MACDONALD STRIKE PUTS RAITH TOP
An injury-time winner from full-back Kieron MacDonald earned Raith a valuable win at Station Park, following an absorbing encounter with League rivals Forfar Athletic. With Russell McLean’s first-half strike cancelled out soon after the break by Lewis Vaughan, both sides gave as good as they got over the ninety minutes and had several chances to run out victorious, but ultimately it was Raith’s attacking width and verve which proved the difference.
With midfielders Hendry, Vaughan, and substitute Gullan all bursting forward at different times, supported by lynchpin Brad Spencer having perhaps his best game in a Rovers jersey, it was the energy shown by both full-backs which proved the difference. Forfar, bright and vibrant themselves for long spells, were eventually worn into submission – MacDonald’s winner coming as late as the ninety-second minute.
Raith headed to Station Park top of the table on goal difference from neighbours East Fife, and riding the crest of a wave. Recent victories and a run of clean-sheets had given Rovers real momentum in recent weeks. Lewis Vaughan was restored to the starting line-up, interchanging with Grant Anderson in support of striker Lewis Allan. With full-backs Millar and MacDonald both bursting forward early on, Raith’s eleven had a well-balanced feel. Forfar’s Tapping and Coupe both committed early fouls as Raith’s midfield swung the ball from left to right in the opening five minutes.
With Forfar in the congested mid-table of Scottish League One, manager Jim Weir had moved to strengthen his side in mid-week, bringing in utility man MacPhee from Formartine and striker Russell McLean from Montrose. McLean was given a starting berth here at the expense of Jordan Kirkpatrick. Weir had to contend with several injuries to key players – Dale Hilson was ruled out after a knock at Falkirk, Andy Jackson not recovered from a head injury, and Rory Currie and Scott Robertson also failed to make the squad.
The home side edged the opening exchanges. In the first ten minutes, McLean fired just over for Athletic, while a Vaughan free-kick stung the palms of keeper McCallum. Centre-half Travis rose highest to meet Forbes’ corner, but couldn’t trouble McGurn in the Raith goal. With the pitch bathed in bright sunshine, Forfar gained two further corners as the match passed fifteen minutes – Steven Anderson’s aerial battle with McLean was a focal point on both occasions.
Rovers by-now familiar three-man central defence had the wind against it in the opening forty-five. Forfar sought to pull Benedictus and Davidson wide, seeking space for Tapping to drive into. With Coupe pressing against Anderson, several passes from Rovers’ defence were hurried and misplaced – although when passes did find their target, Raith moved through their attacking gears quickly. On twenty minutes, Anderson fed the flying MacDonald on the left-hand side, the latter’s cross an inch from Lewis Vaughan’s outstretched boot in the six-yard box. Forfar responded, McLean’s turn and shot well-held by McGurn.
By the mid-waypoint in the first half, each side had had their moments. Forbes could only strike the wall with a free-kick in a promising position; Lewis Allan had enjoyed several delightful lay-offs and one-twos, but no clear sight of goal; Callum Tapping and Brad Spencer’s midfield duel was a constant display of energy and endeavour. Forbes released Coupe on the right flank, behind Benedictus – the Forfar man’s cross disappointed supporters and colleagues alike.
With Forfar enjoying a volume of possession, former Airdrie full-back Kieron MacDonald had been a key outlet for the visitors. Smart with his passing and a formidable attacking presence, MacDonald had caused Forfar’s defence problems on numerous occasions with his direct running. Hendry and Spencer regularly looked to their left when seeking to clear their lines. The full-back would clearly have a decisive role to play.
On the half-hour, Raith’s best chance so far. Millar advanced on the right, pulling Forfar to one side; intelligently, Hendry spread the play to the opposite side, eventually crossing for Vaughan to head powerfully goalward – home keeper McCallum showed his qualities with a fine save. With increasing tempo, Raith pressed again. Allan and Anderson drove forwards, with defenders Irvine and Whyte struggling to maintain order. MacDonald’s in-swinger again had the home defence in full retreat. Vaughan’s shot high over when well placed.
With manager Weir urging from the side-lines, Forfar regained their foothold. Docherty’s shot from distance fizzed straight at McGurn, and Tapping’s drive had alarm bells ringing in the Raith defence. Benedictus did well to shepherd Coupe away from goal, with otherwise only McGurn to beat.
A minute before half-time, a goal for the home side. Travis’ defensive header should have been cleared by Davidson, but the Raith man’s soft back-pass left McGurn helpless – striker McLean showed an excellent touch to loft his finish beyond the stranded keeper. With referee Ross blowing for half-time soon after, Forfar skipped down the tunnel, no doubt delighted at the fortuitous nature of their advantage. Raith manager McGlynn looked thunderous as his side disappeared from view.
Rovers’ vocal travelling support roared their team on, as the second half began; but it was Forfar who started the better. Tapping’s clipped finish drifted over; Forbes drove into space, Dochery’s shot eventually missing the target; Benedictus was booked for tripping Coupe.
