QUEENS END RAITH PROMOTION HOPES
Raith Rovers remain confined to Scottish League One for next season after a goal-less draw at Palmerston, with John McGlynn’s men unable to make inroads into Queen of the South’s two-goal lead from the Scottish Championship play-off final first leg. While Raith’s defence held firm through torrid spells as Stephen Dobbie threatened to run riot in the closing stages, Rovers pushed and pulled at the Queens rearguard but were ultimately unable to break the deadlock and overturn Queens’ first-leg lead.
In a match of fine margins, twin strikers Kevin Nisbet and Chris Duggan each had chances – the latter unlucky not to be awarded a penalty in the second half – but unfortunately the one clear-cut chance which would have put Raith on the road to victory over the two legs didn’t come. Queens celebrated at the final whistle, as Rovers’ players fell to the turf exhausted, after giving their all over the four play-off fixtures – next year will see more League One football at Starks Park.
Raith, needing the early goal, made two important changes – Chris Duggan was given a starting role upfront alongside Kevin Nisbet. The aggressive Duggan, who caused chaos in his ten-minute stint in the first leg, all elbows and snarling aggression, pushed up against Brownlie and Doyle in the heart of the Queens defence from the off. Craig McGuffie, all fleetness of foot and sharp passing, was introduced with Nat Wedderburn dropping out – would Raith miss the steadfastness of the solid midfielder, or would they relish the wide open spaces of the Palmerston surface? Rovers’ sizeable travelling support hoped it would be the latter.
In the first five minutes, Raith asked a number of questions – Crane’s corner put keeper Martin under pressure with Nisbet in close attention; moments later, a Murray through ball saw Nisbet lay off to Matthews, that youngster’s shot zipping just over. Keeper Martin charged from his line seconds later, showing some sign of nerves in the home defence. Raith were playing noticeably longer than on Wednesday – Davidson and Benedictus both looking for Duggan and Nisbet directly, bypassing the high press of the mobile Queens front-line.
Queens started slowly – it was seven minutes before Dobbie was a factor, looking forlornly as Todd’s through-ball fell to his wrong side. Wilson’s drive from thirty yards flew harmlessly over Lyness’ bar after nice passing between Doyle and Jacobs. With only one change from Wednesday night – right-back Mercer replaced by Macguire – the home side looked quiet in the early stages, with Raith enjoying the bulk of possession and the momentum, roared on by a noisy travelling support.
Chris Duggan made his presence felt early – Brownlie went down in a heap under a high ball, before Doyle clashed with the Raith man on half-way, leading to a free-kick. With Rovers’ hopes resting surely on unsettling a traditionally nervous home defence, the early portents were positive. With thirteen minutes gone, the first clear chance – Duggan burst past Macguire, and slammed his shot into Martin’s midriff.
As the first twenty minutes passed, the momentum started to change – both Conner Murray and Todd loitered in the Raith area, with Jacobs and Marshall whipping in dangerous crosses. Dobbie, the beneficiary of sloppy marking, had a run and shot from twenty-yards, thumping against Lyness’ near-post. Full-back Marshall sprinted past McGuffie, and should have done better with his cross. A lovely move on the half-hour: Dobbie, Doyle, and Todd combined; Dobbie’s delightful square-ball hoofed clear by Davidson with Dykes poised – a reminder if one were needed of the danger in the Queens’ front-line. Connor Murray blasted across Lyness soon after. With half-an-hour gone, no early goal, but Rovers’ fans would think their side had narrowly edged the opening exchanges – although Duggan and Nisbet had looked more isolated as the half had progressed.
With half-time approaching, two clear chances for Queens – Dykes fired at goal, Benedictus’ fine clearing header saving an opener; and Stephen Dobbie, picking up a loose ball in midfield, drove at Davidson and drew a fine save from Lyness. Raith re-established their presence before the half-time whistle – Nisbet and Duggan both looking in behind the Queens’ defence, and a good spell of possession resulting in a shot from Barjonas fizzing into the crowd behind keeper Martin’s goal. Duggan also went close.
As the sides departed for the half, each could take a positive: for Queens, a clean sheet and the two goal-lead preserved, for Raith a glimpse of goal, several half-chances, and moments of nerves in the home defence. With forty-five minutes to go, Raith were still in with a shout – although Stephen Dobbie still looked the game’s major figure.
Callum Crane, injured before the half, re-emerged after the interval but looked clearly half-paced. Within ninety seconds, the full-back was withdrawn – Nathan Flanagan took his place. The first five minutes were scrappy – with the only real glimpse of goal, Nisbet dropped deep, feeding Flanagan whose shot squeezed beyond Martin’s far post.
