Rovers Remain Top After Comeback
A second-half turnaround from Raith Rovers saw them and Falkirk draw two each in a pulsating afternoon at Stark’s Park.
Goals from Louis Lonridge and Connor Sammon in the opening quarter of an hour had Raith on the ropes, but a bravura response in the second 45 saw the home side hit back through Michael Miller and an exquisite free-kick from Daniel Armstrong enabled Raith to take a deserved share of the spoils.
John McGlynn made just one change from the team which produced a last gasp win over Forfar last weekend, with Lewis Vaughan unfortunately dropping out through injury, and David McKay coming in to replace him.
It meant a change to the back five which had impressed in recent weeks, with Michael Miller moving into midfield, and McKay moving into the right wing back position.
There was a penalty claim in the opening moments, when Grant Anderson accelerated into the box before going down under a challenge, but the tackle looked a clean one, despite the protestations of the home support.
However, those same self fans had barely time to sit back down, before the visitors were a goal to the good.
David McGurn did well initially to repel a close range attempt from Charlie Telfer, but with the defence unable to clear the ball properly, Longridge was able to drill a fierce low drive through some congestion and past McGurn at his left hand post from 25-yards.
It was the worst possible start for Rovers, and a huge lift for the away support, who were now giving the visitors a vociferous vocal backing.
Rovers were looking ragged in the early stages, although a snapshot from Michael Tidser from the edge of the area was blocked well, as the Bairns looked to extend their advantage.
That lead was doubled in the 17th minute though, as Rovers poor start to the game was exploited once more.
The home side were exposed down the right hand side, allowing Sammon time and space inside the area, placing a fine curing effort looping over McGurn and into the far corner.
Raith needed a quick response, and they should have had one in the 20th minute, when the ball fell to Kyle Benedictus six yards out following a corner kick, but he could only stab his effort over the bar from close range.
Rovers most obvious threat was coming from set-pieces, but the Falkirk defence was looking as formidable as you would expect from a team which has only conceded two league goals all season.
The longer the half wore on, the more Rovers were growing into it, and they almost got back into the game in the 35th minute.
Brad Spencer was the creator, dragging pull the ball back to beat the defender, before sending a low cross into the box, and while McKay did well to get a shot away, he didn’t quite hit it as clean as he’d like, although it still took a fine full stretch save from Cammy Bell to keep it out, low to his left.
Two minutes later, however, the game was almost over as a contest, after McGurn palmed a shot from Telfer straight at the feet of David McMillan, whose rebound attempt was well kept out by the experienced custodian who had spread himself well.
McGurn then had to gather another decent effort from Sammon, with the Rovers fans incensed at what they perceived to be a foul on Regan Hendry in the build up, and there was an enforced change in the aftermath, with Benedictus going off through injury, to be replaced by Jamie Gullan.
It meant Raith went to a flat back four, with Gullan moving up front to dovetail Lewis Allan.
There was a further change for Rovers at the interval, with Daniel Armstrong coming on for McKay, but it was Falkirk who started in the ascendancy, with another dig from distance from Longridge, striking the bar and ricocheting over.
The game completely changed momentum wise in the 60th minute, when substitute Armstrong’s cross into a jam packed penalty area was glanced on by Miller and into the corner of the net.
The entire atmosphere changed in the stadium, with the home players and fans now sensing the game had something for them, while Falkirk, who hadn’t enjoyed things all their own way this term, started to retreat further and further into themselves
With their dander up, they almost grabbed an equaliser, when a low cross from Kieran MacDonald looked dangerous, but was eventually hacked away by a Falkirk defender, with Rovers players hovering.
The game had a rancorous edge added to it in the 63rd minute, when Tidser’s high challenge on Hendry brought the Rovers fans to their feet and the Rovers players charging towards the incident, although referee, Scott Lambie thought it was worthy of just a yellow.
Perhaps sensing Tidser was fortunate to still be on the park, Ray McKinnon swapped him for Ian McShane a moment later.
Rovers made their third and final change with just over 15 minutes remaining, with John Baird replacing Allan.
The game had become a ding-dong, entertaining back and forth, and Armstrong perhaps should have done better in the 77th minute, curling an effort straight at Bell when an opening emerged for him from 25-yards.
He made amends seconds later though.
Lining up a free-kick wide on the right, he curled a superb effort towards the top corner, which despite Bell getting a hand to, he couldn’t keep out, sparking scenes in the home end.
Rovers almost snatched the third with five minutes remaining, when Armstrong’s ball to the back post was headed goalwards by Grant Anderson, but with Bell beaten, the ball was hacked off the line just as it appeared to be heading in.
The game ended with Rovers on the front foot, and the excellent comeback not only kept them top of the table as the opening quarter of the season ended, it should also give the players heart that they can compete with the League One favourites.
Photos © Tony Fimister
John McGlynn spoke to Raith TV after the 2-2 draw with Falkirk
Joint top scorer Michael Miller spoke to RaithTV after the 2-2 draw against Falkirk
Raith Rovers welcome Falkirk to Stark’s Park this weekend, looking to extend their winning streak to five matches.
Rovers last gasp win over Forfar last Saturday, extended their lead at the top of the table to two points over East Fife, with Falkirk a place and point further back.
Ray McKinnon’s men have tasted defeat just once this term, a 1-0 loss at Clyde back in August, although they did lose 2-0 to Raith in the Challenge Cup at Stark’s Park just four weeks ago, when two penalties from Regan Hendry took John McGlynn’s men into the fourth round, where they’ll face Glenavon.
It’ll be a much changed side which will take the field this Saturday however, with the Bairns making eight changes for that Caramel Wafer Cup tie.
That win was just Rovers second over Falkirk in 11 meetings, with Raith’s last victory a 4-2 triumph back in October 2016, when goals from Iain Davidson, Declan McManus and a double from Mark Stewart sealed Gary Locke’s team an excellent away win.
You have to go back some way to find Rovers last home win in the league against Saturday’s opponents, with goals from David Smith and Grant Anderson handing Rovers a 2-1 win back in November 2012.
Saturday’s match referee will be Greg Aitken
Home League Record Versus Falkirk:
Raith Rovers Wins: 29 | Falkirk Wins: 29 | Draws: 20
Raith Rovers Goals: 116 | Falkirk Goals: 114
Raith Rovers: W-L-W-W-W-W | Falkirk: L-D-L-W-W-D
Raith Rovers: Lewis Allan 5 | Grant Anderson 4 | Michael Miller 4
Falkirk: Declan McManus 6 | Connor Sammon 5
Raith Rovers: 9/5 | Falkirk: 23/20 | Draw: 14/5