“It won’t be a thing of beauty”
The pre-match quote attributed to John McGlynn in the Fife Free Press turned out to be very prophetic as Rovers second trip to Stranraer this season ended in disappointment, although the point earned may yet prove vital in the grand scheme of things.
The small band of diehards who braved the elements would have been heartened on arrival at Stair Park to learn that the manager had kept faith with the same starting 11 as had performed so well last week at Airdrie – it certainly feels a very long time since we have been in a position to be able to do that.
On the downside, one look at the grass surface as the players undertook the warm-up would have caused real concerns, as the ravages of the prolonged wet spell in south-west Scotland had taken their toll, with even the shortest of passes causing difficulties with close control. Factor in a cross-wind that was blowing a gale at 3pm and was forecast to get stronger as the game progressed, and it was clear this wasn’t set for silky soccer. And so it would prove.
Rovers went into the game with the opportunity to stretch out the lead at the top with Falkirk being on cup duty, while the home side would have take comfort that they were unbeaten in the league in 2020, with excellent draws against Airdrie and Falkirk in their two most recent matches.
The home side had the better of the opening exchanges, with winger Andy Stirling’s pace down the left flank forcing a couple of early corners, both of which were dropped in on top of Robbie Thomson, but neither caused any real panic across the rearguard. As the Rovers midfield got to grips with the conditions and the surface, they began to wrestle some control back with Regan Hendry pulling the strings nicely, with some exquisite balls out to the flanks but all too often the final cross was lacking.
All that looked set to change in the 17th minute when a switch of play to the left created some space for Kieran MacDonald whose wonderful ball in found the head of Steven Maclean on the penalty spot. The striker had made great space to make himself unmarked as the cross came in but his diving header was a poor one, although trying to gauge the pace of the ball as it had come in couldn’t have been easy. It was, however, a chance the on-loan striker will have been annoyed he didn’t take.
It was increasingly one-way traffic, with Rovers looking to ascert their ascendancy without ever really getting in behind a hard-working home defence. John Baird was working tirelessly on and off the ball, and it seemed likely that it would be his efforts that would lead to a goal. He was unlucky with a cheeky back-heel from six yards out in the 26th minute which, on another day might have caught the keeper napping but Max Currie was perfectly positioned to deal with it.
The keeper wasn’t so fortunate ten minutes later when a long speculative ball out of the centre of the Rovers defence went over the heads of the two Stranraer centre halfs, no doubt caught out by a gust of wind, and as they stumbled, John Baird pounced. The striker ran from the centre circle and as Currie came off his line to try and force him wide, Bairdy showed great coolness to round him and stab home from ten yards out past the despairing lunges of the home rearguard. 1-0 Rovers and fully merited.
The rest of the half was seen out comfortably with little goalmouth action to speak off.
The wind had really increased in strength during the break and while it was mostly blowing across the pitch towards Rovers left flank, it was slightly favouring the away side and the hope amongst the fans was that we would look to get ourselves in plenty of positions to test Currie with long-range efforts.
The home side, however, showed they were up for the battle, closing down the midfield and not allowing any time on the ball as Rovers tried to play football along the ground where conditions perhaps dictated otherwise. As with the first half, Stranraer forced some early corners, one of which was whipped in with pace by left back Jordan Allan and found its way into the net, possibly direct, but referee David Lowe had already blown for a foul by Jamie Hamill as he blocked Robbie Thomson from going for the ball.
It was getting really attritional now and Rovers seemed unsettled by the conditions although the calmness being shown by Iain Davidson and Kyle Benedictus were preventing any real chances for the home side.
Things took a dramatic twist on 52 minutes when a neat move down the Stranraer left saw Jordan Allan head for the byline and as Michael Miller stretched in to tackle, the home player took a spectacular tumble. It certainly looked as if our man got plenty of the ball and he looked stunned when the whistler pointed to the spot. Despite his, Robbie’s and Bene’s protests (which perhaps gives an indication that there was no foul), the decision stood and Ryan Stevenson smashed home from 12 yards, sending the keeper the wrong way. 1-1
The goal lifted the home side and they upped the tempo further. More corners were forced and after Davidson had got a clearing header out to just beyond the edge of the box, the onrushing Conor McManus hit a powerful shot which Robbie Thomson did really well to make an instinctive save as it came through a ruck of players.
Rovers had really fallen out of the game and John McGlynn looked to gee things up by bringing on Danny Armstrong for Keiran Bowie on 66 minutes, Brad Spencer for Dylan Tait on 71 minutes and Tony Dingwall for John Baird on 76 minutes.
It was proving increasingly impossible to play any sort of decent football as could be seen when Regan Hendry tried to drive forward to create an opening but could do nothing as the ball held up on increasingly gluepot of a surface. The midfielder was frustrated again soon after when a squre ball from Armstrong gave him a tantalising chance to shoot from 20 yards only for it to take a horrific bobble and force him to play a pass out wide where the wind caught it and took it out for a throw.
Stranraer continued to press hard, demonstrating that their recent upsurge in form is no fluke and that they feel they can escape their predicament at the foot of the table, but without ever creating any clear-cut chances. Rovers huffed and puffed and tried to create down the left with crosses from Dingwall and MacDonald that were dealt with comfortably by the home keeper.
The final whistle brought an end to a torrid and difficult afternoon with the points shared, which was a fair reflection on how things had panned out.
© Eddie Doig 2020
RaithTV spoke to John McGlynn after the draw at Stair Park
Raith Rovers travel to Stair Park this weekend, looking for a win that would take them six points clear at the top of League One, with title challengers Falkirk in Scottish Cup action against Hearts.
Last weekend’s excellent away win at Airdrie moved Raith three points clear of the Bairns, and seven clear of third placed Airdrie, however, this Saturday’s venue hasn’t proven to be the happiest of hunting grounds in recent seasons.
The Kirkcaldy side has recorded just one win there from the five previous visits, a 3-0 win on the penultimate day of the 2017/18 campaign, which took them top of the table going into the final day.
There one previous visit there this season yielded no points, with Rovers leading 2-1 thanks to Michael Miller and Brad Spencer heading into the closing stages, but goals from David Dangana and Cameron Elliot in the closing few minutes saw Rovers slip to defeat.
It was a little more straightforward when the two sides met at Stark’s Park back in November, when a brace from Jamie Gullan and a goal from John Baird gave Raith a three goal advantage, before Mark Stewart rounded off the scoring in a 3-1 win.
The Blues have a far better record at home than on their travels however, and they’re also unbeaten in four league games, all four ending in draws, with last week’s 1-1 draw with Falkirk their latest of the bunch.
Last week’s 1-0 win over Airdrie, now means that Rovers have the best away record in the division, quite the turnaround from recent years.
Rovers have the upper hand in this fixture in recent times, with five wins and two draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be David Lowe.
Head-To-Head Away League Record Versus Stranraer:
Stranraer Wins: 8 | Raith Rovers Wins: 16 | Draws: 8
Stranraer Goals: 43 | Raith Rovers Goals: 69
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-L-W-W
Stranraer: James Hilton 7 | Cameron Elliott 5
Raith Rovers: Kieron Bowie 9 | Jamie Gullan 7 | Lewis Allan 6
Stranraer: 7/2 | Raith Rovers: 61/100 | Draw: 31/10