Raith Rovers and neighbours Cowdenbeath shared the spoils in an enthralling 3-3 draw at Stark’s Park this afternoon.
The upper reaches of the Championship league table is assuming a distinctly cramped appearance at the moment, so Rovers boss Grant Murray will have been disappointed by his side’s failure to take maximum points from the latest Fife derby clash. His mood would hardly have been improved by the news of league leaders Hamilton’s loss to Dumbarton, a result that meant Rovers failed to capitalise on that unexpected slip.
The first half this afternoon reflected the conditions – dreich, deflating and dreary. Rovers were forced into a few changes from the previous week’s hard-earned victory over Dumbarton, with Greig Spence and Liam Fox and restored to the starting eleven. Joe Cardle’s red card in that game meant the winger’s presence and creativity was sorely missed this afternoon, as Rovers struggled to find any rhythm or cohesion to their play during the opening exchanges.
As the December chill began to descend upon the 1,500 souls who had selected the match over last-minute Christmas shopping, it was the home side that was almost caught cold with five minutes on the clock. Blue Brazil captain John Armstrong was presented with an unchallenged header from the contest’s first corner kick, but the centre half’s uncontested effort flew well over the bar from only six yards out.
Rovers failed to read the early warning signals as the away side continued to probe, and after ten minutes Jimmy Nicholl’s men fashioned an opening goal. Rovers goalie Ross Laidlaw could only parry a shot into the path of Greg Stewart, and the striker had the simplest of tasks in prodding the ball into the gaping net.
If the Rovers fans sought an immediate response from their team, they would have been disappointed, as the home side continued to struggle to gain a foothold in the match. If anything, a second Cowdenbeath goal looked more likely than an equaliser, although on the half-hour mark Rovers did precisely that against the run of play.From a deep Lewis Vaughan corner kick, Dougie Hill rose at the far post and his towering header found the far corner of the net.
Perhaps galvanised by undeserved parity, Rovers looked to up the ante, and finally managed to apply sustained pressure on the visitors’ defence. Lewis Vaughan went close with a shot, before Calum Elliot picked up the game’s first yellow card for a crude challenge on the halfway line. From the resultant free-kick, Stewart found space and, having nimbly left Hill for dead on the edge of the 18-yard box, hit a low shot which was confidently smothered by Laidlaw.
Those fans complaining about the relatively poor fare on offer during the opening period would have been encouraged by the opening minutes of the second half, as both teams sought to gain the upper hand on proceedings. Typically determined work by Jason Thomson wide on the right almost brought a goal, although the Rovers captain’s dangerous cross was a fraction too high for Elliot, who was unmarked in a promising position. Spence’s afternoon was then brought to a premature end due to what looked like a hamstring strain, the forward being replaced by Gordon Smith.
The second half continued to offer up improved entertainment for the fans, although Rovers were clearly missing the threat down the flanks normally provided by Cardle and fellow winger Grant Anderson. Nevertheless, with an hour played, Rovers managed to take the lead for the first time.
Tenacious play wide on the left wing by Vaughan led to the ball breaking to Booth, and the left-back’s low cut-back into the danger area was firmly side-footed into the net by the lurking Elliot from six yards out.
Shortly afterwards, Ellis made way for McCann, with Thomson slotting into the centre of defence alongside Dougie Hill. Calum Elliot was then presented with a clear sight of goal on the left hand side of the 18-yard box, but the striker’s shot found the side-netting, much to his obvious frustration.
Rovers sought to extend their precarious single-goal lead, and Vaughan went close with a curling effort from twenty yards which flew narrowly over the bar. Then, with fifteen minutes remaining, the home side conceded what must be described as an avoidable penalty kick. A harmless looking cross led to Laidlaw needlessly dashing from his line to concede a foul with no danger apparent. Laidlaw’s valiant attempt could not prevent Kane Hemmings’ shot from finding the net.
As the Rovers fans reeled from the equaliser, Rovers were themselves awarded a penalty with ten minutes remaining. Dougie Hill was wrestled to the turf as he sought to get on the end of a Vaughan cross, and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot for the second time in the match. Callum Booth restored Rovers’ lead with a smart shot into the bottom corner of the net.
Rovers then sought to see out the match, although their defending at times raised the pulses of the faithful shivering in the south stand. With watches being checked, a Cowdenbeath break led to a low cross coming in from the right wing. Hesitation in the home defence allowed Hemmingsto poke the ball over the line for a scrambled equaliser.
The sense of despair within the ground was palpable, but with three minutes of injury time played, Rovers almost contrived a winner. Smith’s smart half-volley was cleared off the line as the home fans rose to acclaim the winner. The final whistle followed immediately, leading to a sense of frustration over what was almost certainly, despite the Blue Brazil’s victory at Dens Park the previous week, an opportunity missed.
In truth, however, a draw was probably a fair result in the end, and for all this will have disappointed those of a Raith Rovers persuasion, Grant Murray’s men remain within touching distance of the league leaders. Despite a recent dip in form and results, a genuine challenge for the Championship title remains a distinct possibility as we bid farewell to 2013.
Report: Donald Ramsay Photos: Tony Fimister & Eddie Doig
Photographs Copyright Tony Fimister.
Davie spoke to Grant after the 3-3 draw with Cowdenbeath
Niall spoke to Jimmy Nicholl after the match
Niall caught up with Callum after he scored his first goal for the club