Last Day Stalemate Ends Title Challenge
In a frustrating season of missed opportunities, Raith Rovers squandered the biggest and best of the lot this afternoon, losing out on the League One title by drawing 0-0 win Alloa Athletic, when a win was required to finish at the summit of the third tier.
Ayr United’s two successive defeats had handed Rovers an initiative they probably thought had gone after falling five points behind just three weeks ago, but despite a large crowd of four-and-half-thousand coming to back the team, the players failed to rise to the challenge, on a desperately disappointing day.
Unsurprisingly, after the fine 3-0 away win at Stranraer last weekend, Barry Smith went with the same starting eleven which began proceedings at Stair Park, and despite the nervous energy around Stark’s Park, there was a sense of expectation around the home stands as the match got underway.
That was tempered slightly however, when Rovers lost the toss, and referee, Gavin Duncan made the gesture which home fans dread, for the teams to change ends.
Jim Goodwin’s side hadn’t made the journey to Kirkcaldy just to make up the numbers, and they were the first to have a pop at goal in the opening minute, with Callum Smith, who’s on-loan from Dunfermline, letting fly but failing to trouble Graeme Smith.
Rovers didn’t take too long for their first sight of goal however, around seven minutes to be exact, when Kevin McHattie was brought down 25-yards from goal, allowing Lewis Vaughan a shot from a set-piece, which was comfortably tipped over the bar by Neil Parry.
The game had started at a harum-scarum rate of knots, and Smith again came close for Alloa, cutting in from the left-hand-side and evading two challenges, fashioning room for a shot, which was eventually lashed over the bar.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Rovers weren’t creating too many goal-scoring chances from open play, and it took another set-piece for Rovers to register their next decent shot at goal, with Vaughan’s kick again looking accurate, but this time his swerving effort was headed over the bar.
Rovers then had a huge let-off after quarter-of-an-hour.
Jordan Kirkpatrick let rip from long range, and after initially taking a step to his right, Graeme Smith flung himself to his left and tipped the ball onto the post, and despite hitting the inside of the post and running along the line, the ball somehow stayed out.
It was a warning that Rovers really had to up their game, and for a brief period they did, with Zanatta teeing up Thomson on the right-flank, with his cross met first time by Liam Buchanan, whose first time effort was repelled by Parry who turned it wide.
Despite occurring midway through the first period, that was as good as it got from a Rovers perspective in the first 45, with a well organised Alloa team strung across their defensive third, giving no room to a Raith team which looked ill-equipped to open them up.
Indeed, it was Alloa who really should have went in at the interval in-front, when Kirkpatrick again rattled the woodwork, this time the crossbar from a free-kick, before McHattie managed to clear the danger as the half drew to a close.
With Ayr doing what they had to do at Somerset Park against Albion Rovers, Raith had to go for the jugular in the second period, but it started in a similar vein as the first, with the home side seeing plenty of possession, but little penetration while having it.
Forwards were generally receiving the ball with their back to goal and simply sending it back from whence it came, while the productivity from wide areas was patchwork at best.
Buchanan did bring a save out of Parry after 56 minutes, tipping his shot from distance wide for a corner, and he did an even better job of keeping it out from the set-piece, meeting Thomson’s header from close range to keep the scores blank.
He couldn’t do much about Rovers next chance, which arrived with 20 minutes remaining, although ultimately it was fruitless.
Thomson was again the recipient of a cross from a set-piece, with his header across goal coming back off the bar, and after initially being cleared, a chance fell to him again from six-yards-out, but somehow he could only direct it over the bar.
With timing running out, Smith looked to his bench for a goal, with Willis Furtado replacing Bobby Barr and Greig Spence coming on for Buchanan, but if anything, the game became more even in the last 15 minutes, as the away side sniffed a chance to take advantage of Rovers desperation.
Furtado has demonstrated this season that he has an eye for the spectacular, but he could only send a 20-yard effort wide of target as the minutes ticked away, and there was one last stramash in the final seconds, as Spence’s cross was headed down by Iain Davidson but hacked off the line as Rovers regular season ended in disappointment and what-might-have-been.
The hope now is that the players can lift their heads for the challenge of the playoffs, which start on Wednesday against the same opponents at the Indodrill Stadium.
The manager spoke with RaithTV after a hugely disappointing day at Stark’s Park, and looks ahead to the play-offs.
Despite being five points behind Ayr United just a fortnight ago, Raith Rovers can seal the League One title this weekend, with a win over Alloa Athletic at Stark’s Park.
A 3-0 win over Stranraer last Saturday moved Barry Smith’s men top-of-the-pile, and while the Honest Men had a chance to leapfrog Raith on the Sunday afternoon, they failed to do so, losing 2-1 to Alloa, leaving Raith one point clear with just one game remaining.
They could barely have a more challenging game to need all three points from however, with Saturday’s opponents Alloa losing just once in their last seven outings.
They currently sit fourth in the table, but if they can better Arbroath’s result on the last day, they’d finish third, meaning they’d face the League One runners-up, rather than Dumbarton in the playoffs.
Raith Rovers are unbeaten against the Wasps this season, although they’ve only won one of the three fixtures.
They met at the Indodrill Stadium back on the opening day, when a last minute Lewis Vaughan goal nabbed Rovers a point in a 1-1 draw.
Their next meeting wasn’t until December at Stark’s Park, and while Greig Spence and Liam Buchanan handed Raith a two goal lead, a Kevin Cawley goal two minutes from time ensured a nervous few moments before the three points were confirmed.
The most recent meeting was just a month later at the foot of the Ochil Hills, and once again the points were shared, in a fairly low-key 0-0 draw.
Raith Rovers have a mixed record in this fixture, with four wins and four draws from the last ten meetings.
Saturday’s match official will be Gavin Duncan.
Head-To-Head Home League Record Versus Alloa:
Raith Rovers Wins: 29 | Alloa Athletic Wins: 8 | Draws: 11
Raith Rovers Goals: 115 | Alloa Athletic Goals: 57
Raith Rovers: W-W-W-D-W-W
Alloa Athletic: D-W-W-L-W-W
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 23 | Liam Buchanan 14 | Greig Spence 13
Alloa Athletic: Iain Flannigan 8 | Ross Stewart 7
Raith Rovers: 1/4 | Alloa Athletic: 12/1 | Draw: 19/4