FORFAR TRIUMPH AFTER LATE DRAMA
Raith fell to defeat in a five-goal thriller at Station Park in Forfar, losing out to Mark Hill’s fine late finish after a pulsating ninety minutes in which both sides had chances to put the match beyond doubt. With Nisbet and Matthews having put Raith ahead at the break after Hilson’s opener, second-half goals from Easton and Hill gave Forfar the points.
Rovers dominated possession in a first-half in which the Kirkcaldy side deserved to be further ahead, but as the match progressed under clear autumnal skies, Forfar improved, finishing the match with their noses in front to take all three points.
Rovers stepped out onto Station Park’s artificial turf with two new faces from last week’s victory over Stranraer – Euan Murray out suspended, replaced by Jamie Watson at right-back four; Ryan Stevenson also dropping out with Lewis Milne promoted. Having put Forfar to the sword at Starks Park early in September, manager John McGlynn urged his team forward early – Flanagan tripping under pressure from centre-half Meechan with an early break.
Forfar have suffered a dearth of goals, with a lack of strike potency writ large over their early season performances. With recent draws against north-east rivals Montrose and Brechin, a heavy home defeat to East Fife, followed by a morale-boosting win over Stenhousemuir, consistency has been conspicuous in its absence. Aitken and Kennedy were both out with injuries, centre-half Andy Munro fit enough for a place on the bench. In the one change from last week’s win at Stenhousemuir, Ross Cunningham dropped to the bench with Murray Mackintosh starting wide in midfield.
With John Baird the only multiple goal-scorer in the Forfar side, manager Jim Weir looks for other players to find the net in order that Athletic’s season doesn’t become a tale of reliance on one central striker – Baird started in typically rumbustious fashion here, supported upfront by the experienced Dale Hilson.
With the sun breaking through decidedly autumnal skies shortly before kick-off, the lusty roar that greeted kick-off was indicative as much of the chilly temperatures as a sense of anticipation for the forthcoming ninety minutes. The opening exchanges saw Raith hold majority of possession – Hendry and Wedderburn exchanging passes well, drawing Milne and Matthews into play. With Nisbet dropping off looking for a 1-2 to bring Hendry forward, Raith looked to have the early momentum.
After five minutes, chances at either end. Nisbet fell under pressure from Travis and Reilly as he looked to shoot. With Rovers fans shouting for a spot-kick, Hilson escaped clean through on Thomson, only to place his shot into Thomson’s side-netting. Nisbet again chased a through ball – Forfar keeper McCallum charging from his line, winning the initial challenge but felling Matthews – earning a yellow card. With the cloud cover giving a chill to the air, the match was warming up nicely. Easton’s dipping drive brought a good save from Thomson.
On twelve minutes, a fabulous first goal for the home side. Against the run of play, Baird hooked a tremendous drive at Thomson’s goal from an improbable distance. The strike beat the Raith keeper but thumped the inside of the post – Hilson was the quickest to react, driving home the rebound to give Forfar the lead. While McGlynn’s side had the bulk of possession, a moment of inspiration separated the sides. It was the home side now with their tails up.
With Baird foraging in midfield, Hilson and Easton had space to drive forwards. Forfar were committing numbers forward, although it was an extended spell of possession which brought Raith’s clearest chance – Matthews releasing Nisbet beyond the retreating Whyte, although the Forfar centre-half showed good pace and composure to cover, timing his challenge well. Travis struggled to clear moments later as Matthews again tried to free Nisbet with a ball over the top. At the other end, Baird was flagged off-side as he tried to lob Thomson from distance.
Just before the half-hour, the equaliser Raith’s possession had deserved. Hendry drifted inside from a throw-in, firing into a forest of legs in front of keeper McCallum – Matthew’s fine finish off a post brought Raith level. Wedderburn’s blast flew just wide of McCallum’s top corner as Raith pressed for a second.
A minute later, Raith put themselves in front. Reilly’s slack pass in midfield gave Nisbet the chance to stretch away from Whyte – drawing McCallum, the Rovers striker chipped in Raith’s second and his thirteenth of a prolific season – the group hug with the travelling support was well deserved.
Nisbet’s movement – and the willingness of the Raith midfield to loft passes over the Forfar back two – was the decisive factor as the first half progressed. Time and time again, Rovers were able to turn the Forfar defence, clearing their own lines, and putting the home side under pressure. Nisbet’s run and cross on forty minutes deserved a goal, but fell between two supporting runners.
As referee Cook blew for half-time, Raith reflected on a deserved half-time lead; the home side focussed no doubt on the two soft defensive goals conceded. A boisterous second-half beckoned.
Forfar were quickest to start. Baird sprinted right – with Benedictus and Crane both a step behind, the front-man’s cross fell just beyond Hilson at the far post. With Mackintosh pushed further forward alongside Hilson and Baird falling deeper, Forfar had strength and numbers in midfield – a purposeful opening to the half from the home side. Baird’s rasping drive brought the best from Thomson, earning a corner.
