Promotion Hopes Dashed With Defeat
Raith Rovers season ended in dismal fashion this afternoon, losing 2-1 to Alloa Athletic and 4-1 on aggregate, condemning Rovers to a second consecutive season in the third tier.
A wonderful free-kick from Jordan Kirkpatrick put Alloa in the driving seat before half-time, and although Euan Murray lashed home an equaliser after the interval, Alloa never really looked troubled, and grabbed a warranted winner through Ross Stewart.
Unsurprisingly, given the paucity of performance on Wednesday evening, Barry Smith made four changes from the side which folded at the Indodrill Stadium.
As expected, Kyle Benedictus replaced the suspended Iain Davidson at centre-half, while perhaps more surprisingly, Jonny Court, who failed to start a single league game during the season, led the line up-front alongside Lewis Vaughan.
Also coming into the side was Willis Furtado and John Herron, who slotted in on the right and left-hand-side of midfield respectively, with Ross Matthews, Liam Buchanan and Bobby Barr all dropping out of the starting XI.
Unlike the last two meetings between the clubs, there seemed an energy about the Raith players in the opening moments, although that was the least that was to be expected, with an early goal key if they were to get back into the game.
Court tried his luck from distance after four minutes, but it harmlessly spun wide of goal, while Raith fans were on their feet two minutes later when they believed referee Stephen Finnie had awarded Rovers a penalty for a shove on Herron, when instead he was actually pointing for an Alloa goal-kick.
Rovers continued to press though, and a neat triangular move between Scott Robertson, Furtado and Herron, ended with a Robertson shot from inside the area being crowded out.
It was a frantic start from the home side, and they possibly should have taken the lead in the 10th minute, when Court met Vaughan’s corner-kick, but he couldn’t steer his attempt on target and the chance went begging.
As much as Rovers had dominated, they’d yet to test Neil Parry, although that changed in the 13th minute, when he dived low to stop Vaughan’s deflected effort, which appeared to be sneaking in.
Alloa have proven themselves to be tough-as-teak since the turn of the year however, and they certainly weren’t about to buckle under the early pressure. Indeed, they started to look dangerous themselves, playing on the break with Ross Stewart giving Benedictus plenty to think about.
Rovers should have taken the lead in the 25th minute though, when Court picked out Regan Hendry at the back post, and although the on-loan man was able to bring his shot down on the turn, he had the ball nicked off his toe as he shaped to finish from close range.
Vaughan then saw a long range effort swerve just wide, before Thomson’s cut-back was cleared at the back post, as Rovers continued to make a bee-line for the Wasps at every opportunity, but failing to capitalise on any promising move.
They’d regret that in the 39th minute, when their uphill battle became akin to navigating the north face of the Eiger in a pair of slippers, as Alloa moved three up in the tie.
Benedictus gave away a cheap free-kick 25-yards from goal, allowing Kirkpatrick to curl an excellent free-kick over the wall and past Graeme Smith to almost certainly move Jim Goodwin’s men into the final.
Rovers did have try and respond immediately, taking centre as the Alloa players were still celebrating, but despite the majority of the men in amber and black standing close to the dug-outs, they managed to scurry back in time to avert the danger.
It was going to take something special for Rovers to come back into it in the second period, and Furtado almost supplied it, flicking the ball over a defender before bringing out a neat save from Parry, but they did manage to cash in on the corner kick.
Vaughan’s delivery was met by Murray, who smacked a header against the bar, and although substitute Bobby Barr saw his effort blocked, Murray’s superb half volley brought the scores level.
Incredibly, it should have been 2-1 just a minute later, when Parry dropped the ball at the feet of Kevin McHattie, but the left-back’s shot was diverted off the line.
It looked like Rovers were picking up a head of steam, but they failed to sustain it, with Alloa looking the more dangerous team on the break, as Rovers piled bodies forward, leaving them susceptible at the back.
Rovers were needing a spark from somewhere, but with time ticking down, and little or nothing coming off for them, it was difficult to see where it was coming from.
Greig Spence replaced Herron with a little over quarter-of-an-hour remaining, but with Rovers desperate for a goal, it was the away side who would nab one.
Raith had ridden their luck at various points in the second period, and they did it once too often, with Stewart getting on the end of a through pass, and charging through the almost non-existent Raith backline to finish the match as a contest.
It was another poor result against one of the sides from the top-four, something which has plagued the side all season, with just four wins from 14 meetings against Ayr, Alloa and Arbroath.
It’s something which’ll need to improve next season if Raith are to look for automatic promotion to the Championship.
The match highlights video will appear here the day after the match
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It would be something of an understatement to say Raith Rovers have given themselves an uphill task in the second leg of their Championship playoff semi final, after a bitterly disappointing performance on Wednesday evening, saw Barry Smith’s men go down by two goals to nil to Alloa Athletic.
After a reasonably even opening period, Alloa eventually started to exert their dominance, and goals from Ross Stewart and Iain Flannigan were just reward for the Wasps, who’ll be quietly confident of keeping their lead intact at Stark’s Park this Saturday.
Looking back at the previous meetings this term, you can see the size of the challenge for Raith, who require a two goal winning margin just to take the tie to extra time, and a three goal victory to get to the final.
In the five previous meetings this term, Rovers have only scored three goals in total against Jim Goodwin’s men, with two draws, 1-1 and 0-0 at the Indodrill Stadium in the league, and a 2-1 win at Stark’s Park, along with the 0-0 draw just a week ago, which out paid to Rovers title aspirations.
That said, it wasn’t too long ago that Raith pulled off a three goal triumph over Alloa, August 2015 to be exact, when goals from James Craigen, Craig Wighton and Mark Stewart saw Ray McKinnon’s men pull off a reasonably straightforward 3-0 victory.
If Raith can navigate their way past Alloa, they’ll play the winners of Dumbarton v Arbroath in the final, with the Sons 2-1 up from the first leg.
Saturday’s match referee will be Stephen Finnie.
Head-To-Head Home League Record:
Raith Rovers Wins: 29 | Alloa Athletic Wins: 8 | Draws: 12
Raith Rovers Goals: 115 | Alloa Athletic Goals: 57
Alloa Athletic: W-L-W-W-D-W
Raith Rovers: W-D-W-W-D-L
Top Goal Scorers:
Alloa Athletic: Iain Flannigan 9 | Ross Stewart 8
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 23 | Liam Buchanan 14 | Greig Spence 13
Alloa Athletic: Iain Flannigan 9 | Ross Stewart 8
Raith Rovers: 1/2 | Alloa Athletic: 11/2 | Draw: 33/10