DERBY DISAPPOINTMENT FOR ROVERS
East Fife took all three points with a win in the Fife Derby, as Raith’s long unbeaten home League record came to an end. First-half goals from right-back Aaron Dunsmore and striker Rory Currie were enough for the Methil men, despite substitute Lewis Vaughan setting up a nervous finish with a late goal for home side.
Although Raith showed great energy in the final third throughout, the visitors’ resolute defence held firm, anchored by two splendid performances from centre halves Ross Dunlop and Daryl Meggat. East Fife climb to within three points of Raith in second place, while Arbroath – courtesy of a late equaliser at Montrose – enter the New Year with an eleven-point lead at the top of League One.
With local and regional derbies kicking off across the country for this festive round of fixtures, Starks Park created a perfect stage for a feisty encounter. Under clear skies and with the pitch bathed in bright winter sunshine from the west, a bumper crowd of 2,833 gave the sides a boisterous reception as they emerged for kick-off.
Raith started brimming with confidence – the recent late victory over Dumbarton together with the fine win over League leaders Arbroath gave the starting eleven an energetic look. Armstrong and Flanagan buzzed with activity in the early stages, Wedderburn and Matthews exchanged passes in the middle, and Davidson and Benedictus kept a strong defensive line. Buchanan’s inside ball narrowly missed Nisbet with the game’s first opening; Flanagan crossed dangerously seconds later. Matthews’ clever step-over nearly freed Buchanan, a linesman’s flag bringing a halt to the Raith striker’s advances.
East Fife, starting the day third in the table and with a recent victory over nearest rivals Forfar under their belts, also looked lively. The returning Meggat looked a commanding figure at centre-half; Rory Currie (restored to the first team at the expense of midfielder Kyle Bell), looking to continue his impressive form on loan from Tynecastle, linked up well with Dowds upfront; and the experienced Scott Agnew showed poise from the outset.
Flanagan’s blast, well blocked by Meggat, brought Raith’s first clear-cut chance on seven minutes. Gillespie’s sweeping cross-field pass nearly saw Murray sneak in behind Dunsmore. For their part, East Fife sensed space on Raith’s left – Slattery had the better of Gillespie for pace, and Agnew played on that advantage regularly and often. Dunlop’s fizzing drive was an early dividend.
On twelve minutes, the visitors took the lead – with Raith’s defence stretched, Agnew had time in midfield to play in Dunsmore, who had ghosted in from full-back. The defender finished with aplomb high past Thomson. Raith’s shouts for offside were more in hope than in expectation – seizing on a moment’s hesitation, Agnew undid the home defence with a lovely pass which got the finished it deserved.
The Bayview side, resplendent in red and white stripes, began to look settled in possession. By contrast, Rovers’ passes strayed off target – both Nisbet and Buchanan failing to find colleagues. A scrappy period of play ensued, as East Fife drew the sting from Raith’s riposte.
As the first-half reached its mid-point, the visitors were winning the individual battles: Buchanan and Nisbet were getting little change from Dunlop and Meggat, full-backs Watson and Slattery were restricting the space around Flanagan and Armstrong, and the wily Agnew orchestrated in midfield despite pressure from Wedderburn. Docherty’s cross looking for Dowds was well punched clear by Thomson. Benedictus clattered Agnew on half-way, a sign of the frustration growing in Rovers ranks.
On thirty-two minutes, a slick Raith counter. Running from deep, Armstrong linked well with Buchanan and Nisbet – Meggat, grappling with his opposite number, stayed strong and cleared well. At the other end, Dowds held his own against Wedderburn, giving Watson space to shoot – the strike flashed into Thomson’s side-netting.
The visitors survived a penalty shout on thirty-seven minutes – Armstrong wriggled past Slattery, only to see his cross cannon off Dunlop for a corner. Raith players screamed for handball; referee Gavin Ross waved away the protests. A minute later, Armstrong’s near-post cross after a short corner saw Buchanan flick home – the well-drilled visiting defence had pushed out; an offside flag the result.
The visitors were next to threaten. Currie weaved away from Gillespie and Matthews, his inviting cross finding no takers. Agnew’s curling free-kick dipped just beyond Thomson’s post. Raith again hit on the break with pace – Flanagan’s cross deflected narrowly across goal.
With half-time approaching, disaster for the home side – a clipped through-ball saw Davidson take a heavy touch. Rory Currie, calmness personified, stepped inside and finished well, low to Thomson’s right. With referee Ross blowing for the half moments later, the Rovers players headed for the sanctuary of their dressing room, a disapproving chorus ringing in their ears.
Raith came firing out of the blocks, manager McGlynn a fierce presence on the touchline. Substitute Vaughan burst beyond Slattery, Buchanan’s volley flying over. Looking to link with his strikers, Vaughan was a livewire in the opening stages of the half, firing passes left and right. Nisbet’s drive from distance was well gathered by Long. Ten minutes into the half, Flanagan’s burst again allowed Nisbet to set his sights – Long pushed clear.
With Chris Duggan introduced to add more pace and spaces opening up in midfield, a through-ball nearly gave the visitors a third – Davidson earning a booking for bringing Dowds crashing to earth.
