Raith Too Good For Loons
Raith Rovers moved level on points with Arbroath at the top of the League One table, after their most accomplished performance of the season to date, saw them see off Forfar Athletic by four goals to nil.
A goal in the first-half from Kevin Nisbet saw Rovers in the lead at the interval, but a second-half brace from the returning Lewis Vaughan, and a first goal from Chris Duggan saw Barry Smith’s men canter to victory.
There were two changes from last weekend’s astonishing 4-3 win over Airdrie, with Dave McKay returning to the starting XI due to the loss of Iain Davidson through suspension, while Duggan was the replacement for Kyle Benedictus, who suffered a concussion in the come-from-behind win.
That obviously required a reshuffle, with Nat Wedderburn dropping into the central defensive position with McKay, Ross Matthews moving into the middle of the park, and Nisbet moving wide right.
Jim Weir’s Forfar side have already racked up an impressive amount of clean sheets this term, but they looked like they were going to struggle to add another to their list, as Raith took the game to them in the early phases of play.
A switch of ends before kick-off which meant that Rovers were shooting towards the South Stand in the first-half, was met by the now customary chorus of groans, but it didn’t appear to hamper the home side in any way.
Nathan Flanagan had initially set up wide on the left, but he appeared to have a license to roam with Raith in possession, and he was central to Rovers bright start.
He forced a save from Marc McCallum after five minutes, albeit his 25-yard free-kick was straight at the former Livingston ‘keeper, but he did better a few seconds later, combining well with Nisbet down the right, before cutting inside the area and sending a shot towards goal which was deflected wide for a corner.
Rovers had an even better chance after 12 minutes, when Grant Gillespie, who was hugely impressive in the middle of the park, picked out McKay with a corner kick, but the young defender could only sidefoot his volley over the bar.
With Rovers doing well in terms of creating their own chances, it was a little ironic that they’d take the lead in the 28th minute from a goal which was gift wrapped by their opponents.
Jamie Bain’s passback was fractionally under-hit, allowing Nisbet to nip in ahead of McCallum and toe poke the ball past him. It seemed to take an age for the ball to roll towards goal, but it eventually crossed the line to hand the home side the advantage.
Wedderburn and McKay may have been a thrown together partnership at the back, but they were dealing admirably with the livewire John Baird up front, with a fierce drive from Lewis Moore the only thing that tested Kieran Wright in the first period.
At the other end, Duggan was winning his fair share of high balls and proving an effective foil for Liam Buchanan, while Gillespie and Ross Matthews were dominating the midfield.
It was almost two a minute before the interval, with Gillespie’s corner again the source, with Euan Murray powering a header at goal which was hacked off the line at the back post.
There was a strange moment as the teams emerged for the second period, as Kiearn Wright ran into the wrong net, with his ten team-mates all in the other half of the park. Eventually realising his error, he ran the length of the park looking slightly red-faced.
There was a blow at the beginning of the second period, when Nisbet was forced to hobble off with a painful looking injury, but his replacement brought a huge cheer from the home crowd.
It may have been Lewis Vaughan’s first appearance of the season, but it took him just seconds to make his mark, as the Rovers doubled their lead.
The substitute’s acrobatic backheel allowed him to play a one-two with Duggan, and after setting himself, he forced the ball past McCallum from close range. In an instant, you could see just why the fans were so keen to see him fully recovered from injury.
Rovers looked like they could score every time they came forward now, and they went 3-0 up in the 56th minute, when Duggan outpaced the Loons defence, before chipping the ball over McCallum for his first competitive goal in a Rovers jersey.
John Baird has something of a habit of scoring against Raith, and it looked like he’d done it again in the 65th minute, as he slotted home a cross from the right from Bain, but the assistant referee adjudged the forward to be offside.
Rovers were straight back on the offensive though, and they killed the game off in the 68th minute, with Vaughan’s second of the match.
Buchanan saw his route to goal blocked, but after the ball spun up, Vaughan was able to hook it home from close range for 4-0.
With 15 minutes remaining, Euan Valentine was brought on for Flanagan, and with the game over as a contest, the rest of the match was played out with Raith comfortable in possession and seeing out time.
Rovers now take a break from league action, with a trip to Dingwall next week for an Irn Bru Cup tie.
Manager Barry Smith talked to RaithTV after the 4-0 win at Stark’s Park
Lewis Vaughan talked to RaithTV after the 4-0 win at Stark’s Park
Raith Rovers welcome Forfar Athletic to Stark’s Park this Saturday, and it’s probably safe to assume that we won’t see a rerun of what transpired at The Penny Cars Stadium last weekend.
Trailing 3-1, and a man down with just three minutes left to play, Rovers somehow turned the match around to triumph by four goals to three, in one of the most astonishing finishes of this, or any other year.
Those three points lifted Rovers up to second in the table, two points behind Arbroath, but The Loons have started their season strongly too, and reside just one place and one point behind Barry Smith’s team.
Part of Forfar’s success has been down to their resilience at the back, with Jim Weir’s side now on a run of four consecutive clean sheets across all competitions, against Dumbarton, Stranraer, Livingston’s development side and Stenhousemuir.
Rovers held the upper hand in the four meetings last term, with two wins and a draw from the four meetings, but they didn’t have it all their own way, losing 2-1 at Station Park in March, a result which swung the title momentum away from Rovers and towards Ian McCall’s Ayr United.
The first meeting at Stark’s Park didn’t start too well either when Mark Millar fired the away side ahead in the first period, but a Lewis Vaughan equaliser and late goals from Liam Buchanan and Lewis Vaughan saw Raith home.
The first meeting in Forfar in October ended all square, with Millar cancelling out a goal from John Herron, and Rovers were made to work hard for all three points in January when goals from Greig Spence and an own goal saw Raith come out on top 2-1.
Rovers have won five and drawn three of their last ten meetings with Forfar.
Saturday’s match referee will be Euan Anderson
Head to Head Home League Record Versus Forfar Athletic:
Raith Rovers Wins: 25 | Forfar Athletic Wins: 10 | Draws: 4
Raith Rovers Goals: 89 | Forfar Athletic Goals: 54
Raith Rovers: L-D-W-W-D-W
Forfar Athletic: L-L-W-D-D-L