NO-SCORE DRAW BRINGS HOME CAMPAIGN TO A CLOSE
Raith and visitors Falkirk shared the spoils in the home side’s final home game of the season at Starks Park. A game of peaks and troughs finished goal-less despite good chances for both sides, particularly in the latter stages of the second half. With the security of mid-table assured, Raith have only a trip to Livingston to negotiate next week before a satisfactory line can be drawn under the 2012/13 season.
The last home game of the season often tempts supporters into generalisations. While today’s game may not live particularly long in the memory, it displayed a microcosm of some positive points of Raith’s season: a clean sheet from one of the league’s better defences, chances created by a mobile and varied forward line, and some fluid passing from back to front. One excellent save from Ross Laidlaw half-way through the second half showed once again that Raith have genuine competition for the goal-keeper’s jersey.
Grant Murray rang changes for the season’s home finale – Ross Callachan and Reece Donaldson both started, Cardle retained his place following his late season move from neighbours Dunfermline, and Laidlaw took the goalkeeper’s jersey for the first time since McGurn’s return from injury after New Year. Pat Clarke took his place on the bench, having returned from a lengthy spell out through injury.
Falkirk came to Kirkcaldy to visit their bogey side – Raith have taken seven points out of nine against the Bairns this season, although Falkirk have been more consistent against lesser opposition in the league, and in Lyle Taylor possess the league’s top scorer. The visitor’s 4-5-1 formation is based upon springing midfielders to support the former Bournemouth striker – midfielders Fulton, Grant, and Flannigan all buzzed in support of their front-man at times today, creating numbers in the final third which should have resulted in a greater number of clear-cut chances. As with El-Alagui last season, Taylor has netted regularly this season, but his team have suffered from the limited goals coming from elsewhere.
The match started in bright sunshine. Despite the perennial chill caused by the roof of the West Stand, the match kicked off with an undeniably warm “end of season” feel. Falkirk’s season peaked with the recent Cup semi-final torment of the late collapse to Hibernian, together with seeing Partick Thistle celebrate the league title at the New Brockville last week. For their part, Raith are struggling to find late-season form – a tremendous point at Firhill sandwiched between disappointing defeats to Cowdenbeath and Hamilton.
Falkirk had the better of the opening skirmishes, creating several early chances. Taylor dinked a header over Laidllaw’s crossbar in the second minute, and after a Donaldson slip, Weatherston rasped a shot which the Raith keeper did well to turn round the post.
It took five minutes for Raith to create their first opportunity, but, like city buses, several came almost at once. Hill and Graham each jostled to connect with a Cardle cross, Callachan was felled on the edge of the Falkirk box when looking to shoot, Graham shot wide from distance, and a Walker blast from 18yds was well blocked by visiting defender Willie Vaulks.
The main talking point of the opening exchanges was referee McLean’s issue of a yellow card to Walker after six minutes. Slipped in by a Thomson flick, Walker cut across his man inside the Falkirk box, and went down under pressure. Whether there was contact or intent, there was no appeal for a penalty; however the referee brandished a yellow card for simulation. In a contact sport, there must be room for an attacking player to fall under a challenge with a referee calling neither a foul nor a dive. Logically, the view that “if its not a foul, it must be a dive” cannot be correct. Despite Walker‘s protestations, the yellow card stood.
The decision looked worse later in the first half. Falkirk front-man Taylor threw his arms up whilst hitting the deck on two occasions following contact from Raith defenders – while exaggeration and simulation are not synonymous, efforts to “win” free-kicks leave a sour taste, particularly from more gifted footballers.
The brisk opening period over, the match settled heading towards half-time. Both sides seemed familiar with each other’s style of play. Graham and Spence were effectively marshalled by Vaulks and Flynn, and while Lyle Taylor’s rangy stride covered wide swathes of Starts Park, but he couldn’t free himself of the attentions of Mensing and Hill.
Although Falkirk’s 4-5-1 arguably favours a four-man defence by creating a focal point against which two centre-halves can defend one deeper than the other, today promised a stern examination of Dougie Hill’s credentials. Following ill-advised red-cards before Christmas, Hill’s period out of the first-team has developed a maturity and a strength arguably missing from his game in the first half of the season. Although Taylor always looked a danger with his sharp movement and clever first-time passing, Hill stuck to his task in one of his best games of the season.
Raith’s best chance of the first half came from one of several sweeping cross-field passes from Hill – Grant Anderson’s driven cross along the six-yard line evaded visiting keeper McGovern with both Graham and Spence unable to make contact at the far post. At the other end, Jay Fulton showed quick feet to escape Cardle’s clutches, his cross nodded over by Taylor – the league’s top scorer should have added to his season’s impressive tally. Having swapped flanks with Grant Anderson, Cardle’s low drive in the 43rd minute went narrowly past.
The first half contained at least as many low points as highs, both sets of supporters’ attention held only fleetingly in several spells of midfield stalemate. While Walker and Callachan worked hard to create movement and to release runners, the diligence of Falkirk’s midfield triumvirate left play swaying from side-to-side rather than flowing end-to-end. A Raith clearance shanked over the Pratt Street wall, Falkirk‘s Flynn sliced into the Main Stand, and a Grant Anderson flick managed to become lodged under the Railway Stand‘s supporters‘ club flag – a ball-boy emerged triumphant some five minutes later.
Half time came and went. The visitors had their best spell of the match just after the break – although Taylor remained effectively shackled by Raith’s defensive two, Weatherston Grant and Flannigan each began to surge further forward. Weatherston, a flying machine on Falkirk’s right flank, evaded Donaldson – himself no slouch – and crossed several times into Laidlaw’s box. From a corner following one dangerous raid, an in-swinging cross ricocheted around the home box before being hoofed clear.
The best chance of the second half fell to the visitors on 62 minutes – Walker was dispossessed trying to work his way clear, Flannigan made ground into the Raith box, and Falkirk’s Sibbald crashed a six-yard volley straight at Laidlaw, the young goalkeeper using two strong hands to push the goal-bound shot to safety.
With spaces opening as the second half wore on, Raith were able to make passes in a way that had eluded them for much of the game. From a throw-in deep in their own corner, Raith man-of-the-match Callachan combined well with Cardle to work the ball to Graham, who’s slick one-two with Vaughan released Anderson – the Raith winger’s cross was disappointing after such fluid build-up play.
Both managers shuffled their hands in an attempt to re-generate some forward momentum – as with the first half, after a lively opening the second half had fallen into a familiar pattern. Pat Clarke was introduced for Greig Spence; Lewis Vaughan having been introduced for Grant Anderson moments earlier. Falkirk’s three midfield runners were each replaced, reflecting the energy shown in supporting their lone striker.
Raith had marginally the better of the closing stages. After great harrying from Graham and Vaughan, Cardle shot narrowly over from an angle under pressure from Duffie. Moments later, Thomson released Graham down the right – from his cross, Vaughan lofted his finish high over McGovern’s cross-bar.
Both sides can look forward to a process of building for next season. With a mid-table finish secured, the draw had a sense of inevitability about it. The nil-nil score-line may have been surprising given two of the league’s top scorers were on show – for supporters looking to next season, the blank score-line may be a portent for 2013/14 should neither side be able to hold on to their prized asset over the summer.
Photos: Tony Fimister Report: Andrew Fairlie
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All video filmed and edited by Steven Ward and Lyle Kilbane
Photographs Copyright Tony Fimister
The gaffer spoke to Davie after the final home game this season
Rovers man of the match Ross Callachan spoke to Raith TV
Striker Brian Graham spoke to Davie about the game and the season