For Queens, Michael Doyle stepping into midfield became a focal point. With Raith needing to impact the game to have any chance, Doyle’s control and tempo in midfield was vital in keeping order in the home midfield. Linking well with Wilson, Lyness did well to deal with a deflected shot. Davidson and Benedictus worked hard to shut down angles, shepherding Dobbie well. Marshall’s shot blazed over from a narrow angle.
A moment of controversy on the hour – Duggan squeezing past Macguire in the area, with the defender’s high boot catching the Raith striker. Referee Nick Walsh pointed for a goal-kick, to howls of protest from the travelling support. With Rovers’ best chances coming when strikers ran in behind the centre-halves, Macguire’s lapse provided Raith with further hope of the all-important breakthrough.
Dobbie carved out a fine chance to put the tie beyond Raith – with sixty-eight minutes gone, the striker controlled the ball, gathering his thoughts, and with a lovely change of pace, he worked his way inside, exchanged passes with Murray, creating room for Macguire’s shot to bring out a fine finger-tipped save from Lyness.
With tired legs across the park, several passes went astray, with players caught in possession – Raith looked penned in their own half as Queens’ midfield controlled the flow. Dykes’ strike after great work from Connor Murray saw Benedictus clear at full stretch. Dobbie’s quick free-kick allowed Murray to fire at Lyness again, the keeper again flying across his goal to save. With quarter of an hour to go, it was all Queens – Dobbie twisted and turned, letting Murray shoot; Benedictus headed off the line; Macguire’s shot was thumped clear. Benedictus raged at his midfielders to clear their lines.
Manager McGlynn introduced Liam Buchanan for Chris Duggan with twelve minutes to go – looking to arrest the slump in his side’s fortunes. Two corners followed, Nisbet inches away from the second. Raith were digging deep into their energy reserves, while for the Doonhamers, Wilson Doyle and Dykes all covered the ground, closing spaces, looking to run the legs off their opponents. Dobbie’s cross-shot missed the far-post by inches.
Raith kept running. Nisbet fired over from Buchanan’s knock-down; Benedictus and Davidson headed and blocked everything in front of them; Barjonas and Flanagan were both booked, recovering their ground as attacks broke down.
Frustratingly but professionally, Queens were able to run the clock down – Todd and Wilson linked well with their defenders, disrupting Raith’s approach play. Benedictus’s raking drive fizzed past Martin’s post with the final action of this gritty goal-less draw – scrappy in parts, nervy in others, but overall a fair reflection of the match and the tie overall. Queens had been clinical in the first leg and professional in the second – Raith had generated good chances, kept plenty possession, but had ultimately lacked the finish in front of goal to keep pace with the Championship side.
Today, each set of centre-halves played above themselves – Brownlie and Doyle kept Nisbet and Duggan in check; Benedictus and Davidson (the latter, BBC Alba’s man of the match) heroic in their defending. In a match of narrow margins, both Martin and Lyness had some excellent saves, Raith had a strong penalty claim, but ultimately the visitors had lacked quality in the final third. No-one could doubt Rovers players had put in a magnificent shift across the two matches, but undeniably it would be a despondent journey back to Kirkcaldy for players, staff, and supporters alike.
Raith Rovers can face up to next season with real confidence – however today’s stalemate provided only anti-climax to a season full of positives, and not the ultimate goal of the return of Championship football to Stark’s Park.
© Eddie Doig 2019
John McGlynn talked to RaithTV after the 2nd leg of the SPFL Championship Play Off Final
If Raith Rovers are to gain promotion to the Championship, they’re going to have to do it the hard way, after a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Queen of the South in Wednesday evening.
First half goals from Lyndon Dykes and Callum Murray handed Queen’s a massive advantage going into the interval, and Darren Brownlie’s headed third appeared to seal the tie.
However, David McKay’s late goal gives Raith a sliver of a chance heading into the second leg in Dumfries.
You have to go back to 2011 for the last time Raith won by two clear goals at Palmerston Park, when efforts from Brian Graham and John Baird sealed a 3-1 away win.
You have to go back significantly further for the last time Raith won by more than that in Dumfries though, 1987 to be exact, when Rovers won 5-1 in a First Division encounter.
Rovers do have a decent record in this one, with five wins and two draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be David Munro
Queen of the South Wins: 20 | Raith Rovers Wins: 16 | Draws: 16
Queen of the South Goals: 83 | Raith Rovers Goals: 71
Queen of the South: W-L-L-L-W-W
Raith Rovers: D-W-D-W-D-L
Top Goal Scorers:
Queen of the South: Stephen Dobbie 43 | Lyndon Dykes 10
Raith Rovers: Kevin Nisbet 34 | Liam Buchanan 13 | Lewis Vaughan 9
Queen of the South: 3/4 | Raith Rovers: 16/5 | Draw: 3/1