Graham Double Ends Season on a High
The Rovers fans left Fife after a fine morning arriving in an overcast and chilly Livingston. Your match reporter left his gloves in the car – as it’s May – which was a mistake! There was a healthy Rovers support augmented by a number in fancy dress who added both colour and volume to proceedings.
This game marked the end of some Livvy players careers notably club captain Liam Fox who received a guard of honour and others including ex-Rovers keeper Andy McNeil. The home side were keen to secure 3rd in the league while the Rovers already had 6th in the bag. Callachan and Donaldson continued their starting runs and Laidlaw was between the sticks.
Despite the home side having more to play for it was the Rovers who started well with the strong breeze behind them and their tails up. Raith should have won a corner in a minute but the near linesman got it wrong. In the 3rd minute Grant Anderson’s shot on the turn was blocked at the edge of the box then Cardle over hit a cross which went out for a throw. The Rovers defence scrambled away the home side’s first foray up the field as the Rovers continued to have more of the play.
Thomson played in Cardle who shot wide then Walker teed up the wide man who’s shot was deflected and skimmed the bar. From the resulting corner Ellis’s header saw the ball hit a home arm but despite shouts from the Rovers support nothing was given. The hosts saw a header from their first corner go tamely wide but it was never going to threaten Laidlaw.
In the 13th minute McNeil fluffed an attempted punch and the ball was fired wide by Graham. Mensing covered a Jags forward run well as the home side tried to get into the game then Graham set up Callachan who’s low driven shot was blocked. Home defender McCann got forward on a break but shot wide. In the 21st minute a ball down the channel towards Spence and Anderson saw them almost tangle but this wrong footed the home defence. Tena was unable to prevent Grant Anderson’s dribble as he calmly nipped into the box and fired the ball past McNeil into the net. 1:0 to the Rovers against their bogey team – a goal enjoyed by players and fans alike who had a perfect view of McNeil picking the ball out of the net.
Ellis was alert to tackle well as the home side tried to get forward. At the other end Anderson was brave going for a ball at the edge of the box and was heavily fouled by a stretching home man – it was outside the box but more than deserved a card which didn’t come. Cardle wasted an opportunity choosing to shot from distance despite having Spence and Graham ahead of him and the defence struggling.
Spaniard Jesus Garcia Tena was putting in a less impressive performance than the last match where he was erm, heckled in his own tongue by Paella & Bovril writer Carol from Barcelona. His repeated fouls were unpunished and he was switched from centre half to left back. Ellis missed a header by no more than a hairs breadth as the Rovers threatened from another corner. Laidlaw made his first save in the 37th minute when Russell got onto a long ball and young Ross blocked well. The home side had at last got going and Talbot was rightly booked for a dive in the box. He didn’t react well to this and tangled with Anderson moments later and was lucky not to get another ticking off. The lad was showing himself not to have a sunny disposition he was anything but a Talbot sunbeam. Russell was however getting on with things and his low bouncing shot forced a diving save from Laidlaw pushing the ball wide for a corner. In the 43rdminute the ex-works team were awarded a penalty. It was at the far end and was perhaps given for a handball
but the decision mystified much of the Rovers support and certainly looked soft. Fox stepped up and fired a good penalty into the roof of the net to make it 1:1.
No doubt Yoda, d’Artagnan, the girls in costumes more akin to discotheques and the less well turned out Rovers support were disappointed to be level at the half. Communication was difficult as the overly chatty PA wittered on loudly about this, that and tuther.
The Jags managed a dangerous cross in the first few seconds of the second half but it was the Rovers who carved out the first real chance. Good play wide saw a pass to Callachan who deftly played it into Spence’s path with a great touch. Greig sadly blasted his shot over the stand – no mean feat! Home sub Morton fell playing in a free kick where Russell failed to gain advantage despite shoving a Raith man in the six yard box. Morton was lucky not to be booked having had a hefty shove and a disagreement with Cardle on the side line in front of the Ref, linesman and Raith support.
Cardle passed to Graham who fed Spence but his curling effort went over. Just after the hour McNeil excelled himself – no doubt to the surprise of many of the travelling support. He blocked Cardle’s effort on the angle then got in the way of Anderson’s follow-up and somehow stopped another before an offside flag stopped play as another effort went goal ward. The keeper did very well to keep the score level. In the 67th minute Andreu shot wide from the edge of the box and his next attempt three minutes later was easy for Laidlaw to catch.
Watson was booked for going through the back of Graham as both sides were trying to get the crucial third goal. Big Graham headed Anderson’s cross past the post before the wide man replaced by Vaughan.
Russell took advantage of not being flagged for offside but Laidlaw claimed the ball at the second attempt. In the 81st minute Reece and Graham worked a nice triangle at the corner flag in front of the Raith support to play out and the ball was moved forward where a great pass to sub Clarke saw him dash forward and angle a cross to the back post where Brian Graham headed across goal and into the net. 2:1 to the Rovers from a well worked team goal – surprisingly Graham had enough energy to celebrate the goal despite having run the length of the park!
A fancy dressed conga in the away end was not hindered by another missed offside by the near linesman. Graham played a great pass to Cardle who for some reason decided against running on into the space ahead of him as the home defence was stretched. Vaughan however took more initiative firing into the side netting from 19 yards. Livvy pushed on and Tena was moved up front where he remained poor. Alan Walker saw his good shot pushed wide for another of the Rovers ten corners then Graham put a first time effort across goal.
In the 89th minute a free kick at half way was taken by the keen McNeil. The ball went to the back post and Laidlaw did well to block the initial effort from Russell. Young Ross however lacked the good fortune of his opposite number and in the scramble that followed the ball fell kindly to Andreu who put it in from little more than a yard, though Russell was announced as the scorer. 2:2
It however wasn’t over, from the kick off the Rovers tried to get the win their play deserved. Moments later a ball was played
towards the edge of the box and McNeil dashed forward to try and knock it away. He missed and Brian Graham was able to move onto the ball and fire it into the unguarded net to make it 3:2 to the Rovers. This, as the Rovers support know all too well, was not the first time McNeil has handed 3 points to the opposing team. The goal was celebrated by all the Rovers staff, players and fans no matter what they were wearing. Cardle had an effort held before the final whistle which brought an end to the season.
The Rovers played well despite having less to motivate them going into the game. Livvy slipped to fourth as a result. The youngsters – Laidlaw, Donaldson, Callachan and Vaughan – did well again and this was a good team performance to end on. The result well and truly ended the run of difficult to explain bad results against Livvy.
Several players from both sides will not feature for these teams again many will be missed having been good servants of the clubs. Andrew McNeil however probably now has both clubs fans looking forward to seeing him line up against them rather than for them.
Report – John Mainland, Pictures – Eddie Doig
Photographs copyright Eddie Doig, edited by Tony Fimister.