Gap Widens After Airdrie Point
The incremental gains that were made into Arbroath’s lead just before Christmas were wiped away this afternoon, as Raith Rovers drew 1-1 with Ian Murray’s Airdrieonians.
Like the last fixture there in August, a lacklustre performance required a fightback from the away side, but despite Euan Murray equalising a Leighton McIntosh first-half penalty, Rovers couldn’t find a way past an inspired David Hutton for the all important winner.
John McGlynn went with the same starting eleven which put five past Stenhousemuir the previous weekend, with new signing, Tony Dingwall taking his place on a bench that for arguably the first time all season, looked to have an abundance of options sitting on it.
Rovers have an excellent record against the Diamonds, and they started well in this one, with Grant Gillespie outmuscling his opponent in the middle of the park and after spotting Chris Duggan sprinting clear of the defence, his through ball was just a touch too heavy, allowing Hutton to run out and gather ahead of the Rovers forward.
Conditions didn’t appear to be too blustery, but the ball was holding up in the breeze, which almost proved advantageous to Rovers in the fifth minute, when Gillespie’s high ball bent away from Hutton, allowing Benedictus to nod goalward, only for the ball to be hacked off the line.
Despite the solid start however, Airdrie took the lead in the eighth minute.
Leighton McIntosh and Kyle Wilkie combined to good effect, and with Wilkie surrounded by Rovers players but evading all challenges, he was eventually fouled by Ian Davidson, allowing McIntosh to blast his penalty low past Robbie Thomson.
With Arbroath already leading against Stenhousemuir, Rovers needed to respond, and Lewis Vaughan tried his luck from 20-yards in the 10th minute, but the ball bobbled harmlessly past Hutton’s right-hand-post.
Rovers had lost their way since the opening few moments though, with Airdrie now looking the likelier to get the game’s second goal, and Josh Edwards tried his luck from distance, with his effort ricocheting off a Raith defender and spinning out for a corner.
Rovers may have been playing against the wind, but they were there own worst enemies, with possession turned over all too often, while most forays into the final third were breaking down before anything tangible could be gleaned from it.
The front pairing of Liam Buchanan and Duggan were finding themselves far too isolated, and while Armstrong on the right, and Vaughan, who was coming in from the left were trying to get up to support, it wasn’t happening often enough, while Gillespie and Wedderburn were, either by accident or design, very much playing sitting roles.
Hutton had barely been tested in the opening half hour, although he did have to take evasive action in the 30th minute, when Duggan sent a shot goalwards, but his timid effort was easily gathered up.
Rovers first half performance was neatly summed up 10 minutes before the interval, when a Raith throw was met by virtually no movement at all, and when the throw was eventually taken, it was inevitably given straight back to the home side.
A second goal would have made for a very difficult second 45 for Raith, and Airdrie almost doubled their advantage just before the interval, when incisive play from the home side allowed Scott Robertson a clear run on goal, but his shot was too close to Thomson who did well to save with his legs.
Rovers needed a prompt start to the second period, and while there was a notable uplift in the tempo, they were still struggling to create anything in the way of clear cut chances in the half’s early skirmishes.
They were making inroads though, and Daniel Armstrong was able to seize upon a rather wild passback to Hutton, fizzing a low cross across the box which Buchanan dummied for Duggan who saw his shot blocked.
Rovers were dominating possession by now, but Airdrie’s defensive unit were coping admirably with what was going on in front of them, with little or nothing getting in behind.
It looked like it was going to take something special to break Airdrie’s resistance, and Murray tried just that with a shot from distance in the 65th minute, but it sailed well over the bar.
With Rovers struggling in the wide areas and in desperate need of a spark, Nathan Flanagan replaced Buchanan, with the winger moving to the left, allowing Vaughan to go up front.
Airdrie had rarely been seen in this half, but with McIntosh up top they were very much a threat on the counter, and the forward was almost played in with around 25 minutes remaining, shrugging off a challenge before crashing a shot well over the bar.
Tony Dingwall then made his Raith debut when he replaced Armstrong, and the move would prove to be key, with the former Ross County man making an immediate impact on proceedings.
