SPENCER STRIKE STEALS LATE WIN
A second-half strike from Brad Spencer saw Raith squeeze past an athletic and adventurous Montrose side, as Rovers put a lethargic first-half performance behind them to take all three points at Links Park. While Rovers could easily have been three down at the break, a more solid second-half showing saw Raith put their noses in front with twenty minutes to go through Spencer’s fine finish from twenty yards, and withstand further pressure from Stewart Petrie’s side to steal the narrowest of wins.
Lead by the enterprising Blair Lyons, Montrose’s free-flowing attacking play had caused Raith no end of problems in a torrid first half for the Kirkcaldy side, however manager McGlynn’s men recovered after the break. Showing greater balance with the half-time introduction of Grant Anderson, Raith eventually found a gap in Montrose’s defensive shield to go in front. With Montrose throwing ever greater numbers forward in the closing stages, Raith looked dangerous on the counter attack, and could have stolen a second late on. Whether Raith deserved the win will trouble Rovers fans not a jot – Raith remain fully in contention in this year’s promotion race, in amongst the favourites for this year’s League One title.
Montrose, one of this season’s form teams, came into today’s match still blinking in disbelief at their Scottish Cup humbling at the hands of Bonnyrigg Rose. Having started the season slowly, Montrose were unbeaten in seven, with six straight League wins including impressive away victories at East Fife and Clyde – making their Scottish Cup defeat all the more striking. Manager Stewart Petrie rang the changes, including demoting Cup captain Paul Watson to the bench, together with other casualties Martin Rennie and Liam Callaghan. Blair Lyons continued his profitable partnership upfront with Craig Johnston, ably supported by Graham Webster breaking from midfield – Lyons and Webster have eleven goals between them so far this season.
Raith, looking to arrest a lapse in form which had stretched back several games, restored familiar faces to the starting eleven. Brad Spencer, suspended for the League draw in midweek, patrolled midfield; a defensive three was anchored by Steven Anderson once again; with neither Lewis Allan nor Kieron Bowie in the squad, Jamie Gullan partnered John Baird in a two-man attack.
The home side were first out of the blocks – Niang and Cameron Ballantyne (one of two – the other at right-back) linked up regularly in the opening minutes, bringing both full-backs Steeves and Ballantyne into play. Webster’s free-kick struck the Raith wall in the second minute, after full-back Ballantyne had been cut down by Davidson. It was the sixth minute before Raith showed in any attacking sense – McKay’s surge leading to a corner; Benedictus’ header drifting harmlessly wide.
Central midfield would prove one of the match’s key battlegrounds. With Raith pair Tait and McKay conceding both in height and weight to Ballantyne and Niang, the Rovers passing would have to be neat and sharp, and tackles brisk. With Spencer sitting deeper to monitor the runs of Masson and Webster, Raith would have their work cut out to gain a foothold in midfield.
Baird was caught narrowly off-side from Spencer’s dink over the defence on the quarter hour – bringing a good save from Lennox, notwithstanding the lineman’s flag – but it was the home side who looked the more fluid. Ballantyne, Johnston, and Webster all had drives blocked away in a busy spell, with Raith’s inability to clear their lines drawing the ire of the travelling support. Right-back Ballantyne linked well with Webster, with Raith’s central defence at action stations. Rovers’ first foray forward since the opening moments saw Davidson head into Lennox’s arms from a Gullan free-kick. Ballantyne’s lofted free-kick nearly caught out Ross Munro, the Raith keeper conceding a corner as he backtracked hastily. Gullan couldn’t control Spencer’s keen through-ball – the midfielder’s defence-splitting pass just too steamy to send the Raith man clear.
The home side’s pace in attack was a notable feature – Ballantyne, Masson, Lyons, and Johnston hunted as a pack, closing down Raith’s attempts to play out, and interchanging regularly. Steven Anderson’s loose pass saw a flood of Montrose men into the gap in Raith’s defensive cover – only a late Spencer challenge rescuing the visitors. Referee Cook infuriated the home support, ruling Masson had clipped Spencer as Montrose threatened another break. On twenty-seven minutes, a golden chance – the ball broke to Johnston following Steven Anderson’s tackle on Lyons, and with Munro rooted, the striker’s finish flew agonisingly wide of the far post.
On the half-hour, another glorious chance. Johnston played in Webster, Munro making a fine point-blank save. Seconds later, with Raith’s defence and sixes and sevens, another blast at goal this time from Lyons saw Davidson throw himself in the way of the goal-bound drive. With the home support on their feet, and the Raith defence in disorder, an opener for the home side looked inevitable. Blair Lyons was next – bursting through the inside left channel, Raith keeper Munro took player and ball in the rush from his line. To the consternation of the home support, referee Cook waved play on.
