ROVERS LOSE IN FIVE-GOAL THRILLER
Joao Victoria’s injury-time goal gave Stranraer their first win at Starks Park since 1984, as John McGlynn’s men fell to defeat in an entertaining but ultimately frustrating match at Starks Park. Strikes from Kyle Turner and Innes Cameron had cancelled out Raith’s deserved early lead, with Dave McKay and Jamie Barjonas having put Rovers in command, but despite Raith looking the better of the sides for long spells, Stranraer persevered and nicked the three points in a dramatic finish.
Raith’s first-half had suggested the points would be destined to stay in Kirkcaldy, with a dominating attacking performance in which Rovers created numerous chances – however, a slack end to the first half in which Stranraer claimed two goals in three minutes, and a second half in which Raith couldn’t retain the flow and rhythm of their first forty-five, allowed Stevie Farrell’s men back into the game. The win moves Stranraer away from the relegation play-off places; Raith’s defeat more or less ensures a play-off meeting with Forfar Athletic at the season’s end.
Under bright blue skies and in breezy conditions, both sides started with a brisk early tempo. Stranraer were upbeat following their hugely impressive home win over play-off candidates Forfar Athletic last weekend, and named an unchanged side. Joao Victoria and young Innes Cameron jostled with Davidson and Murray in the early stages, with the experienced Mark Lamont looked keen to join every attack.
Raith, with Iain Davidson and Ross Matthews restored to the starting line-up, were first to threaten, with Kevin Nisbet haring after a through ball, shoulder to shoulder with his marker McDonald in the second minute. After only three minutes, the opening goal – Barjonas’ deep far post cross evaded Currie in the Stranraer goal, and Dave McKay climbed highest to nod in at the far post. Stranraer ignominiously kicked off for the second time; Raith had built themselves the perfect platform.
Resplendent in an Argentina-style pale blue and white striped outfit complemented with traditional black shorts, the visitors regrouped. After eight minutes, Stranraer should have been level – Victoria muscled past Davidson and crossed, only a hair’s-breadth beyond the onrushing Cameron. Moments later, McDonald’s free-kick flew high and wide without troubling Dean Lyness in the Raith goal – the Raith keeper starting in place of Robbie Thomson, following his serious ligament injury sustained on the suspect Ochilview pitch last week.
Kyle Turner was a key figure as Stranraer responded to the early concession. Working well with the experienced Agnew and Lamont, the youngster’s pace on the turn and direct running discomfited the Raith rearguard. His fierce drive was well held by Lyness on the quarter-hour.
Kevin Nisbet, the League’s top scorer, looked hungry from the off. Picking up Flanagan’s through ball, the striker forced a corner showing great persistence against the grappling McDonald. The Raith striker had the ball in the net after twenty minutes – an easy tap-in from a Buchanan cross – only for a linesman’s flag to halt the celebrations; Buchanan correctly adjudged to have run the ball out of play. Nisbet would prove a constant thorn in Stranraer’s side.
With both sides playing with width and pace, the entertaining first half continued to generate chances at both ends. Victoria’s run and shot nearly carved out an equaliser; Nisbet’s run at McManus, opening his shoulders and curling a shot across Currie, drew a good save from the Stranraer keeper. A Barjonas drive fizzed over the bar. Running on to a fine incisive pass from Flanagan, Ross Matthews was through – defender Smith prevented a Raith second. Murray’s strong header drew another block. With twenty-eight minutes on the clock, another Nisbet run and shot – Currie needed to be at his best, pulling off a fine instinctive save.
On the half-hour, a lovely move from the home side – Nisbet drew his man, and intelligently released Barjonas at full speed; a one-two with Flanagan gave the Raith man time to cross, only to see McManus hoof clear from his own six-yard box – Currie saved well under pressure from Buchanan at the following corner. Raith were dominating possession, and moving with pace through midfield – play was flowing inexorably toward the visitors’ goal.
Three minutes later, Raith got the second their play deserved – Nisbet, with McManus’ two arms wrapped around him, released Barjonas – the youngster streaked past Jamie Hammill at right-back, and fired confidently across Currie into the far corner. With the South Stand still cheering the second, Flanagan’s driving run allowed Buchanan to race in on goal, nearly snatching a third.
With his side two down and in danger of falling further behind, manager Stevie Farrell cut a forlorn figure in the Stranraer dug-out, looking on as Nisbet’s run and shot drifted just past Currie’s far post. Urging his side forward and bellowing instructions from the touchline, his side redoubled their efforts. The manager’s promptings were rewarded on forty-one minutes – Cameron’s burst down the right after Crane’s mis-control allowed Kyle Turner to bundle a finish past Lyness from close range. With Raith having looked in total control, suddenly it was the visitors who had their tails up.
Astonishingly, Stranraer equalised before half-time – Victoria’s shot earned a corner, and from Lamont’s high centre, Innes Cameron’s powerful header brought his eighth of the season and Stranraer’s second of the afternoon. Elliot’s shot was blocked at the last by Davidson, as the visitors ended the half on a high. From two goals to the good and cruising, Raith’s lead had disappeared. Stranraer had kept faith with their passing approach, put their shoulders to the wheel, and earned parity by the half – the South Stand, perhaps thinking the three points were in the bag, registered their discontent as referee Reid blew for half-time.
