Two Off As Pars Triumph In Fiery Fife Derby
Nine-man Raith fell to defeat at home to local rivals Dunfermline in a game decided by a five minute spell either side of a stormy half-time. Captain Allan Walker and Dougie Hill were both sent off following a 44th minute melee, leaving Raith defending for long spells of a second half in which Dunfermline dominated for long spells.
For the Pars, the win provides welcome respite following a 5-1 thumping at league leaders Partick Thistle last weekend; for Raith, the twin positives of a combative first-half and a tremendous defensive display in the second against a Dunfermline onslaught should hopefully temper the disappointment of a home derby defeat. Although the result was Raith’s second 3-1 defeat to Dunfermline this season, the second half defensive display justified the warm reception for the home side at the final whistle.
Unbeaten since September’s cup defeat to Celtic, Raith welcomed the Division’s top scorer Brian Graham back following suspension, although he made do with a place on the Raith bench. Grant Murray’s only change to the side victorious after extra time against Airdrie in mid-week was the re-introduction of David Smith on the left wing, following his fine display for Scotland’s Under-21s in Portugal in mid-week. Ross Laidlaw continued in the Raith goal, with McGurn unable to recover from injury in time. Dunfermline made one change to their eleven, beaten so comprehensively at league leaders Partick the previous week – Joe Cardle replacing Chris Kane.
Both sides opened the match in combative mood. Jason Thomson’s early booking followed snapping challenges from both Mensing and Walker. Dunfermline’s central midfield pairing of Ryan Thomson and Stephen Husband were equally uncompromising, with the result that neither side was able to establish a rhythm in the early exchanges.
After 10 minutes, Dunfermline’s Thomson hit a rising shot over Laidllaw’s bar, while at the other end Spence looked to escape down the inside right channel before being tugged back by Dunfermline left-back McMillan.
Although the opening spell was scrappy and regularly punctuated by free-kicks, Dunfermline settled first and enjoyed more possession. It was after the first quarter of an hour before Raith’s first clear shot on goal – Smith evading the attentions of his marker to shoot low at Dunfermline keeper Gallagher.
Raith’s defence allowed Dunfermline a clear opportunity after 20 minutes. Right-back Geggan was given two chances to cross, his second falling at the feet of Falkingham who flashed his shot across the face of goal. The Dunfermline winger’s next contribution was an ugly challenge on Smith, although referee Crawford Allan didn’t deem the lunge worthy of a yellow card.
The game burst into life on 24 minutes with a goal for Raith. A foul on Grant Anderson near the right-hand touchline allowed Walker to drive in an inviting cross from the free-kick. Clarke timed his jump perfectly to head powerfully home into the far corner of Gallagher’s net. The goal may have been slightly against the run of play when it came, but Raith fans weren’t complaining. For the neutral, a game which needed a goal now had one.
Raith enjoyed their best spell of the first half following the goal. Spence’s inviting cross was punched clear by Gallagher, and Clarke’s fizzing shot from 20 yards whistled just beyond the left-hand post.
Dunfermline responded by pushing Falkingham up alongside Barrowman and Wallace into almost a 4-3-3 formation, regaining a hold on the game and creating some of the first-half’s most fluid passing. A free-kick headed across goal by Callum Morris was poked just wide by Geggan. In their next attack, Dougie Hill failed to clear and was booked for clattering into Barrowman twenty-five yards from goal. Directly from the free-kick, Husband levelled the scores with a fine right-foot strike beyond the five-man wall and Laidlaw’s despairing dive.
For the ten minutes before half-time, the match sizzled. Tackles flew in from both sides – the cold crisp winter air contrasting with the rising temperatures at pitch level.
The match’s most controversial moment followed a succession of increasingly feisty challenges a minute before half-time – Mensing and Barrowman battled over a bouncing ball, Clarke was bundled aside, and as Dunfermline’s Wallace turned upfield, Raith captain Walker flew in heavily with studs showing. The two players squared up to each other, shoves were exchanged, and soon numerous players were involved. Referee Allan took several minutes to restore order, and, following a lengthy discussion with the stand-side linesman, showed Walker a straight red card.
Tempers continued to simmer, and had boiled over again within a minute. Following the half-time whistle, members of both teams including coaching staff traded angry words on the way to the dressing rooms. Amid noisy scenes, Dunfermline’s Thomson and Raith’s Dougie Hill were both yellow-carded in the tunnel, the big defender‘s second caution reducing Raith to nine men.
Although Raith were loudly cheered on to start the second half, the home crowd’s vocal support stemmed from a sense of injustice rather than confidence. The darkening skies conveyed a sense of foreboding for the second forty-five. Dunfermline, still raw from Partick’s five-goal haul last weekend, sensed the match was there for the taking. In response to the two red cards, Mensing slotted in alongside Ellis at centre-back, and Spence was sacrificed for Stuart Anderson to bolster the midfield.
Within two minutes of the restart, Dunfermline had the lead. The energetic Cardle twisted inside Jason Thomson, and from the right-hand-edge of the box curled a high driven shot over Laidlaw and into the far corner. The quality of the strike added weight to a hammer-blow for the Raith defence.
With forty minutes remaining, and with rain now sweeping across the pitch, Raith fans must have feared more goals would follow. Raith effectively conceded the half-way line, allowing Falkingham to orchestrate Dunfermline’s domination of possession. Cardle drove in another shot, which Laidlaw did well to parry to safety; and again cutting inside Thomson, Cardle floated a tempting cross which just evaded Barrowman at the far post.
However, bolstered by noisy support from the South Stand, Raith held firm. Mensing and Ellis headed away cross after cross, Laidlaw’s handling was secure, and numerous sliding tackles prevented Dunfermline created any further clear-cut chances. The wet pitch also helped the home side, allowing the defence to hold a high line when Dunfermline built from deep. As the half wore on, the away side were unable to release runners in behind the Raith back four, as passes often skidded beyond Dunfermline’s front two. Anderson and Smith often picked up possession inside their own half with no forward options, having to battle to hold on to the ball, thus giving their defenders respite from the constant Dunfermline pressure.
On 75 minutes, Grant Murray introduced Brian Graham for Anderson, hoping for one chance to fall to Raith‘s returning top-scorer. Even with nine men, Raith had kept Dunfermline in sight with only the one-goal advantage – a heroic achievement given the energy-sapping extra time win over Airdrie four days before. Dunfermline’s nerves were beginning to show. Bookings for Husband and Falkingham were greeted with ironic cheers from the home support, and allowed Raith a foot-hold in a game some must have thought beyond them.
Raith began – albeit through long balls and throw-ins – to build some momentum. With five minutes to go, Smith floated over a free-kick, and with the ball slightly behind Graham, the Raith striker’s header was saved by Gallagher low to his left. A second free-kick from the left-hand side also drifted agonisingly beyond Graham rushing in at Gallagher’s far post.
Dunfermline’s numerical superiority eventually told with two minutes left, finally putting the result beyond doubt. With Raith man-of-the-match Mensing marauding forward and Ellis and Malone in advanced positions, a long clearance evaded Ellis on the half-way line leaving Dunfermline sub Craig Dargo with a clear run in on Laidlaw. He squared for Husband who rolled the ball into an empty net.
Report: Andrew Fairlie
Live match updates by: Alan Russell
All Raith TV video is filmed and edited by Steven Ward and Lyle Kilbane
Photographs copyright Tony Fimister and Ian Martin