GILLESPIE ON TARGET AS RAITH WIN
Raith regained second place in the League One table with a well-deserved win over a redoubtable Airdrie side at Starks Park. Grant Gillespie’s second-half strike was enough to take all three points over the hard-working Diamonds, as Rovers’ effort over the ninety minutes – and several key substitutions – earned Raith the win their overall play deserved.
With both sides having enjoyed spells in the first half, Raith’s greater desire and appetite paid dividends, with a Rovers goal looking more and more likely as the second half progressed. Rovers over-take Forfar after the latter’s draw at Brechin; Arbroath’s second defeat in as many weeks leaves Raith a point clear in second, and twelve points off the top.
After trips to Dumbarton and Stranraer in the last week, Raith must have been glad of a home fixture. John McGlynn made three changes – Iain Davidson restored to the starting line-up along with Liam Buchanan. Nat Wedderburn had recovered sufficiently from his injury picked up against Dumbarton, regaining his starting position in midfield – Ross Matthews, Jamie Gullan, and Craig McGuffie all made way. Robbie Thompson kept his place in goal.
Under clear blue skies but in blustery conditions, bright sunshine met the players as they emerged from the recesses of Starks Park before kick-off. With the strong gusts of wind affecting the flight of the ball (the water from sprinklers showering the press-box pre-match, your reporter included), the early stages saw the Airdrie defence struggle to clear their lines as Raith won two early corners.
Still stinging from the indignity of dropping to third for the first time since early September, Rovers’ management team sent their side out aiming to avoid the sloppy start which affected last week’s encounter at Stair Park. Grant Gillespie, haring forwards early, squared for Buchanan, whose cross drifted through Hutton’s six-yard box and off the far-post – a let-off for the visitors in only the second minute.
Ian Murray’s Airdrie arrived hoping to arrest a poor run of form – last week’s win over Montrose had been the Diamonds’ first three points since the first week of January. Three defeats in February had dented play-off aspirations. However, Airdrie’s away form had been their strong suit; their defence resolute. Today’s fixture would hold no fears for a side only a point behind Montrose, and vying for the crucial forth spot and a route into the play-offs at the season’s end. Darryl Duffy – last week’s match-winner and top scorer with nine goals – started up front; Dale Carrick was ruled out with a knock, defender Josh Edwards taking his place, with ex-Rover Ryan Conroy looking to support Duffy. Right midfielder Jordan Houston looked to continue his impressive run of form, on loan from Rangers.
Airdrie captain Sean Crighton took responsibility for shepherding Rovers top-scorer Kevin Nisbet. The Raith striker showed lovely composure to control a deep Davidson through-ball on ten minutes, the visiting skipper winning the physical battle on the by-line. This would be one of the match’s key encounters.
The wind played a part in Rovers’ next opportunity – Dingwall’s corner caused consternation amongst the Airdrie rearguard. Wedderburn had a swing, Buchanan was nudged, with Crighton making a despairing clearance. With the ball hanging in the skies above Hutton’s goal, the visiting defence looked discomfited. McIntosh’s drive was blocked away by Murray, as Airdrie’s first corner came to nothing. Another Dingwall corner saw Murray jostling with O’Neill at the far post as Hutton looked on.
The first half was twenty minutes old before the visitors created a spell of possession – Houston, Edwards, and Duffy were all involved before Declan Glass slipped an inviting through ball toward Conroy, the pass over-hit by a fraction. Glass’s snap-shot flew over as Airdrie looked to impose themselves after Raith’s positive early spell.
A fine chance followed: Edwards overlapped on the left, and his cross found Duffy – the striker’s powerful downward header cleared off the line by Davidson. The Airdrie striker’s despair spoke volumes – the veteran Raith defender’s intervention had kept the scores level.
On the half-hour, Campbell played in Glass beyond Gillespie. Running at pace, the youngster could only play the ball behind the advancing Conroy, the visitors’ momentum lost in an instant. Glass was perhaps the first-half’s most eye-catching performer – quick in possession, and intelligent without the ball, Raith’s Gillespie had to keep constant watch as Airdrie looked to spring Glass into the final third. With one jinking run, Glass left Gillespie for dead near the touchline, his driven cross flying through Thomson’s airspace and away.
As the sun disappeared behind thick cloud and the biting wind became more prominent, the half became more scrappy as half-time approached – both Duffy and Nisbet cut frustrated figures as Davidson for Raith and Crighton for Airdrie tightly shackled their opposite numbers. With both sides having had strong spells in the opening half but clear-cut chances at a premium, the first-half had been an absorbing if not a thrilling affair.
Raith began the second half with renewed vigour – Barjonas flew past Houston, Nisbet’s shot blocked by a forest of legs in the six-yard box. An early Airdrie corner was headed narrowly over by Crighton, the big defender turning away in frustration.
