RAITH AND DUNFERMLINE SHARE POINTS AT NOISY STARKS PARK
Raith and Dunfermline shared the points in a scrappy but compelling Fife derby at Starks Park. With Raith on top in the first half, and the visitors arguably having the better of the second, the easiest conclusion would be that a draw was a fair result – however both sides will have greeted the final whistle nursing the disappointment of knowing the opportunity of victory had slipped through their fingers.
Neither team came into today’s game with anything approaching form. With Raith having only won one game in their last eight, and only two competitive games this year, Grant Murray freshened his front-line – giving a debut to precocious teenager Josh Watt and restoring Greig Spence alongside Brian Graham. Despite reports of Simon Mensing’s broken finger, the combative midfielder was given a starting place, with Grant Anderson dropped to the bench. Murray and Ellis continued in the centre of Raith’s defence.
For the visitors, the perma-tanned Joe Cardle re-gained his starting place wide on the left. Falkingham and club top scorer Barrowman remained out through injury, with right-back Jordan McMillan and midfielder Andy Geggan both returning after suspension.
The build-up to the game was dominated by talk of the current financial troubles of Dunfermline. Raith’s offer of a share of gate receipts, together with media speculation over whether today’s game would be Dunfermline’s last, contributed to a noisy North Stand well in advance of kick-off. The long season has taken its toll on players and supporters alike though – today’s crowd fell nearly 1,000 short of that for Dunfermline’s dramatic visit to Starks Park in November.
The visitors’ off-field troubles added extra spice to the vocal pre-match jousting between rival sets of fans. More wholesome however was the warm applause prior to kick-off to celebrate the life of former Raith and Dunfermline player Ian Lister, who passed away recently.
Under bright but winter skies, and in temperatures remaining resolutely wintry rather than spring-like, Raith started the stronger. The home side’s busy opening was the perfect antidote to any momentum Dunfermline may have drawn from the boisterous away support. In the opening minutes, Spence created space for Thomson to fire wide; and a Watt cross was controlled by Graham into the path of Spence who drove the ball just wide of Gallacher’s right-hand post.
Raith fans were seeing a first start for Motherwell loanee Josh Watt. In the early stages, his running and touch were impressive – twice beating Jordan McMillan to create crossing positions, and offering an outlet for fellow midfielders in the crowded central third. In the 7th minute, another Watt left-wing cross found Spence who’s header went narrowly wide.
Spence particularly was profiting from the space created on Raith’s left-wing. Recalled to the starting eleven, Spence cracked a 25-yard strike over Gallacher’s cross-bar, and showed sublime skill to control and turn on a swirling high ball in a congested midfield – the resulting hack from his marker validating the quality of the Raith forward’s footwork.
For the opening half, Raith were the only side to be able to create quality possession from the tight exchanges in the middle of the park. Geggan and Husband for the visitors were outnumbered by Stuart Anderson, Walker, and Simon Mensing. The heavy pitch led to several scrappy passages of play. Spoken to for a crunching challenge on Wallace after twenty minutes, Mensing – all arms and legs – earned his yellow card five minutes later for a further foul on Jordan.
In a ten-minute spell of quality from Dunfermline, Kirk was unable to guide a header on target from an inswinging corner in the 27th minute. A quick free-kick released Thomson, although the Pars’ winger was unable to cross with numbers up alongside him.
Raith’s superiority in the first half was rewarded five minutes before the break. Thomson’s high-ball evaded the Dunfermline defence and was brought down by Graham; despite a Dunfermline leg knocking the ball away before Graham could trouble Gallacher, the ball ran to Spence who fired home to put Raith into the lead.
The last moment of drama in the first half came in the home defence. Murray opted to leave a long Gallacher clearance. Cardle – the only Dunfermline player who showed either vim or vigour in the first half – beat a retreating Thomson to the ball and went down inside the box under contact from the Raith full-back. Referee Beaton turned away, amid protestations from the away side, Cardle drawing a booking in the aftermath.
The second half began with possession and chances shared equally between the teams. Raith‘s Thomson failed to clear, allowing his Dunfermline namesake a snapshot from distance. A minute later, a Spence feint created a chance for Graham from scrappy midfield play, Raith‘s top scorer pulling his rising shot wide of Gallacher‘s left-hand upright.
Raith’s first-half industry was built largely down the left, with the industrious Watt a focal point. After the break, Dunfermline succeeded in stopping the supply to the Raith loan player, with the result that Raith’s midfield were drawn into a much more narrow alignment. Without a natural wide player on the other side, Raith’s first-half fluency was replaced with a tendency to get drawn into a midfield battle. In Geggan and Husband, Dunfermline’s midfield two used the ball early, spreading the play and opening spaces springing runners toward Raith full-backs.
In the 53rd minute, Wallace was allowed to turn and shoot at McGurn; and four minutes later Dunfermline were level. Jordan and Cardle combined to cross, Wallace’s downward header found Geggan who fired home from close-range. While the marking was slack and the amount of space allowed to the Dunfermline strike-force contributed to the goal, the equaliser was deserved on the balance of play.
Dunfermline were on top, and Raith’s rearguard were pushed and pulled as the visitors probed the areas around McGurn’s eighteen-yard box. Murray nipped in to deny Kirk a shot on goal, a Wallace shot was deflected over, and Stuart Anderson and Jason Thomson both collected bookings for over-zealous challenges.
One positive note from the second half was the togetherness at the heart of Raith’s defence. Man of the match Ellis and player-manager Murray communicated well, showed a good understanding, and kept a good line amidst concerted Dunfermline pressure. Raith’s spine has looked weak in previous games, but with two experienced centre-halves (with a combined 700+ senior games between them), today Raith looked capable of weathering the Dunfermline storm.
The closing stages saw chances at both ends. With the heavy turf draining the energies of players on both sides, spaces opened and play surged from end to end. Graham came close when he rose to send a header narrowly wide with twenty minutes to go, Geggan defended a Walker free-kick from within a ruck of players crowding Gallacher’s six-yard box, and a snapshot from Mensing was well-saved by the Pars’ keeper.
With the clock ticking down, both sides had golden opportunities to take all three points. Kirk threw himself at a low-cross with a combination of Ellis and Murray deflecting his goal-bound effort wide, and seconds later a further cross evaded the Dunfermline striker‘s outstretched leg. With Dunfermline committing numbers forward, the home crowd willed one last Raith breakaway. In the final moments, Graham, like a mouse on a crowded kitchen floor, evaded capture and released Walker – with almost the last kick of the game, the Raith captain was caught in two minds and failed to either trouble Gallacher or find Grant Anderson clear at the far post.
Despite Dunfermline enjoying the better quality of possession in the second half, Raith fans headed home nursing a sense of two points dropped rather than a point gained. With today’s other results in the Division going Raith’s way, the point is a welcome one when considered in the context of a fixture list which includes two forthcoming trips to Dumbarton and several games against teams higher in the Division. However, looking at today‘s match in isolation, many Raith fans will see today‘s game as a victory that was allowed to slip away in a disappointing second half.
Report: Andrew Fairlie; Pictures: Tony Fimister
High Bandwith version
Photographs copyright Tony Fimister and Ian Martin
The gaffer reflected on the last Fife derby of the season
Dunfermline born striker Greig Spence was pleased to grab a derby goal