THREE OFF AS RAITH STAY TOP
Raith Rovers and Falkirk shared the spoils in an incident-packed score draw at the Falkirk Stadium, with Declan McManus’s second-half strike cancelling out Jamie Gullan’s first-half header, following a match full of incident. With each side seeing key men sent off, the momentum swung back and forth – either side could have emerged victorious with the other having few complaints. Raith may feel the harder done by, with Falkirk finishing the match with nine men following the late dismissal of substitute Morgano Gomis, however it was the home side who looked the more dangerous for long spells, and in McManus had the game’s stand-out performer.
With suspension and injury worries, manager John McGlynn named a side with only two changes from last’s win over League leaders Airdrie, both enforced – Iain Davidson and Ross Matthews each missed out through suspension, with Dave McKay introduced into a four-man defence alongside captain Kyle Benedictus – Paul Dixon’s corner in the first minute was powerfully headed clear by the Raith skipper, setting an example to his team-mates with his resolve and strength under pressure.
For Falkirk, newly appointed management duo Lee Miler and David McCracken began with a positive outlook. Three changes were made from the previous week’s hard-fought draw at East Fife – Connor Sammon dropped out with David McMillan upfront alongside Declan McManus. The striker’s early cross was thumped clear by McKay – the movement of Falkirk’s front two would prove a regular danger to the makeshift Raith back line. The game’s first real chance in eight minutes saw McMillan prod at Munro from three yards after McManus outpaced McKay – the Raith keeper doing well to block.
Without Lewis Toshney and with Gomis on the bench, Falkirk’s midfield looked lightweight from kick-off. Tony Dingwall put himself about in the opening few minutes, looking to generate confusion in the home ranks. Gullan’s free-kick zipped across Mutch’s area soon after, Grant Anderson narrowly failing to make contact. Telfer’s dipping drive at the other end had Munro scrambling across his goal.
The main interest in the Raith line-up was the return of Regan Hendry – the diminutive midfielder looked bright early on, covering ground from his central berth. While the Raith man’s fitness would be tested as the match progressed, Rovers players and fans alike had a real lift from the return of their midfield talisman.
The Raith man was at the centre of events as the match sprang to life in ugly fashion in thirteen minutes – as Hendry took a lovely side-step past Telfer in the centre circle, the Falkirk man hacked high at the Raith midfielder. Tempers flared immediately – Raith players incensed, Falkirk players rushing to defend their man, despite the crudeness of the challenge. Referee Ross rushed to the scene, red card aloft. The match had swung in Raith’s favour.
The match continued to boil – McKay saw yellow for grabbing McManus at full speed; in the aftermath, Falkirk’s Miller had two hands on referee Ross, with the whistler falling to the floor. Having taken the views of his stand-side linesman – and with the Falkirk fans awaiting with bated breath – Ross admonished Miller with a lecture instead of either a red or yellow card. With twenty minutes gone, Falkirk could have been down to nine.
Raith looked to commit men forward – Grant Anderson moved up alongside Bowie, and McKay looked to advance on the right. To their credit, the home side continued to press, despite the numerical disadvantage. Dixon pressed down the left hand side, linking well with McManus; Longridge buzzed and probed in midfield, robbing Spencer and surging forward on the half-hour. McShane became the Bairns’ focus in an attacking sense, alive and alert, bringing others into play both left and right.
Raith still held the bulk of possession though – Hendry’s lovely outside-of-the-boot pass down the right to a running Grant Anderson reminded all present of the midfielder’s quality – Hendry’s fitness will be key to Raith’s promotion campaign. With ten minutes till the half, there was a half-hearted penalty appeal in the Falkirk box – Buchanan robbed Grant Anderson with an outstretched leg after Watson’s cross. Referee Ross saw nothing in the tackle, waving play on.
On thirty-six minutes, a Raith opener. Dingwall’s centre flew through the box, running to MacDonald on the left flank. The full-back set himself, before curling a beautiful zipping cross, finding Gullan dashing across the near post – the Raith man finishing with a fine glancing header, and running to celebrate with his full-back, rightly recognising the quality of MacDonald’s service.
Rovers deserved their lead at that stage, and pressed further forward, sensing a second may secure the three points. Dingwall’s powerful drive flew inches wide of Mutch’s far-post. Durnan blocked another goal-bound drive from Dingwall with five minutes till the half. As the players made their way in at half-time – referee Ross receiving a warm reception from the home fans – it would be the Falkirk management duo with the hardest task at half-time.
Under darkening skies and with the lashing rain momentarily having abated, Falkirk restarted in a 4-4-1 formation, with McMillan withdrawn for Gomis – managers Miller and McCracken looking to restore order to a central third in which Raith had seized control in the first half following the sending off. For Raith, Bowie remained the focal point – MacDonald and McKay stayed wide on either flank, Spencer looking to block Longridge’s passage through midfield, and Dingwall and Hendry looking to spring assaults on the Falkirk goal. For both sides, the gusting wind demanded constant attention. Benedictus earned yellow for a trip on McManus as the home side sought to begin on the offensive. Hendry’s driving thirty-yard run at the Falkirk defence had Buchanan and Durnan at action stations.
