All-Square In Kingdom Derby
Raith Rovers retained their unbeaten start to the season, but they were reliant on two penalties to snatch a 2-2 draw against an East Fife side who were without a point going into this one.
Kevin Nisbet fired Rovers in front in the first period, and brought the scores level in the second, but Darren Young will probably feel his side deserved more than a draw, from a game in which they created the lion’s share of chances.
Barry Smith just one change from the 3-1 win over Aberdeen Colts in midweek, and it was enforced, with Iain Davidson dropping out through suspension, allowing Kyle Bendictus to slot back in alongside Dave McKay at the heart of the defence.
There had been fears that both Euan Murray and Nat Wedderburn would miss out after picking up knocks in that win, but both made the starting line-up for the visit of Raith’s near neighbours.
There was an early fright for the home side in the opening minutes, when Anton Dowds burst through the lines and appeared to have done enough to get a shot away, but McKay did well to put him off, as the East Fife fans appealed in vain for a penalty.
Darren Young’s side had started brightly, with their forward play causing Raith some angst in the opening moments, with Craig Thomson skipping past two challenges on the right flank, before sending in a low cross, but there was no-one was on hand to steer the ball home.
Rovers had their first pop at goal in the eighth minute, after Nathan Flanagan was brought down by Aaron Dunsmore on the right-hand-side, but from a decent shooting position, Grant Gillespie could only send it into the side netting, much to Flanagan’s chagrin, who had also been keen on striking it.
However, Rovers took the lead within 60 seconds.
Flanagan burst into the box and was shoved over by Dunsmore, and with Nisbet already scoring from the spot this term, there was little doubt he’d snatch the ball up for the chance to score his fifth goal of the season, which he duly did, despite sending it a little close to East Fife ‘keeper, Brett Long for comfort.
The goal appeared to settle Raith down a little, with Gillespie in particular happy to get on the ball and attempt to make things happen, but it was East Fife who were creating the chances, with a couple of shots drifting wide, before Thomson tested Kieran Wright from an acute angle, with the on-loan Rangers goalie taking it in comfortably.
East Fife were probably considering themselves unfortunate to be a goal down at this stage, and they got the equaliser their play merited after 22 minutes, with another goal from the penalty spot, after Benedictus was adjudged to have brought down Jonny Court in the box.
Scott Agnew has a fine scoring record against Rovers down the years, and he skelped an excellent penalty past Wright to restore parity to the match.
With Rovers struggling to work Long in the East Fife net, it was a scenario they could have done without, with the visitors looking the livelier in the opening half hour.
Nisbet was doing as much as anyone to shake Rovers from their lethargy, and he tested Long from distance as the interval approached, but with the shot straight at him, the former Dundee United custodian gathered at the second attempt.
It was the final piece of noteworthy action in a first-half which Rovers had struggled to stamp their authority on.
They were going to have to lift it a notch if they were going to make any headway in the second half, but it was East Fife who should have taken the lead right after the restart.
Benedictus got his header back to Wright all wrong, and only the ‘keeper spreading himself well prevented Dowds from blasting the away side in front.
Rovers were seeing a reasonable amount of the ball in the opening passages of the second period, but with the only width coming from Flanagan and East Fife doing a solid job of protecting the central area, Rovers were continuing to struggle to get behind their backline.
The forwards were constantly receiving the ball with their backs to goal, with no-one seemingly able to get in behind the Fife defence, and limited support from the midfield quartet.
Darren Young’s men were having far less trouble creating chances, and almost took the lead just before the hour mark, when only an incredible stretched clearance from McKay preventing Craig Watson from getting a shot at goal, after he’d turned well inside the area.
Unsurprisingly, Barry Smith made a change just a few moments later, with Liam Buchanan making way for Lewis Milne, but it made little difference, as the away team took the lead in the 65th minute.
An inability to stop the cross into the area, allowed Agnew to latch onto the ball on the edge of the box, and his shot made its way through a number of bodies and past Wright to hand the Methil men the advantage.
Any hope that it would shake Rovers from the stupor was short lived though, as Court spurned a great chance to extend their lead and hand Fife their first win over Raith since 1988, blasting over from six-yards with the goal at his mercy.
They were made to pay for their profligacy in the 73rd minute, when Raith brought the scores level, and once again, it was from the spot.
Gillespie’s cross appeared to strike an arm, allowing Nisbet to repeat his feat from earlier in the match to make it level.
It was an unexpected lifeline for Rovers, and with time ticking down, there was hope that the fillip could drive them on for a winner, and Flanagan got himself into a good position inside the area after being found by Milne, but he could only curl his effort well wide of the target.
East Fife went right down the other end though, and from a set-piece, Benedictus would have nodded the ball into his own net, if not for a diving tip away from Wright.
They had to be thankful to the ‘keeper again a few moments later, diving full length to his right to turn away a shot from Court which was arrowing into the corner.
Rovers may have been the full-time side, but it was East Fife who were looking the far likelier winner in the closing stages, and Benedictus had to again throw his body in the way to stop another chance, as the visitors pushed for the winner, as Raith held on.
The point leaves Raith fourth in the table, a point behind Montrose and Airdrie, while East Fife remain at the foot of the table.
Manager Barry Smith talked to RaithTV after the 2-2 draw with East Fife at Stark’s Park
Raith Rovers head into the first Fife derby of the league season this Saturday, against an East Fife side who are still looking for their first points this term.
Barry Smith’s men go into the game on the back of two straight wins against Stenhousemuir and the Aberdeen development side, and while the Methil men have lost their first two league matches, they did defeat Cowdenbeath 3-1 in a Challenge Cup tie in midweek.
Rovers have enjoyed an almost blemish-free record in this fixture down the years, with 11 wins and one draw from the last 12 meetings between the sides, with their last defeat coming back in March 1988.
It was four straight wins for Rovers last season, with the first in August the most straightforward, with goals from Bobby Barr, Liam Buchanan, Greig Spence and a Lewis Vaughan double securing a 5-0 win at Bayview.
The next meeting was far tighter, with Vaughan again on the scoresheet as Rovers won 1-0.
The most entertaining of the four was the New Year encounter, in a back-and-forth encounter which Raith eventually won 3-2, thanks to goals from Scott Robertson, Buchanan and Dario Zanatta.
The clean sweep was completed in March, when Barr and Iain Davidson secured a 2-0 victory.
After a sixth placed finish last season, Darren Young has added a mixture of experience and youth to his side, as he looks to push for the playoffs.
Scott Agnew has a fine scoring record against Raith down the years, and he could take his place in a new look midfield which could also contain fellow new signings, Scott McBride, Ross Davidson and Liam Watt.
Darryll Meggatt and Ross Dunlop were added from Alloa Athletic and Stenhousemuir respectively, as the Bayview side look to keep a tighter defence than last term, and at the other end of the park, they’ll look to ex-Raith striker Jonny Court, and Anton Dowds for goals, with the latter joining East Fife after leaving Heriot Watt.
Saturday’s match referee will be Craig Napier.
Head-To-Head Home League Record Versus East Fife:
Raith Rovers Wins: 15 | East Fife Wins: 11 | Draws: 8
Raith Rovers Goals: 57 | East Fife Goals: 46
Raith Rovers: D-L-L-D-W-W
East Fife: L-D-L-L-L-W
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Kevin Nisbet 4 | East Fife: Anton Dowds 2
Raith Rovers: 8/13 | East Fife: 22/5 | Draw: 31/10