OPENING DAY WIN FOR RAITH
A late winner from Grant Anderson secured Raith an opening day victory against a redoubtable Dumbarton side, who made Raith fight to the last for all three points. John McGlynn’s side created the better chances over the ninety minutes and enjoyed the majority of possession – Brad Spencer’s delightful chip releasing Anderson in the seventy-ninth minute to lash home, as Raith’s pressure finally paid off.
With a number of players on both sides making debuts, the match was a disjointed affair in spells, but Raith’s new-look midfield anchored by Regan Hendry, and youthful attack with both Kieron Bowie and Jack Smith making an impact, gave Raith a deserved platform for victory. While Jim Duffy’s side had their moments, and with former Celtic winger PJ Crossan prominent through-out, it was Raith who deservedly had their noses in front at the end, and occupy joint top spot in the table after this first weekend of the League season.
Manager McGlynn’s starting eleven for this first League outing of the season demonstrated the overhaul necessary during the close season. Only Davidson, Benedictus, and Ross Matthews remained from the play-off defeat away to Queen of the South – a mixture of returning favourites and new faces gave this season’s vintage a fresh but familiar look as the new League season kicked off in bright sunshine. Regan Hendry partnered Matthews and Brad Spencer in a three-man central midfield. Youngster Kieron Bowie was rewarded for a fine pre-season with a starting berth wide on the right – both he and Grant Anderson on the left flank would look to support former Hibernian Lewis Allan upfront. Raith’s first real chance in the game saw Bowie sprint past McGeever, his near-post drive rebounding off Brennan’s shins.
For Jim Duffy’s Dumbarton, a similar root and branch reappraisal saw a very different line-up start this season to that which ended the last. Sealing League One safety with two games to spare and building an unbeaten home run of four games in the process, Duffy’s side had lost several players over the close season – the departures of defender Brian McLean and midfielders Michael Paton and Ross Forbes will be felt keenly if the Sons suffer a slow start to the season. A mixture of youth and experience would look to rejuvenate Duffy’s side – Celtic’s PJ Crossan, Edusport’s Ryan Tierney, and the impressive former Brechin defender Ryan McGeever started here. Stenhousemuir’s loss would be Dumbarton’s gain with Morgyn Neill starting at centre-half.
Raith’s tempo looked high in the early stages – Davidson looking long from his first touch, McGurn also kicking long in the direction of Anderson on the left or Bowie wide right – the deeper passes holding up on the lush Dumbarton pitch. The first ten minutes were notable for Raith possession and their hosts sitting deep – Hendry and Matthews exchanged passes, with the ball played amongst Raith’s midfield with ease. Rovers’ boisterous travelling support bellowed their approval.
With their first attack on eleven minutes, Dumbarton should have led – a Hendry deflection in midfield let Crossan attack at pace, McGurn’s strong left hand denying McCluskey. After a stramash at the resulting corner, Raith cleared their lines – Bowie picking out Anderson with a tremendous cross-field pass, the stand-side linesman raising his flag to bring Raith’s break to a halt. For Dumbarton, McKee’s drive flew over, and Raith’s Miller recovered well to snuff out Crossan running at full tilt.
Although relatively few chances were created, Raith edged the opening exchanges. Rovers continued to enjoy the bulk of possession, but Dumbarton’s Hutton and McCluskey attacked well through midfield. Morgyn Neill’s flick flew harmlessly over McGurn’s cross-bar following McCluskey’s run at Benedictus.
In Kieron Bowie, Raith had the first-half’s most eye-catching performer. Quick on the turn and difficult to knock out of possession, the Raith striker’s physique and frame caused problems for Quitongo and McKee on Dumbarton’s left. Swapping regularly with Grant Anderson, Bowie will be a key part of the Rovers’ attacking threat this season.
The match continued to ebb and flow. The livewire PJ Crossan turned on a sixpence in front of Davidson, firing at McGurn. In a curious incident, Dumbarton’s McCluskey required lengthy treatment following a clash in the box, with referee Williams standing over him all the while with his yellow card out, having made the decision to issue a booking for simulation. A sense of injustice percolated through the home support; Rovers’ following bayed with delight. Lewis Allan, less prominent than he’d wish, was out-muscled by the hefty McGeever.
Astonishing scenes followed in the home defence – a long clearance saw Neill’s short header to Brennan allow Allan to nip in, the defender and keeper clashed each trying to clear, needing McGeever to recover valiantly with Allan in the act of shooting. Raith supporters held their heads at the missed opportunity. Allan found space under the resulting corner, his shot sliced well wide.
At the other end, McCluskey fizzed a drive at McGurn, and Benedictus and Neill thumped into each other under a cross ball. Ross Matthew’s snapshot missed Brennan’s far post by inches. As the half ended, both sets of supports had reason to cheer – Raith’s vibrancy in wide areas and Regan Hendry’s range of passing had been the key ingredients for the visitors; for the Sons, Crossan and McClusky had grown in stature as the game had progressed.