A fine run and strike from Kevin Nisbet almost halved the deficit – jostling with Dunlop, the striker outpaced his man, cut inside Meggat, and fired just beyond the far post with goalkeeper Long a spectator. The League’s top scorer had a frustrating afternoon, with relatively few clear chances to threaten the East Fife’s goal, getting the better of his opposite number on only a limited number of occasions.
With an hour gone, Raith’s energy levels were high, but the midfield exchanges were becoming fractious and untidy. Vaughan and Murray collected yellow cards, as referee Ross’s whistle became the dominating feature. Dunlop did well to clear with Nisbet lurking, but chances of greater quality were few and far between. In Rory Currie and Anton Dowds, the visitors’ twin strikers caused continuing problems for Raith’s backline, restricting the numbers Rovers could commit in search of a comeback. Vaughan drove from distance, with keeper Long collecting comfortably. Ironic cheers greeted Dunsmore’s yellow card for a pull on Duggan – again more a sign of frustration in the South Stand.
On seventy-one minutes, a real rugby scrum in Long’s six-yard box. With arms and legs everywhere, the ball rebounded clear with Raith claiming hand-ball – referee Ross, well positioned, awarded only a corner. Currie released Dowds at full gallop a minute later, his cross flying across Thomson’s radar.
At the other end, Vaughan’s volley flew over – a difficult chance no doubt, but Vaughan’s anguished expression spoke volumes. With the next action, the same player’s twisting run and shot was blocked away by keeper Long – the Raith substitute pounded the turf in disbelief. Armstrong turned inside to shoot, only for Slattery and Docherty to combine to clear the danger.
With seven minutes to go, a potential lifeline for the home side. Grant Gillespie, meandering forward from right-back, picked his way between three defenders and squared, allowing Vaughan a clear sight of goal. The diminutive striker made no mistake. The South Stand roared its approval, urging their team forward for an unlikely equaliser.
Having scored twice late on to overcome a redoubtable Dumbarton side in their previous home fixture, for several minutes a repeat performance looked on the cards – but in truth, Rovers lacked the cohesion needed to string together a sustained period of real pressure. Milne’s run allowed Murray to shoot, while at the other end, Dowds again nearly caught out Benedictus with a far-post run. Meggat and Dunlop, united at the heart of the East Fife defence, held their posts manfully until the final whistle.
As referee Ross brought proceedings to an end, the cheers came from the sizeable contingent of away fans, who would celebrate long into the night. For Raith, a period of reflection and introspection, before gathering themselves once again for the visit of Stenhousemuir in the New Year.
The match highlights video will appear here the day after the match
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the home derby v East Fife
After last weekend’s excellent 2-0 win over Arbroath, Raith Rovers go into Saturday’s Fife derby looking to increase the pressure on the League One pace setters.
That 2-0 victory reduced the gap at the top to 10 points, but with Rovers currently on a run of five wins in six, they’ll be looking to tale advantage of any slip ups from the Red Lichties.
They only way they’ll do that is with a repeat of the kind of performance they put in at Gayfield, which won’t be easy against an East Fife team which is sitting third in the table, and who are unbeaten against Rovers this term.
Raith were lucky to escape with a point when the two sides met at Stark’s Park in August, with two Kevin Nisbet penalties cancelling out a Scott Agnew brace for East Fife, in a game which the visitors created the lion’s share of chances.
The second meeting was just last month, and it marked the Methil men’s first win over Rovers in 31 years, despite Liam Buchanan handing John McGlynn’s side the lead after 11 minutes, with Kevin Smith grabbing the equaliser with 15 minutes remaining, before Aaron Dunsmore scored a dramatic last minute winner.
While that match came at the end of an imperious run of form for the Bayview side, it’s one of just three wins from their last eight league appearances, although they do go into the latest derby on the back of two straight wins, after defeating Stenhousemuir and Forfar in recent weeks, keeping them third in the table, five points clear of fourth placed Montrose.
Brett Long should be back between the posts for East Fife in this one, after a spell on the sidelines following his dismissal in the final minute of that match in November, and he’ll be behind a defence which is one of the meanest in the division, with Darryll Meggatt in particular enjoying a fantastic season at centre-half, despite generally being considered a left-back to trade.
In midfield, Scott Agnew is their main creative hub and the club’s top-scorer, and with a fantastic scoring record against Rovers down the years, he’ll need to be closely shackled for Raith to take all three points.
Up front, it’s perm any two from four, with Rory Currie, Anton Dowds and former Raith men, Jonny Court and Kevin Smith all making positive contributions this term.
Despite failing to win the last two games against East Fife, Rovers have a great record in this one, winning eight and drawing one of the last ten meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Gavin Ross.
Head-To-Head Home League Record Versus East Fife:
Raith Rovers Wins: 15 | East Fife Wins: 11 | Draws: 9
Raith Rovers Goals: 59 | East Fife Goals: 48
Raith Rovers: W-W-W-L-W-W
East Fife: L-W-L-D-W-W
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Kevin Nisbet 20 | Liam Buchanan 9 | Daniel Armstrong 5
East Fife: Scott Agnew 6 | Kevin Smith 5 | Rory Currie 4
Raith Rovers: 7/10 | East Fife: 7/2 | Draw: 3/1