Away Day Blues Return
With Raith on a decent run of results and Arbroath coming up at the end of December, the hope was that the Red Lichties lead at the top of the table could be eaten into by the time 2018 made way for 2019.
Instead, another insipid away performance saw Rovers lose to Montrose for the first time in 30 plus years, allowing Arbroath to surge 13 points clear at the summit of League One, leaving Rovers fans to ask if the title challenge is already over before some households have put up their Christmas decor.
Daniel Armstrong’s early goal was quickly cancelled out by Martin Rennie’s fantastic set-piece effort, and while Kevin Nisbet dragged Rovers back into it in the second half after Craig Johnston had fired the home side ahead, Ross Campbell earned Stewart Petrie’s team a deserved victory with 10 minutes remaining.
After making it three successive wins last week against Airdrieonians, John McGlynn went with an unchanged starting eleven for their first visit to Links Park since 2011.
It was a side which had built up quite the head of steam in recent weeks, and their momentum seemed clear to see in the opening moments, as they took the lead in just the third minute.
Euan Murray initially got the break of the ball on the left-hand-side of Montrose’s half, before setting Nathan Flanagan haring clear down the flank.
With an abundance of yellow shirts to aim at in the penalty area, his low cross was eventually steered home by Armstrong at the back post, to hand Raith the early advantage.
It was the ideal start for the away side, but they were brought back down to earth just six minutes later, when Montrose hit back with a magnificent equaliser.
Rennie was the man charged with taking the 25-yard free-kick, and he curled a superb effort over the ball, past Robbie Thomson and into the top left-hand corner of his net.
With Arbroath already ahead in their Angus derby against Forfar, it was a blow that Rovers could ill afford, but they almost regained the lead a moment later, when a long ball caught out the Mo’ defence, allowing Liam Buchanan a dig at goal, but he failed to trouble Allan Fleming after taking the bouncing ball on the half-volley.
Despite Rovers looking like they would run away with things in the opening exchanges, the match had turned into an end-to-end affair, with Patrick Cregg having an effort blocked by Ian Davidson, before Murray saw his shot hacked away by Ian Campbell, after fine work from Armstrong saw the winger get his cross into the area.
Rovers were just starting to take control of proceedings though, although they were struggling to test Fleming in the Mo net.
Both wide men were looking dangerous, and Flanagan was the next to create something, advancing at the home defence at speed before teeing up Buchanan, but his shot from distance ended up in the terracing behind the goal.
They may have looked the likelier to grab the game’s third goal, but frustratingly, their impressive build up play kept breaking down in the final third, with crosses either not finding their intended recipient or final touches going awry.
Credit too to the home defence though, which was being marshalled well by the former Dundee United stalwart, Sean Dillon.
With the interval approaching, Rovers were fortunate to get away with one as Montrose failed to capitalise on a three on two breakaway.
Davidson initially did well to delay the attack, but with Thomson failing to gather the cross before clattering to the ground, Nat Wedderburn was in the right place to clear the ball from under the bar after a disconcerting stramash in the six-yard-box.
It was the final piece of noteworthy action in a half which Rovers had looked largely the better side, albeit with clear cut chances at a premium.
Just as they were at the end of the first period, Rovers were counting their blessings at the start of the second, as the home side almost took the lead.
Campbell’s free-kick from the half-way line found Paul Watson just outside the area, and his curling effort rebounded off the right-angle of bar and post, and while the rebound was eventually turned in, the effort was disallowed by referee, Alan Newlands.
Montrose’s pressing game was paying dividends in this second period, with their harrying and cajoling knocking Rovers out of their rhythm, as the home side started to take a grip on proceedings.
The home midfield were winning their individual battles in the middle of the park, while Armstrong and Flanagan were being forced to go backwards rather than driving on as they had in the game’s opening quarter.
The Link Parkers then missed a gilt-edged chance in the 58th minute, when Campbell’s cross-field pass found Terry Masson in bags of room in the Rovers penalty area, but from close range, he wastefully blasted his chance over the bar.
The goal they thoroughly merited arrived just a few moments later though, and as has been the case so often this term, it arrived from Raith’s complete inability to defend set-pieces.
Again, Campbell was the architect, with his delivery eventually dropping to Craig Johnston, who prodded home from close range with the Rovers defence all at sea.
After dominating proceedings from the start of the second period. it was the least the Angus club deserved.
Rovers cultivated their first chance of the half in the 68th minute, when Davidson’s knock-down from a corner was almost turned home by Buchanan, but Fleming did well to smother his effort.
Rovers drew level in the 74th minute however, and what a fine strike it was.
Murray’s delivery from the left was nodded down by Wedderburn, and while Nesbit still had plenty to do with his back to goal, he turned his man and lashed a fine finish into Fleming’s bottom left corner from the edge of the area.
It was a goal that Rovers scarcely deserved given the circumstances, but it gave them a foothold in the match with just quarter of an hour remaining.
However, just as the Rovers fans contemplated a winner, they again found themselves a goal down.
A punt downfield found Euan Henderson clear on the left, and his low cross was turned home from a sliding Ross Campbell who turned it home from about a yard out.
Considering how soon it came after Rovers equaliser, it was an utterly dispiriting goal to concede, and while there was still time for McGlynn’s men to come back, you sensed they didn’t have it in them to do so.
Nisbet did well to burst into the area and evade a couple of challenges, but after the opening presented itself to him, he could only thump his effort over the bar.
Rovers had a chance to equalise with a couple of minutes remaining, but when Nisbet’s free-kick was palmed out by Fleming, Murray was just unable to turn the rebound home.
An equaliser would have been harsh on Montrose though, as Raith’s inexplicably poor away form continued to hinder their ambitions.
© Eddie Doig 2018
John McGlynn spoke to Raith TV after today’s game at Montrose
Raith Rovers head to Links Park this Saturday, for their first away league meeting with Montrose since 1992.
Stewart Petrie’s side are in good form over the last month or so, with three wins and a draw from their last five league matches, a sequence which has lifted them to seventh in the table.
It’s an impressive run for a side which many thought would struggle after lifting the League Two title last term, and while they’ll be looking to put more distance between themselves and bottom placed Stenhousemuir, with Mo just three points outside the playoff spots, they may even have their sights set a little higher.
Rovers will hope to take advantage of Montrose’s home record, with just Airdrie picking up fewer points at home this term, but Rovers were reasonably fortunate to take a point at Stark’s Park the last time the two sides met in September.
Graham Webster opened the scoring for the away side in the 28th minute, and it took a second half Ian Campbell own goal to bring the scores level in a game which Rovers struggled to impose themselves.
It’s been some time since Montrose registered a win in this fixture though, 1985 to be precise, when Rovers lost 3-1 in a Second Division fixture.
Since then though, Raith have had an excellent record over the last 10 meetings between the two, with eight wins and two draws in that time.
Saturday’s match referee will be Alan Newlands
Head-To-Head Away League Record Versus Montrose:
Montrose Wins: 13 | Raith Rovers Wins: 6 | Draws: 6
Montrose Goals: 53 | Raith Rovers Goals: 38
Raith Rovers: L-W-L-W-W-W
Montrose: Martin Rennie 6 | Craig Johnston 4 | Ross Campbell 3
Raith Rovers: Kevin Nisbet 18 | Liam Buchanan 8 | Nathan Flanagan 3 | Lewis Vaughan 3
Montrose: 14/5 | Raith Rovers: 9/10 | Draw: 14/5