At the other end, Nisbet remained the thorn in Forfar’s side, driving at McCallum in the fiftieth minute. After a brief stoppage to allow Hendry treatment, Watson played in Milne, the youngster’s cross forcing a save from the Forfar keeper. Watson himself sprinted down the line with Raith’s next attack, Whyte hoisting clear. Nisbet wriggled past Reilly, turned Whyte, only to be foiled at the last by McCallum spreading himself well – in the late afternoon sunshine, the play was all towards the home goal.
Forfar sought to generate some pressure, Hill and Easton linking well through midfield, but in the key battles in Raith’s defensive third, for a spell, it was Rovers winning the individual battles. Crane was marshalling the advancing Mackintosh well, and Benedictus was winning his aerial battles. Although Baird continued to buzz in central areas, Wedderburn and Matthews tracked back well.
The momentum of the match changed again on sixty-seven minutes – Baird won a tackle, and fired a crisp pass to Hilson, and immediately danger was on the cards. Hilson squared to Easton, and with a moment to set himself, the midfielder fired across Thomson into the far corner to bring Forfar level. With Hendry having been withdrawn through injury, suddenly it was Forfar’s midfield in the ascendancy. Travis’s curling effort drifted just over. Substitute Moore showed his pace, sprinting past Watson.
With quarter of an hour remaining, Raith sought to regain their grip. Nisbet set up Matthews to shoot, with Whyte blocking just in time. Buchanan wriggled wide and crossed for Wedderburn, all arms and legs in front of McCallum – the ball bobbling wide with an apologetic sense of anti-climax. Matthew’s flick from Flanagan’s cross again called the Forfar keeper to action stations.
Into the last ten minutes, and an enthralling game took another twist – Whyte and Mackintosh connected well, the latter sliding a fine pass into midfielder Mark Hill with space on the edge of the area – picking his spot, Hill fired a fine low shot across Thomson to put Forfar ahead once more.
A ragged period ensued, and fans of both sides gave vent to their voices as the shadows lengthened under the now-clear skies. Wedderburn was rightly booked for a high arm into the face of Hill, while Rovers fans howled as Nisbet was narrowly flagged offside. Davidson’s lapse let Hilson clear in on goal – with Thomson off his line, the striker underhit his chip into the grateful keeper’s arms. McCallum nearly let Watson’s cross deceive him in the low sun, luckily scooping clear as the home fans whistled for full-time.
As the match ran into extra time, Raith threw more bodies forward. Benedictus’ fine drive drew a full-length save from McCallum, the keeper clutching Milne’s corner high above the crowd, only to gift possession to a disbelieving Benedictus, a corner the result.
A dramatic and enthralling ninety minutes finished with Cook’s whistle moments later, to huge cheers from the home fans and dejection amongst the Raith players. A match in which Raith seemingly had control for large spells turned in the second-half – Hendry’s withdrawal through injury had altered the balance of play, with Forfar creating more chances as the second-half went on. With many positives to take from an entertaining ninety minutes, Rovers will look to get back to winning ways at home to Brechin next Saturday.
© Eddie doig 2018
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the 3-2 defeat at Forfar
After two successive home matches, Rovers are on their travels this Saturday, with a trip to Station Park to face Jim Weir’s Forfar Athletic.
The Loons currently sit seventh in League One, but with the table packed tight from fourth down, they sit just a point outside the final playoff spot, which is currently taken by Airdrie.
Forfar had been on a five match winless run until last weekend, but they’ll go into this Saturday’s fixture bouyed by a 2-1 win over Stenhousemuir, with the goals coming from Dylan Easton and John Baird, with the former Raith forward grabbing his fourth of the season.
Station Park hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds in recent seasons, with Barry Smith’s side picking up just one point from their two visits last term, drawing 1-1 in October, while a 2-1 loss in March put a massive dent in their title challenge.
Even prior to that, Gary Locke’s Rovers team lost 3-2 in a Challenge Cup tie in 2016, although Rovers did actually post a win at the venue that term, thanks to a 2-1 win over Cove Rangers in the group phase of the League Cup.
Rovers last win over Forfar at Station Park was way back in 2007, but they’ll be hoping to recreate the form and scoreline of their previous meeting in September, when a confident Rovers side swept their opponents away, with goals from Kevin Nisbet, Chris Duggan and a double from Lewis Vaughan sealing a 4-0 win.
Rovers do have a good record in this fixture, with six wins and two draws from their last ten meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Barry Cook.
Head-To-Head League Record At Forfar:
Forfar Athletic Wins: 16 | Raith Rovers Wins: 11 | Draws: 10
Forfar Athletic Goals: 64 | Raith Rovers Goals: 52
Forfar Athletic: L-L-D-D-L-W
Raith Rovers: L–D-D-W-D-W
Top Goal Scorers:
Forfar Athletic: John Baird 4
Raith Rovers: Kevin Nisbet 12 | Liam Buchanan 4 | Lewis Vaughan 3
Forfar Athletic: 2/1 | Raith Rovers: 13/10 | Draw: 13/5