The second half started with both sides keen to press on – Joao Victoria again finding space, attacking on the diagonal from the left flank. Innes Cameron re-engaged with Dave McKay – the battle between the two No.18’s one the game’s intriguing encounters. With every through ball, the rangy striker looked to use his physique to keep defenders at arm’s-length – McKay and Iain Davidson needed to keep constant watch, lest Raith concede for a third time.
On the hour, Raith had to re-organise. Nat Wedderburn pulled up sharply, holding his thigh – the big midfielder was sensibly withdrawn with Jamie Gullan introduced to the left flank, Jamie Barjonas moving inside. Creating space for Nisbet with his first forward surge, Gullan looked on as Nisbet blasted a rising volley straight at Currie from twenty yards. Buchanan was taken off for McGuffie, and – more worryingly for Raith – Flanagan came off on seventy minutes with a twisted ankle, following a crude challenge by McCann – referee Reid rightly showing yellow. Youngster Kieron Bowie took his place in midfield. As the match moved into its final fifteen minutes, both Gullan and Matthews fired at Currie, the Stranraer keeper showing good hands to avert any danger.
Bowie’s first chance to shine came soon after – twisting past McDonald, the Kirkcaldy youngster’s cross was headed narrowly wide by Euan Murray, who was spending more time in the Stranraer half as the match wore on. The visitors were still a threat – Victoria’s burst giving McCann the chance to shoot, Murray diving to clear.
Raith forced a succession of corners in the final ten minutes, Euan Murray a danger in the air, and keeper Currie struggling to control his six-yard box. For their part, the visitors’ substitutions brought an injection of pace – Grant Anderson particularly causing concern down Raith’s left, pinning Calum Crane to his defensive duties. Substitute Crossan’s drive flew wide of Lyness’ post as the match moved into injury time.
Just as they had finished the first half the stronger, the visitors sensed victory was within their grasp. With Anderson cutting inside dangerously from the right, and Victoria a constant threat from the left, Raith’s defence suddenly looked vulnerable. A match in which Raith had looked the stronger for long spells was snatched from their grasp in the cruellest fashion – substitute PJ Crossan’s beautiful curling drive struck the inside of Lyness’ far post, and it was Joao Victoria who reacted the quickest, nodding in the rebound. Stranraer’s bench erupted – a second win again a top three side in as many weeks had earned them breathing space in their own battle to avoid the play-offs.
For Raith, a salutary lesson in closing out a game – in a similar fashion to Rovers’ late win at East Fife a fortnight ago, Stranraer had upped their tempo at the right moment, and stolen a last-gasp victory. As Raith’s players sank to their knees in defeat, and as Arbroath celebrated confirmation of their League title win, it was Stranraer cheering a win which had looked at times beyond them. John McGlynn must now reinvigorate his side, and look to build some rhythm and momentum in the remaining fixtures in preparation for season 2018/19’s promotion play-off campaign.
RaithTV talked to John McGlynn after the 2-3 defeat to Stranraer
After two successive away matches, and four points sealed from them due to late, late goals, Raith Rovers are back at Stark’s Park this weekend to face Stranraer.
The Blues go into the game on the back of an excellent 2-1 win over Forfar, a result which took them above Brechin City and out of the relegation playoff spot with just four games remaining.
At one stage, Stranraer had looked more likely to be jousting it out for a promotion playoff spot rather than a relegation one, but a run of just one win in 10 matches from the end of December, has seen them sucked into a dramatic end of season tussle at the foot of League One.
If they are to retain their third tier status this term, they’ll be looking to the likes of Kyle Turner and Innes Cameron to pull the strings and score the goals.
21-year-old midfielder Turner is having a fantastic season in the middle of the park, and has been linked with a move away from Stair Park at the end of the season, while Cameron, at just 18 looks to be a fantastic prospect, with the on-loan Kilmarnock forward chipping in with seven goals this term, while his physical presence makes him a perfect focal point for Steve Farrell’s attack.
The three previous meetings sees Rovers unbeaten this term, but they’ve dropped points in two of them, while the solitary win was a close run thing.
The first fixture was on the opening day of the league season, and Raith were fortunate to escape Stair Park with a point, after Liam Buchanan handed them a first-half lead, only for Grant Anderson to deservedly level things up in the second period.
The next meeting was at Stark’s Park in October, and despite playing the majority of the game with just 10 men after Euan Murray’s dismissal late on the first period, Rovers won 2-1, thanks to a brace from top-scorer, Kevin Nisbet.
The most recent clash was last month, and saw Rovers two goals down after just 22 minutes, but a spirited second-half fightback from the full-time club saw them win a point, after goals from Craig McGuffie and Nisbet saw the match end two apiece.
You have to go back some time to find Stranraer’s last league win at Stark’s Park, 1984 to be exact, with a 2-1 win in the old Second division.
Rovers have a good record in this fixture, with seven wins and two draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Steven Reid.
Head-To-Head Home League Record Against Stranraer:
Raith Rovers Wins: 18 | Stranraer Wins: 3 | Draws: 7
Raith Rovers Goals: 56 | Stranraer Goals: 27
Raith Rovers: D-W-L-W-W-D
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Kevin Nisbet 28 | Liam Buchanan 12 | Lewis Vaughan 9
Stranraer: Grant Anderson 7 | Innes Cameron 7 | Kyle Turner 7
Raith Rovers: 8/15 | Stranraer: 17/4 | Draw: 7/2