Late Strike Denies Raith Victory
Raith Rovers rounded off their pre-season preparations at Stark’s Park today with a creditable 2-2 draw against Premier League side Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Raith made two changes from the starting eleven that suffered a midweek mauling at the hands of Hearts. Ross Laidlaw was replaced in goals by David McGurn, while Gordon Smith partnered Calum Elliot up front, at the expense of Greig Spence.
The two teams build up to this match could barely have been more contrasting. While Rovers lost heavily at home to Hearts and had scored just once in three games, Thistle’s pre-season had already seen them score twenty and concede just one in their previous five friendlies. Despite this however, the away side started the match hesitantly, and looked particularly anxious at the back.
Playing on that indecision, Raith took the lead with the first meaningful move of the match after just 2 minutes. Grant Anderson surged into the box from the right hand side, but appeared to momentarily lose control of the ball. Regaining his composure he picked his spot and drilled the ball across Dean Brill into the opposite corner.
Raith looked sharper than the visitors during the opening exchanges, although the impressive amount of possession wasn’t being translated into chances being created.
It took Inverness just over quarter of an hour to fashion their first effort, when a surging run from Foran was eventually crowded out. From the resulting corner, Gary Warren headed the cross just wide of the right hand post.
It was evident in this match just how much of a difference the overhaul in midfield seems to have made to the team. The new additions, Joe Cardle, Liam Fox and Kevin Moon are all comfortable on the ball, and are demanding of it when they don’t have it. When Raith aren’t in possession, the duo in the middle of the park, Fox and Moon work hard to regain it, although the wide players Cardle and Anderson also do their fair share of working back and helping their full-backs.
It was Anderson, scorer of the opening goal who was involved in the next two pieces of action. Firstly, Inverness keeper, Dean Brill had to be off his line quickly to gather the ball at the wingers feet, and then the former Stenhousemuir player got to the bye line and sent in a cross that Gordon Smith couldn’t quite connect with.
Despite the flow of play it was Inverness who should have equalised after 25 minutes. Nick Ross made himself space inside the box and with just the keeper to beat, he instead tried to slide the ball to Billy McKay, but his pass wasn’t quick enough, allowing Watson just enough time to put in a great block. From the corner McGurn failed to gather the cross cleanly and Warren again headed the chance wide.
After surviving that scare Raith went further in front on 36 minutes. Good work by Anderson again on the right hand side won his team a free kick. Watson’s set piece cross wasn’t dealt with properly by the Caley defence, and it allowed Calum Elliot to side foot the ball powerfully past Brill from close range.
Just as it looked like Raith would be taking a 2-0 lead into the dressing room, Inverness got back into it with a bizarre goal. Nick Ross found himself clean through on goal, but his shot was deflected onto the post by a spread-eagled David McGurn. Unfortunately however, the ball ricocheted off the onrushing Paul Watson, who could only watch disconsolately as the ball bobbled off his shin and over the line.
Inverness boss Terry Butcher decided to freshen things up at half time by bringing on Liam Polworth for Ben Greenhalgh, and the substitute was presented with the first opportunity of the second period.
Some sloppy play out wide by Anderson allowed James Vincent to set up Polworth just outside the box, but the Scotland youth player wasted his chance and sent his shot over the bar.
Possibly due to some strong words from Terry Butcher during the interval, Inverness looked far sharper at the start of the second half, but despite this, their forays into Raith territory were well marshalled by the defence, and McGurn had few saves to make.
Cardle was presented with a shooting opportunity after ten minutes of the second half, with a free kick from 25 yards out, but he couldn’t get enough purchase on the strike and Brill comfortably made the save.
Inverness’ bright opening to the half had evaporated by this point, and Terry Butcher’s histrionics on the sidelines suggested that even though it was a friendly, he was far from happy with things. Firstly berating the referee for a decision he felt should have went the other way, and then lambasting his players for a performance that was clearly underwhelming him.
While Raith weren’t finding too many openings they were playing football that was easy on the eye, and Joe Cardle in particular was at the heart of it. At one point he wriggled away from four challenges before being dumped unceremoniously on the deck. His link up play with his fellow midfielders hints at good things for the season ahead.
With 25 minutes remaining a move involving Cardle, Anderson and Moon, ended when Calum Elliot nutmegged Richie Foran, who then promptly fouled the former Alloa player as he went to collect the ball. From the set piece, Hill and Elliot both seemed to make a connection on the cross but Brill saved easily.
With twenty minutes left, Grant Murray started to swap things around. Firstly Spence came on for Gordon Smith, then Laurie Ellis came on for Hill. A few moments later, Ross Callaghan was introduced in place of Kevin Moon.
Almost immediately there was a difference, but not to Raith’s advantage. Jason Thomson allowed Graeme Shinnie in behind him and McGurn was forced to deflect his shot behind for a corner. A minute or so later he was called into action again, this time saving well from a Polworth attempt.
With 13 minutes remaining Murray made his final change, bringing on a trialist for Calum Elliot.
The trialist combined with Spence to good effect almost as soon as he came on, pressurising the Thistle defence, who squandered possession away to Spence, but his cross was blocked by a hand, which the referee adjudged to be unintentional.
In the 83rd minute however, the scores were tied, and it was a goal that deserved a bigger stage than a pre-season friendly. Raith attempted to break down the right hand side but Anderson was just beaten to the ball, which was then played to Liam Polworth who cracked home an unstoppable shot past McGurn from outside the box. It was a goal that on the balance of play was just about deserved, although the late substitutions did appear to disrupt the flow of the game at a time Raith were on top.
Despite the late sting from the Caley Jags, there weren’t too many despondent Raith fans at the full-time whistle. While the results in these ties are never important, the performance, much like the earlier showing against Hibs, suggested encouragement for the season. The individual errors that blighted the midweek showing against Hearts were noticeably reduced, and while Calum Elliot will be happy to get his first goal, the most pleasing aspect was the performance of the midfield, which at times was a pleasure to watch.
Everyone connected to the club will hope that can be repeated next Saturday, in the Ramsden’s Cup tie against Stirling Albion at Stark’s Park.
Report: Shaughan McGuigan Pictures: Tony Fimister
Photographs Copyright Tony Fimister.
Brian spoke to Grant after the last friendly of preseason