Montrose came again – after McKay had looked well placed to shoot at one end, Johnston showed great close control and range of passing to release Lyons on the left; the striker’s run and pass falling just beyond the galloping Webster. Full-back Ballantyne’s rasping drive flew just wide.
Approaching half-time, suddenly Gullan was clear, racing on to Baird’s well-paced through-ball. Centre-halves Dillon and Allan each showed good pace to recover their ground, and the Raith striker was eventually crowded out. Referee Cook’s half-time whistle blew moments later, with the home side very much on top – while Raith’s midfield had failed to link with Gullan and Baird, Montrose had attacked with pace, vigour, and no little skill. Manager McGlynn had the harder of the two team-talks to deliver at the break.
Steven Anderson, having picked up a knock before the break, was withdrawn – Grant Anderson took up position wide on the right, had Rovers moving to a flat back four, and it was Raith who showed first. Winning a tackle deep in the right-back area, Raith broke quickly with Grant Anderson releasing Gullan on the left – with full-back MacDonald haring between the two centre-halves, defender Allan recovered his ground, and the chance came to nothing. With Tony Dingwall introduced minutes later for Dylan Tait, John Baird was pressed into the lone striker role, with Gullan, Dingwall, and Grant Anderson looking to support.
The match swung back in Montrose’s favour. Webster and Johnston were still interlinking well, outpacing their opposite numbers, and causing Benedictus and Davidson to turn on their heels. With one smooth attack, suddenly Lyons was through the middle – full-back MacDonald earning yellow in halting the striker’s journey to goal.
With sub Armstrong winning a corner in a challenge with Ballantyne, suddenly Raith led. Brad Spencer, picking up the defensive clearance, set himself, and fired home from twenty yards, his shot rifling in at Lennox’ left-hand post. With Raith having weathered a first-half storm, they now had a lead to protect. The hosts made two substitutions straight away – rangy striker MacBeath the first to have an impact, heading a corner narrowly over with his first contribution. Lewis Milne took up an attacking midfield role.
As the match entered its final ten minutes, nearly a second for Raith. Dingwall’s measured cross nearly found Armstrong at the far post; with the next attack, Armstrong scampered clear on the left, but over-hit his centre with both Dingwall and Grant Anderson rushing in. For the home side, substitutes MacBeath and Struthers had joined Lyons in a three-man attack. Lyons, bursting past McKay, ran right in on Munro, the young Raith keeper blocking well. Steeves clattered Grant Anderson on the near touchline as Raith threatened to break again.
The match was far more open, with play flowing through midfield – Lyons was a constant threat on Montrose’s left, while Dingwall and Armstrong sat poised on half-way, haring after clearances from the Raith defensive third. Struthers looked to have a yard on Davidson as Webster crossed, only for the Raith defender to recover his ground with a fine header. A succession of Montrose corners followed – MacDonald lashing clear as Struthers again looked to shoot. Armstrong narrowly failed to nick a second, running onto Dingwall’s throw as Montrose committed greater numbers forward.
With their last chance, Lyons tee’d up Webster to shoot – the striker’s blast struck Davidson square in the chest, Benedictus completing the clearance. With the home fans urging their side to one last surge, referee Cook’s full-time whistle saw Raith claim the victory. The Montrose players held their heads; Raith’s players headed down the tunnel euphoric, sensing three points hard-earned in an encounter which could so easily have gone the other way.
RaithTV spoke to manager John McGlynn after the 1-0 win at Montrose
Raith Rovers head to Links Park this weekend, to face off against a Montrose side who are one of the most in form teams in League One.
After going seven games without a win at the start of the season, the Mo’ are now unbeaten in their last seven league games, winning six of them, a sequence which has taken them from the foot of the table, to just outside the playoff places.
After guiding them to a playoff spot last term, manager Stewart Petrie has his side once again punching above their weight, as they again look to be one of the contenders for a Championship playoff place.
Raith were 3-0 winners the last time the sides met back in August at Stark’s Park, but they left it late, with all three goals coming in the final 10 minutes.
Kieron Bowie got things started with a goal in the 80th minute, and that was followed up by further strikes from Jamie Gullan and a trialist.
If Rovers are to pick up all three points at the weekend, they’ll need to improve on their performances at the same venue last term, which saw them pick up just one point from a possible six.
However, Rovers do have a dominant record in this fixture, with seven wins and two draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Barry Cook.
Head-To-Head League Record At Montrose:
Montrose Wins: 14 | Raith Rovers Wins: 6 | Draws: 7
Montrose Goals: 57 | Raith Rovers Goals: 41
Raith Rovers: D-L-W-W-W-D
Montrose: Blair Lyons 6 | Graham Webster 5
Raith Rovers: Kieron Bowie 8 | Lewis Allan 6 | Michael Miller 5
Montrose: 21/10 | Raith Rovers: Evens | Draw: 14/5