Having showed more appetite in opening stages of the second-half, Falkirk’s pressure brought an equaliser just before hour – Hendry was dispossessed on the far touchline, and Longridge burst into the box, firing a cross into a crowded six-yard box. Munro’s block sent the ball skywards, and in the ruck of bodies, McManus won the battle to force the ball over the line, to the delight of the home support.
Rovers – with Gullan withdrawn for Armstrong – fought back. After a lengthy spell of possession with Spencer and Gullan working the ball from side to side, suddenly MacDonald burst into the Falkirk box, evading one challenge, and poking a shot inches wide of Mutch’s far-post with Raith supporters on their feet. Gomis clattered Armstrong, rightly earning yellow. Hendry’s twenty-five yard drive, skimmed off the turf, well gathered by the home keeper. Raith were building momemtum.
However, the match turned in Falkirk’s favour soon after – McManus turned Benedictus beautifully; the Raith captain tugged the jersey, sending the Falkirk man to the turf. Referee Ross had no option, offering a second yellow to the Raith man. Benedictus headed down the tunnel, the jeers of the Falkirk fans ringing in his ears. Manager McGlynn had to re-arrange, pulling Spencer into defence, and MacDonald moving the centre-half. Falkirk had their tails up, and looked the more likely on the balance of play. Longridge blasted just wide when well placed. Buchanan’s header was thumped off the line from Longridge’s corner moments later.
With Raith’s back-three of MacDonald, McKay, and Waton tested with every through ball, Falkirk continued to build through midfield. With Bowie looking isolated, McShane and Longridge found space to dictate tempo and possession, with McManus a constant menace. With spaces opening up on the flanks and through the middle, each side was giving as good as they were receiving. Like two middleweights trading punches, either side looked capable of putting the match beyond the other.
McGlynn re-arranged his pieces once again – the energetic Dingwall was withdrawn for John Baird. Hendry’s piledriver after Grant Anderson dispossessed Longridge had Mutch scrambling across his goal. Durnan’s header from Longridge’s corner needed Munro to tip the goal-bound effort onto the cross-bar.
With ten minutes left, substitute Gomis had a rush of blood to the head – with Bowie escaping on half-way, Gomis pulled back his man, earning a second yellow – the sending-off as justified as it was unnecessary, as Falkirk’s defence had cover when Gomis committed his offence. Suddenly the home side had gifted the momentum to their visitors – Raith fans roared their team on. With five minutes to go, it was Raith’s ten against Falkirk’s nine.
With every man back for Falkirk, Raith, threw bodies forward. Lewis Allan and John Baird camped in the Falkirk box, with Durnan and Buchanan defending for their lives. Armstrong curled in a free-kick, looking for McKay, with Durnan clearing the danger. MacDonald’s drive fizzed over Mutch’s bar with Raith’s last effort on goal. Referee Ross – who had had an eventful afternoon – bringing proceedings to a close soon after.
With both sides showing both their qualities and weaknesses over the ninety minutes, a point apiece was perhaps the fairest result. For Raith, a failure to grab a second before half-time proved crucial. If offered a draw at the outset – particularly with injuries and suspensions so prevalent – many would have taken the point, however either side could have won this. Raith will welcome Dumbarton to Starks Park next Saturday top of the League on goal difference from Airdrie, after another incident-packed encounter in this season’s League One campaign.
The match highlights video will appear here the day after the match
© Eddie Doig 2019
Raith Rovers came out on top of last weekend’s top of the table clash against Airdrie, but the big games are coming thick and fast this month, with John McGlynn’s table toppers heading to the Falkirk Stadium to face off against third placed Falkirk this Saturday.
The Bairns are under new management, after previous incumbent Ray McKinnon was dismissed last month, with Lee Miller and David McCracken now filling the hot seats on a temporary basis.
The duo are unbeaten in management so far, with wins over Linlithgow Rose and Stranraer, while last Saturday saw them draw 0-0 with East Fife.
That result, coupled with Rovers win over Airdrie, left Falkirk four points behind Raith, with the two clashing for the third time this weekend.
Rovers won the first meeting back in September, when two goals from the penalty spot were enough to seal a 2-0 win for McGlynn’s men.
It was less straightforward a month later, when Louis Longridge and Connor Sammon fired Falkirk into an early two goal lead, but a storming second half fightback saw Rovers equalise through Michael Miller and Daniel Armstrong to share the spoils.
Despite this seasons results, Raith have a poor recent record in this fixture, with just two wins and three draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Gavin Ross.
Head-To-Head Away League Record Versus Falkirk:
Falkirk Wins: 45 | Raith Rovers Wins: 19 | Draws: 15
Falkirk Goals: 145 | Raith Rovers Goals: 91
Raith Rovers: W-W-W-D-W-W
Falkirk: Declan McManus 11 | Conor Sammon 9
Raith Rovers: Kieron Bowie 8 | Lewis Allan 6 | Michael Miller 5
Falkirk: 13/20 | Raith Rovers: 16/5 | Draw: 3/1