Several more chances came Rovers’ way. Wedderburn, with time to set himself, sent a drive spinning high over Hutton’s cross-bar. Buchanan, in space behind Crighton, couldn’t connect truly to trouble the Airdrie keeper. Nisbet’s header found the net, only for the linesman to rule correctly the Murray had failed to keep the ball in play before crossing. Again finding space, Nisbet’s curler fell just the wrong side of Hutton’s far post. Raith had started the second half as they’d started the first – but would Rovers’ greater possession and appetite generate an opening goal? A Houston snap-shot was all Airdrie could generate in response.
Raith came again. Dingwall released Buchanan, who played in Nisbet – Edwards’ crude challenge rightly earning yellow. Crighton also earned a booking after felling Euan Murray at full tilt. Jamie Barjonas was an increasingly important figure as Raith drove forwards – working well with Dingwall and substitute Flanagan, the Rangers’ loanee stood tall in possession, ran well into space, and demanded possession from colleagues – one thirty-yard sprint to the by-line earned a corner against his opposite number, his chase of a lost cause winning the cheers of the South Stand. Buchanan played in Nisbet, the Raith striker getting underneath his finish.
Gullan’s introduction on sixty-eight minutes brought another surge from the home side – Gillespie released Flanagan behind full-back Robertson with a slide-rule pass, the resulting cross hacked clear with Gullan and Nisbet both poised – the Airdrie defence at action stations. The hard-working and tireless Buchanan having done his job, Gullan’s direct running created further problems for the already stretched Airdrie defence.
On seventy-three minutes, the breakthrough Raith’s attacking endeavour had deserved. Nisbet’s flick sent Barjonas clear down the inside left-channel – with the Airdrie defence in full retreat, Barjonas’ pin-point cross found Gillespie haring in on goal, the Raith midfielder making no mistake from close range. Houston cleared at the back post with Barjonas behind him seconds later, as Raith nearly nicked a second. With Arbroath, Forfar, and Montrose all losing at the time, the South Stand roared Raith forward, urging their charges to secure all three points. Flanagan drove narrowly over, as the match entered its final ten minutes.
To their credit, Airdrie responded. The wily Leighton McIntosh created room for fellow substitute Kyle Wilkie to shoot – Davidson blocked at full stretch, with the visitors claiming a handball. With Darryl Duffy now with support up alongside him, Raith would have to work to win all three points. Crane’s cross-shot forced Hutton to look lively at his near-post. Gullan, sprinting dow the near touch-line, exemplified Raith’s second-half determination and drive, forcing Crighton to concede a corner – Murray’s header and rebound were blocked away.
With the clock ticking beyond ninety minutes, Raith showed admirable control and maturity. Barjonas and Flanagan linked well, controlling possession while Airdrie chased, harried, but ultimately failed to work an attacking opportunity. When possession was conceded by Raith – Wilkie, McIntosh, and Duffy looking to burst forward – Davidson and the impressive McKay remained resolute in defence. Three valuable and hard-earned points were Rovers’ reward for a strong home performance against tricky opponents – perfect preparation for a crucial trip to Forfar next week.
RaithTV spoke to John McGlynn after the 1-0 win at Stark’s Park
RaithTV spoke to the Jamie Barjonas after our 1-0 win against Airdrieonians
After two successive games on the road, Raith Rovers return to Kirkcaldy this weekend, with Airdrieonians the visitors to Stark’s Park.
Ian Murray’s side go into the game on the back of a 1-0 win over Montrose, their first victory since a 2-1 win over East Fife at the turn of the year.
However, despite a sequence of just one win in eight games, the Diamonds sit just six points behind the Methil men who sit fourth, and still have an outside chance of making the playoffs.
Airdrie do have one of the better away records in the league though, with only Arbroath and East Fife picking up more points on the road this term, while defensively the team has done well too, with just Arbroath and Raith Rovers conceding fewer goals.
Rovers may be going into the game on the back of a three game unbeaten streak, but two successive draws has seen them slide down the table a notch, with Forfar leapfrogging them into second, with John McGlynn’s men now residing in third.
This will be the teams fourth meeting this term, and Rovers have picked up seven points from a possible nine to date.
The first meeting back in August will live long in the memory, with Raith coming from 3-1 down with just a few minutes remaining to win 4-3, thanks to a hat-trick from Liam Buchanan and a goal from Kevin Nisbet.
The two forwards were the goal-scorers again in December, in a far more straightforward 2-0 win in December.
Their last meeting was in January, when Airdrie were a goal up early on thanks to a penalty from Leighton McIntosh, but a Ewan Murray equaliser 17 minutes from time meant the game ended one apiece.
Raith have an excellent record in this fixture, with seven wins and three draws from the last 10 meetings
Saturday’s match referee will be David Dickinson.
Head-To-Head Home Record Versus Airdrie:
Raith Rovers Wins: 8 | Airdrie Wins: 3 | Draws: 2
Raith Rovers Goals: 15 | Airdrie Goals: 7
Raith Rovers: D-L-L-W-D-D
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Kevin Nisbet 24 | Liam Buchanan 10 | Lewis Vaughan 9
Airdrie: Darryl Duffy 9 | Leighton McIntosh 8
Raith Rovers: 3/4 | Airdrie: 16/5 | Draw: 3/1