It was his excellent cross which picked out Duggan, and while his knock down looked ideal for Vaughan, the forward could only knock his effort from six yards over the bar.
It was a warning for the home side, but they failed to heed it, as Rovers grabbed the equaliser their play deserved in the 72nd minute
Again, Dingwall’s cross was the source, with the new signing sending in a great ball which Murray gleefully headed past Hutton to bring the scores level.
Rovers were now right back in it and looked the livelier of the sides, and only an incredible point blank save from Hutton denied Rovers taking the lead.
Callum Crane and Flanagan combined to great effect down the left, and from the latter’s low cross, Vaughan seemed certain to score from a few yards out, but Hutton instinctively flung up a glove to flick it over the bar.
Dingwall had made a huge difference since coming on, with his deliveries from wide areas proving a constant thorn to the Airdrie defence.
Rovers were knocking on the door now, and after Vaughan picked up the ball from deep, he drove straight at the heart of the Airdrie defence, before seeing his effort from outside the area excellently stopped by Hutton.
Despite having the better of the second period, Airdrie had the chance to win it in the final minute, when they were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area, and it took an excellent save from Thomson to deny Darryl Duffy, and he had to be at his best again from the corner, turning over a Sean Crighton header which appeared destined to ripple the net.
While a last minute Airdrie goal would have been harsh on McGlynn’s men, the home side were well worth a point, against a Rovers team which only started playing in the second period.
It’ll take a far better performance if Rovers are to progress past Dunfermline in next week’s Scottish Cup tie.
© Eddie Doig 2019
John McGlynn talked to RaithTV after the 1 – 1 draw at Airdrie
After last week’s five-goal salvo against Stenhousemuir at Stark’s Park, Rovers are on their travels for the first time this year, as they head to the Penny Cars Stadium to face Ian Murray’s reinvigorated Airdrie.
The Diamonds had been plagued by inconsistency this term, both before and after the former Hibs and Norwich City player had been appointed manager, but three successive league wins have taken them to within a point of Forfar Athletic who sit fourth in the table.
The latest of their trio of victories was their most impressive, travelling to Methil and coming back with all three points, thanks to goals from Kyle Wilkie and Leighton McIntosh in a 2-1 win.
Both players have been in good form this season, with Wilkie supplying five goals from midfield, while McIntosh has scored four in his last five appearances, and he seems to have struck up an effective partnership with Darryl Duffy, with the veteran forward Airdrie’s top scorer with 10 goals.
It’s not just the goals scored column where Airdrie are impressing though they’re also keeping them out at the other end, with only Arbroath conceding fewer in the third tier.
With Murray able to call upon the services of Jonathon Page, Sean Crighton and Scott Robertson amongst others for his defensive berths, the Airdrie boss has a wealth of experience at the back, and with just one goal conceded in their three recent victories, Rovers might find it a little trickier to pierce their defence than the last time they visited the stadium.
That was back in August, when a Liam Buchanan hat-trick and a goal from Kevin Nisbet saw Rovers come back from 3-1 down to win 4-3 in a quite astonishing closing few minutes.
Things were slightly more straightforward last month when the sides met at Stark’s Park, when a goal apiece from Nisbet and Buchanan saw Rovers win 2-0.
Rovers are actually unbeaten in 12 games against Airdrie, winning nine and drawing three in that time.
Saturday’s match referee will be David Munro.
Head-To-Head League Record At Airdrie:
Airdrie Wins: 3 | Raith Rovers Wins: 5 | Draws: 5
Airdrie Goals: 18
Raith Rovers Goals: 16
Airdrie: L-D-L-W-W-W | Raith Rovers: W-L-W-W-L-W
Top Goal Scorers:
Airdrie: Darryl Duffy 10 | Leighton McIntosh 8 | Joao Victoria 8
Raith Rovers: Kevin Nisbet 20 | Liam Buchanan 9 | Lewis Vaughan 6
Airdrie: 9/5 | Raith Rovers: 13/10 | Draw: 27/10