With youngster Jack Smith replacing Lewis Allan at half-time, Raith sought to turn their first-half superiority into goals. Smith pressed up against Neill and McGeever from the off, looking to harry the home defence into a mistake. Hednry fired over from distance, after good approach work from the mobile Brad Spencer. Anderson sprinted past Quitongo, Brennan saving well at his near-post. Smith forced a great block from Brennan seconds later – the linesman’s flag was raised, but the Raith substitute had made his point.
For Dumbarton Kyle Hutton began to exert greater influence. The midfielder’s rangy stride allowed him to cover great swathes of the turf, linking well with Crossan and McClusky – Spencer and Matthews had their defensive hands full.
Raith’s Regan Hendry continued to pull the strings in midfield – racing clear in one attack, Lewis Crawford was forced into an ugly challenge. Two corners saw Davidson and Bowie challenge from Hendry’s pin-point set-piece delivery. As passions rose in the clammy summer conditions, Hendry’s control in possession gave Raith real quality in the central third. Carswell eventually saw yellow after four fouls in quick succession on the Raith man.
With an hour gone, both sides presented a similar problem to the other – a vibrant youthful strikeforce against a wily experienced defence. Neill and McGeever creaked and groaned under pressure from Bowie and Smith, but had held firm thus far; for Raith, Benedictus and Davidson retained the upper hand against Crossan and McCluskey – the first goal would go a long way to deciding the outcome. Dumbarton’s substitution – Tierney off for Layne – sought to increase the pressure on the Raith rearguard, generating three successive corners. McGurn’s one-handed save pushed Crawford’s header wide.
With Davidson and Layne regularly locking horns in the Raith defence, and Raith’s MacDonald and Anderson firing crosses into a packed Dumbarton defence, the temperature rose as the match moved into its final ten minutes.
With the match looking evenly poised, a breakthrough for Raith. With Hendry winning a battle in midfield, the ball broke to Brad Spencer who played a perfectly weighted through-ball over Quitongo, allowing Grant Anderson in behind. On the angle, the winger’s fierce drive across Brennan found the bottom corner – cue uproarious scenes amongst the away support as Anderson peeled away in celebration.
While the final ten minutes contained much in the way of angst and pressure in midfield, the quality evident in Dumbarton’s second-half performance dropped off markedly, with numerous missed passes and lapses in possession. Joao Victoria – introduced for Grant Anderson in the last five – nearly doubled Raith’s advantage after a driving run and shot, Brennan pulling off a fine save. Despite the occasional punt from defence with substitutes Scullion and Layne giving chase, Raith were able to see out the final moments relatively comfortably, as Jim Duffy’s side fell away as time elapsed. A triumphant roar from the away support greeted referee Williams’ final whistle.
As Raith’s players and staff made their way down the tunnel to the cheers of their travelling fans, manager McGlynn could reflect on three points well earned against hardy opponents. After a mixed pre-season, Rovers’ 2019/2020 campaign is off to a promising start.
© Eddie Doig 2019
Assistant Manager Paul Smith spoke after a successful first league game of the season at Dumbarton
Raith Rovers League season gets underway this Saturday, when they travel to the west coast to face off against Jim Duffy’s Dumbarton side.
The much changed Sons have endured a difficult League Cup campaign, with defeats to Morton, Motherwell and Queen of the South, although a win over Annan Athletic saw Dumbarton finish fourth in the table.
Much like the Raith, the Dumbarton squad has been overhauled during the summer, as they attempt to put last season’s mixed campaign behind them, and push in for a top four position this time around.
Rovers won three and drew one of the four meetings with the Sons last term, and as ever, they were goal laden affairs.
Goals from Lewis Vaughan, Kevin Nisbet, Liam Buchanan and a double from Nathan Flanagan saw Raith pull off a fantastic 5-1 win at Dumbarton in September, and it was another six goal thriller in December, when Vaughan, Nisbet, Daniel Armstrong and Euan Murray scored the goals which helped record a 4-2 win.
Dumbarton secures their only point from Raith in February, when despite an opener from Flanagan, John McGlynn’s men were reliant on a last minute Nisbet equaliser to seal a 2-2 draw.
The Kirkcaldy side were too strong in the last meeting in March though, with Ross Matthews, Buchanan and Nisbet all amongst the goals as Rovers comfortably won by four goals to one.
As a consequence of those results, Rovers now have a decent recent record against Dumbarton, with five wins and two draws from their last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Duncan Williams
Head-To-Head Away League Record:
Dumbarton Wins: 28 | Raith Rovers Wins: 20 | Draws: 12
Dumbarton Goals: 130 | Raith Rovers Goals: 96
Dumbarton: W-L-L-L | Raith Rovers: L-L-W-W
Dumbarton: PJ Crossan, Morgyn Neil, Ryan Tierney all 1
Raith Rovers: Lewis Allan 2 | Kieron Bowie 1 | Michael Miller 1
Dumbarton: 21/10 | Raith Rovers: 21/20 | Draw: 14/5