With their first attacking sortie, Raith equalised with a goal also borne of a defensive error. With Travis, Whyte, and Docherty each pointing at each other, suddenly Vaughan was through on goal – holding off Meechan, the young striker cleverly drew McCallum before finishing well.
With Raith building momentum, a twist on the turn lead to a serious-looking injury for Raith’s goalscorer. Eventually helped from the field after lengthy treatment, Raith had to re-organise, stripped of their young talisman. Hendry shot well at McCallum, Grant Anderson headed narrowly over, and substitute Jamie Gullan harried Meechan. Athletic’s Docherty became more prominent, driving through midfield. After a long period of more than two minutes without a whistle, Allan’s cross flew into the near-post area, Whyte defending well with Grant Anderson in attendance. Regan Hendry’s thumping drive was well held.
With twenty minutes to go, the introduction of John Baird changed the focus of Raith’s attack. Positioned in the gap behind Lewis Allan, the striker – familiar to both sets of fans – drew defenders, creating space for others. Both sets of supporters were in full voice, reflecting the sense that the match was still finely balanced. Showing real quality, Jamie Gullan held off his man, and fired a fine curling right-foot drive from twenty-five yards – McCallum flew across his goal, relieved to see the shot fly narrowly past. The same player fired at goal moments later after a clash between Baird and his marker Travis – McCallum again pleased to hold on.
The physical battle between Raith’s Anderson and Foarfar’s new signing McLean raged on. Forbes fired a free-kick just wide following another aerial joust, Anderson disbelieving of the referee’s whistle. McLean’s height and heft had given the home side a valuable target, and pinned Raith’s defensive three to their posts. The debutant was withdrawn with ten minutes to go, applauded for his efforts by the home support.
With five minutes to go, temperatures were high. Forfar’s Kirkpatrick lashed goalwards, only to be penalised for a high elbow on Brad Spencer; Regan Hendry turned Callum Tapping inside and out before firing across McCallum’s goal; the livewire Baird controlled well, but could only drive narrowly over the cross-bar, denied a fairytale winner on his return to Station Park.
Into injury time, and a Raith winner – a goal showing Raith’s battling qualities s late in the game, and also showing the commitment to attacking from all angles. Forfar’s Whyte had driven forward and been disposed – in transition, Raith sprang forward at full-speed. Hendry released the flying Millar down the right-flank – on the opposite side, MacDonald was already haring toward goal. Substitute Gullan took Millar’s cross on the turn, and fired across goal – MacDonald, having got a yard in front of his man, fired high beyond McCallum.
The goal finished Forfar as an attacking force, the wind gone from their sails having conceded so late. Raith were able to capitalise on the wide-open spaces left as Forfar tired in the final minutes, celebrating a well-earned victory on referee Ross’ whistle. The win comes at a price – Lewis Vaughan’s injury a significant one – however Raith head into next week’s fixtures with a two-point lead at the top of Scottish League One.
© Eddie Doig 2019
John McGlynn spoke to Raith TV after the win against Forfar
Raith Rovers head to Station Park this weekend, looking for their fourth consecutive win, and fourth consecutive clean sheet.
The Loons got back to winning ways at the weekend, with a 2-0 win over Montrose, a result which takes them into the Championship playoff positions, just behind third placed Falkirk.
Jim Weir’s side had a large turnover of playing staff over the summer, with key players such as John Baird and Brad Spencer, both now at Raith, and Thomas Reilly moving on from the club.
However, Weir has augmented his side with amongst others, Ross Forbes, Callum Tapping and ex-Raith midfielder, Scott Robertson.
They also managed to hold on to one of the finest goalkeepers in the lower leagues in Marc McCallum, who has proven his worth time and time again this term, with a string of excellent performances, which deservedly saw him presented with the Player of the Month award for August.
These two sides became well acquainted with each other last term, facing off six times in all, with four league meetings and the Championship playoffs.
Rovers emerged victorious in the latter tie, winning 2-1 at Stark’s Park, thanks to goals from Kevin Nisbet and Jamie Gullan, before drawing 1-1 at Station Park in the second leg, thanks to a goal from the penalty spot from Nisbet.
It’s been over 12 years since Rovers last recorded a win at Station Park, a 2-1 victory back in April 2007 in the Second Division.
Rovers have the upper hand in the most recent head-to-head record, with four wins and three draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Gavin Ross.
Head-To-Head Away League Record Versus Forfar:
Forfar Athletic Wins: 18 | Raith Rovers Wins: 11 | Draws: 10
Forfar Athletic Goals: 69 | Raith Rovers Goals: 55
Forfar Athletic: L-L-D-L-L-W | Raith Rovers: L-W-L-W-W-W
Forfar Athletic: Dale Hilson 4 | Michael Travis 3
Raith Rovers: Lewis Allan 5 | Grant Anderson 4
Forfar Athletic: 19/10 | Raith Rovers: 5/4 | Draw: 12/5