Two late goals from Dundee United denied Raith victory at Starks Park today as The Arabs came from behind to win 2-1.
Raith made three changes from the midweek draw against Motherwell. McGurn reclaimed his place in goals at the expense of Laidlaw while Laurie Ellis replaced Grant Murray in the centre of defence in place of Murray. Up front Pat Clarke came back in to partner Brian Graham up front with Spence dropping to the bench. Dundee United fielded a strong starting XI with ex Raith front man Johnny Russell starting the match from the substitutes bench.
Raith started the match just as they finished Tuesday’s game against Motherwell, on the attack. Good work from Graham allowed him to hold off his man and spray the ball out wide to Grant Anderson who’s excellent cross from out wide found Graham who had continued his run into the box. Under pressure from McLean however his header was deflected over.
Allan Walker was next to have a go and after a one-two with Graham his angled drive from 12 yards was fisted away by United keeper Cierzniak.
Graham was at the forefront of most of Raith’s good play and again he was involved after 7 minutes. Knocking the ball down into Grant Anderson’s path the wide man decided to go for goal instead of playing in Clarke and he pulled his shot wide.
A feature of Rovers pre-season play has been the movement and switching of positions by the midfields and it was again evident. Grant Anderson and Joe Hamill seem to have a license to swap wings while Hamill comes inside when Raith are in possession, because of this the home side seemed to outnumber the United midfield in the early stages and Willo Flood and Mark Millar were struggling to make any impact.
United’s first attempt came after 11 minutes and perhaps unsurprisingly it was Mackay-Steven who created it. Winning a corner on the right he took it himself and after Daly was given a surprising amount of room his header down allowed centre half Sean Dillon to shoot just past McGurn’s right hand post.
The next chance fell to United and again it stemmed from a set piece. A run from Ryan Dow was halted unfairly 25 yards from goal and Douglas’s goal bound free kick was excellently kept out by McGurn just inside his left hand post.
The visitors were gradually taking control of proceedings with the wide men of Dow and Mackay-Steven preventing Raith’s full backs, used to good effect in previous games, to get forward.
Despite United enjoying the majority of possession they rarely threatened and it was Raith who came closest to scoring with probably the best chance of the game. A slack pass across goal allowed Pat Clarke to put Allan Walker through but as he ran into the box from an angle he pushed his shot wide when he should have done better.
The final incident of the half saw Donaldson coming on to replace the injured Dougie Hill. Malone immediately slid across to fill the departing Hill’s position and Donaldson went to left back.
Raith’s games against both Ross County and Motherwell had seen them be the dominant side in the second half and this game seemed to be going the same way as Raith took the lead in the 48th minute. A lovely through ball by Jason Thomson allowed Brian Graham to out muscle his marker, open up his body and slot the ball into the bottom right hand corner with the outside of his foot for a great finish.
Five minutes later it was almost a carbon copy goal but this time it was Pat Clark who was the beneficiary of the through ball. Sneaking in behind the United rearguard his strike was beaten away by Cierzniak but as Clarke pounced on the rebound the ball took him too far wide, awkwardly hitting his shot on the turn, putting it over the bar with only a defender on the line.
United then made three subs bringing on Ryan, Russell and Armstrong. for Millar, Mackay-Steven and Gardyne. It would be a feature of the second half with the game punctuated by United making full use of their large substitutes bench.
The arrival of the substitutes appeared to have the desired affect and for the first time in the second half the visitors began to threaten. Good work by Dow freed up Armstrong but his shot was deflected wide. Moments later another Dow cross saw Daly meet it well but his close range header was tipped over by McGurn.
Keith Watson then came on for Paddy Barratt but this time it was Raith who almost scored after a United change. A corner on the left from Walker was nodded down by Stuart Anderson allowing Ellis to hit the ball on the volley from just inside the box, his effort almost sliding under Cierzniak who just did enough to keep it out.
With twenty minutes left Peter Houston made 2 more substitutions Gavin Gunning and John Rankin coming on for Douglas and Flood.
Despite United making a flurry of changes Raith still seemed the harder working of the two sides, constantly harrying the away side who struggled to get time on the ball to make anything happen.
Callachan replaced Grant Anderson for Rovers and with 18 minutes remaining they almost doubled their lead. Hamill looked up and picked out a perfect pass for Graham who took one step forward before firing a shot just too close to the keeper who still had to do well to keep it out.
Raith made their final substitution, replacing Stuart Anderson with a trialist.
As the game entered the final ten minutes United started to create more opportunities but they were no more than half chances, again a cross wasn’t dealt with properly which allowed Mclean a header but it went just wide, then Russell tried his luck from fully 30 yards, pulling it wide of McGurns goal.
If the Raith fans were starting to dream of a deserved victory then they had a rude awakening on 86 minutes. A ball into the back post from Rankin seemed to catch the Raith defence off guard, allowing Keith Watson to side foot a volley past McGurn into the bottom corner.
Things went from bad to worse for the home side in the final minute. A Rankin drive was tipped over from McGurn but from the resultant corner, McLean rose above everyone to head an unlikely winner and cap a great comeback for United.
While Raith can be happy with their showing the manner of the defeat, coming so late in was a bitter pill to swallow. The performance was again good and the desire to play the ball out of defence, even in a tight situation was admirable. While United were reduced to creating the majority of their chances from corners and free kicks it may perhaps be a worry for Grant Murray how many opportunities they did garner from set pieces.
The final pre season match is away from home on Tuesday night against Alloa at Recreation Park.
Report by Shaughan McGuigan, Pictures by Tony Fimister
Photographs copyright Tony Fimister and Ian Martin
Grant Murray reflected on a game that Rovers very nearly triumphed over their Premier League opposition
Davie spoke to the United boss Peter Houston after the match
The winner of the 50/50 prize of £208 for ticket number 313192 was George Campbell from Glenrothes.
George was presented with his cash prize by Goalie Ross Laidlaw who drew the winning ticket during half time at the Dundee United friendly.