Rovers and Livvy draw a blank
Raith’s unbeaten start to the season continued amid a flurry of missed opportunities for both sides against an enterprising Livingston side. A pulsating second-half, which finished with clear chances going begging at both ends, contained enough for both managers to feel this season should be a promotion race, rather than a relegation battle.
Although Raith allowed Livingston midfield control for long spells of a tame first half – Livingston‘s precise passing and energy coupled with a lethargy in Raith‘s pursuit of possession allowed the visitors time and space to create numerous openings for strike pairing Russell and McNulty – both teams will feel the opportunity to win the game was there. Particularly given Raith spurned of the match’s clearest chance in the final stages, both teams may consider this two points dropped rather than a point gained.
The sponsor’s “Man of the Match” award went to Raith keeper McGurn, reflecting two excellent first-half saves. For Raith fans reflecting on an often frustrating afternoon, the other talking point may be Greig Spence, the 85-minute substitute put clean through moments after coming on, yet failing to find a way past the approaching Livingston keeper McNeill.
Raith manager Grant Murray named an unchanged team for the fifth match in a row. Indeed, the manager has only tinkered only with his place in the starting line-up since the pre-season friendly against Dundee United. However, despite the familiarity of the line-up, in the opening stages Raith showed little cohesion and none of the natural rhythm that has marked Raith’s play in the early stages of the season.
The early sparring suggested a defensive mistake may lead to the first goal. Livingston ‘keeper McNeill faltered under Raith corners. The visitors’ bustling front two exchanged well, and harried the Raith defence when out of possession. Raith’s first clear sight of goal came after ten minutes – an ambitious Walker first-time lob from distance falling wide, following a rushed Livingston clearance.
As the half went on, Livingston’s midfield seemed able to find the room to dictate play with greater ease, Anderson and Walker in the heart of the Raith formation unable to cover or monitor Livingston’s passing. Frenchman Andreu moved freely between in the gap between Raith’s two banks of four. Spaces opened, with Barr on Livingston’s right-wing profiting from both incisive passing and space allowed by Raith’s rear-guard.
A Russell shot on the turn was saved smartly by McGurn at his near-post, McNulty headed over from an inviting Barr cross, and Hamill had to look lively to deflect another Russell shot from harm’s way.
Raith’s own passing game struggled to establish itself. A rising Graham shot from 25 yards mid-way through the half gave Raith’s muted home support something to cheer, but Livingston’s goal remained secure.
The first of two splendid McGurn saves came from a succession of first-half Livingston corners. After a headed clearance, Scougall’s 18-yard drive was deflected, and McGurn pulled off a fine left-handed save palming the ball wide for another corner.
For Raith, Grant Anderson was felled by an ugly challenge from McCann, prompting both a yellow card for the visitor and a spell of treatment for the Raith winger. However, such forays into the Livingston half became rarer as the half progressed.
As darker clouds gathered on the Kirkcaldy skyline, McGurn was again at full-stretch to deny Russell. McNulty released his strike partner to run at Jason Thomson from the half-way line. Cutting inside the Raith full-back, Russell curled a 20-yard drive which was destined for McGurn’s left-hand corner, but for a splendid low save to tip the ball round the far post.
Livingston unquestionably finished the half the stronger. When referee Colvin blew for half-time. Raith were slowest to leave the park, perhaps anticipating a noisy home dressing room at the interval.
Both sides started quickly in the second-half. The visitors’ concern at not converting the bulk of possession into a goal was more than matched by a newly bullish Raith midfield. Stuart Anderson and Walker snapped into tackles with a vigour absent in the first 45, both Joe Hamill and Grant Anderson pressed forward offering energy and options down either flank, and at last Walker and Graham had service to create openings.
Although referee Colvin was questioned by both sets of supporters over a string of free-kicks in a heated opening to the second half, Raith fans surely welcomed the increased application from the home midfield. From the touchline, Murray urged his players to contest every loose ball. The game became more scrappy for a spell, indicating Raith had at last successfully disrupted Livingston’s engine-room.
For the first time in the afternoon, regular chances came Raith‘s way. Grant Anderson and Clarke combined to free Graham, who shot wide for the edge of the area; Allan Walker regularly burst beyond the front two; Anderson again blazed over after breaking impressively; and Clarke clipped the Livingston bar with a rising shot from an angle. Both sides were enjoying possession, but the one clear-cut chance to break the deadlock remained elusive.
By now, the skies had opened, and the controlled and methodic first-half gave way to end-to-end attacking play. Passes zipped across the wet surface, as defenders tired. In Raith’s best spell of possession and pressure of the match, Dougie Hill released Clarke in the inside-right channel, who’s shot on the run was turned just wide. From the resultant corner, Ellis climbed highest only to see his header evade a clutch of defenders but also slip beyond the far post.
Murray’s last throw of the dice brought on Spence for a tiring Grant Anderson, and within seconds Spence passed up the game’s best chance. Without breaking stride from the touchline, the Raith substitute found the ball at this feet following a Fordyce error in the Livingston back four, but was unable to make a clean connection. Spence, and the home support, held their heads.
Report – Andrew Fairlie, Pictures – Tony Fimister.
Photographs copyright Tony Fimister and Ian Martin