifty-five minutes was Stranraer’s first clear chance of the second half, despite having enjoyed by far the better of the second half possession. McGowan’s beautifully weighted touch inside Thomson allowed Turner to run at Davidson, the Raith defender conceding a corner and earning a yellow for dissent at the same time. Grant Anderson’s high cross over McHattie allowed MacPherson to drive at goal – the home side needed the goal their second half endeavours merited.
With home manager Farrell making a double substitution – withdrawing the ineffective Okoh and young Elliot for Baxter and Dykes – the home side continued to press after the hour mark. Turner opted to pass when well placed to shoot, the home support howling in frustration.
On sixty-nine minutes, a break for Raith and almost a third – Vaughan’s near-post header narrowly the wrong side of Currie’s post, with the home keeper beaten. Robertson had stolen clear in midfield, running at Hamill and drawing the experienced defender out of position. With Raith’s next attack, Buchanan ran into the box on an angle, Hamill scrambling clear. Raith looked to have shored up their defences, and were building on their renewed foundations to attack again. Buchanan blasted wide when well placed.
Two great chances in quick succession on seventy-five minutes – Buchanan collected a neat Zanatta header to release Vaughan in behind Neill. The Raith striker ran right to Currie’s six-yard box before his blasted finish was thumped into the midriff of the home keeper; Buchanan’s follow-up deflected away. At the other end, Turner was in the clear, escaping in behind Davidson – the youngster’s finish beat Graeme Smith, but Euan Murray took up great position behind his keeper, clearing the danger. The home fans roared their encouragement.
Moments later though, a Raith third, securing the three points. Bobby Barr’s dashing run down Stranraer’s right flank earned time to cross. With the home defence posted missing, Barr picked out Lewis Vaughan at the far post, who made no mistake from close range.
As the match moved into its final ten minutes, Stranraer continued to push and press, but couldn’t create the finish to get the goal much of their midfield play had deserved. Turner’s neat inside ball found Grant Anderson, however the former Raith winger’s attempted chip fell into the arms of a grateful Graeme Smith – Anderson and the home fans held their heads at the wasted opportunity. Substitute Dykes blasted wide from twenty-five yards as the match moved into injury time following the ninety minutes.
With the final chance of the match, substitute Greig Spence nipped lightly away from Hamill, only to fire high over Currie’s bar. With referee Graham blowing the final whistle moments later, Raith’s vocal travelling support cheered the three points. Against potentially tricky opponents, Raith had shown a clear sense of purpose and a no-nonsense attitude from the start, stamping their authority on the fixture from the off – Raith now top the table, before Ayr United’s Sunday fixture at Alloa.
© Eddie Doig 2018
Barry talked to RaithTV after the victory at Stair Park
Raith Rovers have the chance to go top of the league this Saturday, after a win over Queen’s Park last weekend, reduced the gap to Ayr United to two points with two games remaining.
The reduction of the gap was also down to Saturday’s opponents Stranraer, who sealed a late 2-1 win over Ayr United at Somerset Park, thanks to goals from ex-Raith winger Grant Anderson, and Scott Agnew.
However, Steve Farrell’s team have already beaten Raith Rovers at Stair Park this season, and they go into the match on the back of a four game winning streak, leaving them fifth in the table, but almost certainly out of the running for a playoff spot, due to a six point gap with two games remaining, coupled with Arbroath and Alloa having a vastly superior goal difference.
Such a strong finish to the campaign and high league position seemed unlikely during the January transfer window, when a number of their more well established first-team members left the club, but to the side’s credit, they’ve never looked in danger, despite the now youthful look to the team.
The first two matches between the sides this season were reasonably straightforward, with Raith winning both 3-0 at Stark’s Park.
Lewis Vaughan scored two and Greig Spence the other back in August, and both were on the score sheet in December, along with Liam Buchanan, as Raith again won convincingly.
It was a different matter in January though, as Stranraer won 1-0 thanks to an Angus Beith strike, in a rescheduled fixture, after the original was abandoned due to monsoon like conditions with the scores tied at 1-1.
That defeat last time out is Raith’s only loss toStranraer since 2004, with Raith winning seven and drawing two of the last ten meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Kevin Graham
Head-To-Head Away League Record Versus Stranraer:
Stranraer Wins: 7 |Raith Rovers Wins: 15 | Draws: 6
Stranraer Goals: 37 | Raith Rovers Goals: 61
Raith Rovers: L-W-W-W-D-W
Too Goal Scorers:
Stranraer: Scott Agnew 12 | Ryan Wallace 10 | Angus Beith 8
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 22 | Liam Buchanan 13 | Greig Spence 13
Stranraer: 7/2 | Raith Rovers 8/11 | Draw: 14/5