Rovers Ruin Red Lichties Run
It might still take something of a Herculean effort to usurp Arbroath’s lead at the top of the table, but Raith made some inroads into it this afternoon, with an excellent 2-0 win at the home of the league leaders.
Daniel Armstrong’s goal of the season contender put Raith ahead midway through the first-half, before Liam Buchanan doubled the advantage in the 39th minute.
It was a rancorous encounter at times, featuring 10 bookings and a red card, with Gavin Swankie being dismissed in first-half stoppage time for a second yellow for simulation.
It was Arbroath’s first league defeat all season, and their first league defeat at Gayfield since February, and while they still hold an impressive 10 point lead, Rovers fans will be hoping the result prompts a stutter in their imperious form which they’d shown until today.
John Mcglynn again went with an unchanged starting eleven, with Lewis Vaughan on the bench after his goal-scoring return in last weekend’s 4-2 victory over Dumbarton.
With Raith in something of a must-win position, they were presented with a half chance in the game’s opening moments, when a flick on from Kevin Nisbet allowed Buchanan a sight at goal, but his shot was smothered by Darren Jamieson.
It was a moment of indecision at the back which gave Arbroath their first opportunity after five minutes, with the Raith defence claiming for offside, despite the ball appearing to be played back by a Rovers boot, allowing Steven Doris a run-in on goal, but his final effort was a powder-puff finish which Robbie Thomson easily snatched up.
The early skirmishes were reasonably even, but while Raith wasted a couple of set-piece chances from wide areas, Arbroath were just starting to look a little livelier from open play, with Bobby Linn looking to exert some influence on proceedings.
However, Raith took the lead in the 17th minute with an outstanding strike.
Armstrong stood over the free-kick 25-yards from goal, and with his left foot, curled an unstoppable strike past Jamieson and into the net via the inside of the right-hand-post.
It was exactly what Rovers required, but Arbroath should have been level within five minutes, when a corner kick was flicked on by Colin Hamilton, but although Ricky Little had plenty of time to turn and shoot from close range, he could only guide the ball wide of Thomson’s right-hand-post.
The home side almost had more cause to regret that a moment later, when Grant Gillespie’s long ball allowed Nisbet to get behind the Arbroath defence, but with the angle against him and Jamieson closing him down, the prolific forward could only finish into the side netting.
The match was turning into a fairly physical one, but it was a coming together between two teammates which caused the biggest concern, with Gillespie and Iain Davidson absolutely clattering each other in the middle of the park, resulting in the latter receiving lengthy treatment, although he was eventually able to continue.
Rovers managed to give themselves an even bigger cushion with ten minutes of the half remaining, after another well worked goal.
A cross from Nathan Flanagan was nodded down into the six-yard area, from where Buchanan was able to force the ball home from close range.
Arbroath should have halved that advantage in the 40th minute, when great work by David Gold set up Linn, with his cross met by Michael McKenna, but his finish was poor, allowing Thomson to make a routine stop.
Rovers were starting to get hemmed in as the interval approached, although Arbroath’s endeavours could only rustle up a long distance effort from Little which Thomson easily gathered.
However, the Red Lichties efforts were dealt a massive blow on the half-time whistle, when Gavin Swankie was given his second yellow for a perceived dive after a challenge from Ross Matthews.
With Arbroath short-handed, a third goal for Rovers would surely have sealed matters, and they passed over a good chance in the 50th minute, when Buchanan did well to breach the offside trap and tee up Flanagan, but his drilled shot curled harmlessly away from goal.
Arbroath were far from out of it though, and with the away defence having to work tirelessly to contain Arbroath’s attacking triumvirate, you sensed a home goal could switch the game’s momentum.
Rovers were happy to play on the counter, and it almost bore fruit in the 60th minute, when Nisbet started and finished a manoeuvre which ended with Jamieson turning his effort past the post.
Buchanan then dragged a shot wide from a promising position, and it was his final contribution to the match, with the forward making way for Vaughan with 25 minutes remaining, and the substitute almost immediately finished the game as a contest.
Jason Thomson completely misjudged a through pass, allowing Vaughan to arrow in on goal, but after dinking it beyond Jamieson his shot agonisingly struck the inside of the post and bounced clear.
Arbroath were enjoying plenty of possession, but Thomson was rarely being tested, with the Rovers defence, and Kyle Benedictus in particular, getting a head, foot or any body part for that matter in the way of crosses and shots.
Rovers almost made it three in the closing stages, when Nisbet’s angled run deceived the offside trap, but he couldn’t ease it beyond Jamieson who saved with his feet.
While the three points were all that mattered, the performance was a hugely encouraging aspect of what was a fiercely contested encounter.
If Rovers can reproduce it for the majority of the second half of the campaign, then that 10 point gap might just be whittled away.
© Eddie Doig 2018
John talked to RaithTV after a great victory at Arbroath
Skipper Kyle Benedictus talked to RaithTV avter the win at Arbroath
It’s top versus second at Gayfield this weekend, in a match which has the hallmarks of a must win match for Raith Rovers, if they’re to haul themselves back into title contention.
That’s going to be a big ask against a team who haven’t lost a league game all season, and who haven’t lost at home in the league since March.
The Red Lichties have been in incredible form this term, dropping just six points across 17 games, which has put them in a commanding position at the top of the third tier.
Two of those points came in a 1-1 draw at Stark’s Park earlier this season, when Bobby Linn looked like he’d done enough to seal all three points with a goal 10 minutes from time, but Kevin Nisbet recused a point with a late equaliser from close range.
Linn has had a sensational season to date, contributing 14 goals from his left midfield position, but he’s not Arbroath’s only threat, with Michael McKenna and Ryan Wallace proving themselves to be an excellent double-act up-front, while the experienced Gavin Swankie is also enjoying a productive season from midfield.
At the back, Jason Thomson has proved a shrewd addition to a back-line which was already one of the best in the division, with Tom O’Brien in particular one of the stand-out central defenders at this level.
The signing of goalkeeper, Darren Jamieson has also proven to be a fine acquisition, with Arbroath keeping more clean sheets than anyone else in League One this season.
That said, Raith may take some solace from the fact Dick Campbell’s side tend to keep their clean sheets away from Gayfield, with just two recorded at home compared to four away.
Raith do have a good record at the venue, and they picked up four pints out of six last time around.
They won 2-1 in treacherous conditions almost exactly 12 months ago, with Greig Spence and Liam Buchanan giving Rovers a wind-assisted two goal advantage at the interval, and while a Ross Matthews own-goal reduced the lead, a stout rearguard performance sealed the win.
The second meeting was in April, when Buchanan handed Rovers the lead from the penalty spot, before Leighton McIntosh squared the game off with 10 minutes left.
Rovers will be hoping to sustain their good record in general against Arbroath, with five wins and four draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Lloyd Wilson
Head-To-Head League Record at Arbroath:
Arbroath wins: 13 | Raith Rovers wins: 15 | Draws: 4
Arbroath goals: 55 | Raith Rovers goals: 54
Raith Rovers: L-W-W-L-W-W
Top Goal Scorers:
Arbroath: Bobby Linn 14 | Ryan Wallace 7
Raith Rovers: Kevin Nisbet 20 | Liam Buchanan 8 | Daniel Armstrong 4 | Lewis Vaughan 4
Arbroath: Evens | Raith Rovers: 5/2 | Draw: 13/5