Plenty Of Positives Despite Defeat
Raith’s pre-season may have ended with a single goal defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, but there were some encouraging signs as they headed into next week’s Fife derby at East End Park.
Manager Grant Murray handed debuts to three players, with Kevin Cuthbert starting in goals, Ross Perry lining up in the centre of defence, and Martin Scott making his first appearance of the summer in the heart of midfield.
In an illustration of how many changes have been made to the Raith squad this summer, the entire spine of the starting line-up featured new partnerships. Ross Perry and Paul Watson in defence, Liam Fox and Martin Scott in midfield, while Lewis Vaughan started with Christian Nade for the first time up-front.
It became apparent fairly early that Vaughan was intent on dropping deep, and it was his willingness to do so that created the first opening, winning the ball back in the middle of the park, before supplying Nade, whose lay-off to Scott saw him test Inverness keeper Dean Brill from 25-yards.
Despite having the lions share of possession, Inverness were struggling to create any early chances, although they were moving the ball around well. While Billy McKay was playing the lone striker role, he was receiving plenty of support from Daniel Williams, James Vincent and Marley Watkins. Their precision passing game however, was failing to break down a resolute Raith back line, and chances remained at a premium.
The 20th minute almost saw the opening goal, and what a strike it would have been. The move started with Perry and Watson, before Scott swept the ball out wide to Mark Stewart on the right. His cross to the back post looked slightly too deep for Nade, but his volley on the turn, ricocheted off the bar and was cleared.
Inverness were then presented with a flurry of chances. First, Nade brought the ball down in midfield, but with the ball running away from him, and both central players caught on the wrong side of play, Greg Tansey had time to slide McKay through on goal. His finish was heading into the bottom corner, but for the outstretched foot of Cuthbert, who diverted it wide with the sole of his boot. Not according to referee Stephen Finnie however, who signalled for a goal-kick, much to McKay’s consternation.
Cuthbert did well again just a few moments later, tipping wide a Williams drive down low to his left, as Inverness started to exert more pressure. The same player had another chance after Raith gave away possession again, but this time Watson flung himself in front of the ball, conceding a corner.
Raith may have had far less of the ball, but they were making good use of it when they were in possession, and it was the industrious Vaughan who was involved in their next two opportunities.
Finding space inside the box on the right-hand-side, he brought a decent save out of Brill, although the angle was too acute for it to be considered any more than a half-chance. Then, with the half-time interval approaching, he and Conroy combined to tee-up McKeown, who had sprinted into the box. With time to set himself, he didn’t quite catch his shot correctly, although Brill still had to save well to keep out his drive.
The second period began with 5 substitutions for the Inverness side, but despite the wholesale changes, the pattern of the match remained the same, with plenty of ball retention for John Hughes’ men.
Despite this, it was Caley Thistle’s substitute goalkeeper Ryan Esson who was called into action first, diving to his right to tip away an angled attempt from Nade, after he was played in by Stewart.
It was indicative of just how deep Lewis Vaughan was playing at times, that at one point he broke up an Inverness attack at the edge of his own penalty area. His perseverance was paying dividends however, and after winning a throw-in deep on the right, Thomson’s cross was narrowly headed over by Nade.
The away side really should have taken the lead in the 55th minute, but again Cuthbert was there to deny McKay, after the striker was put clean through by Dorans. While McKay should have done better, Cuthbert did well to narrow the angle and spread himself.
Doran’s then almost opened the scoring a minute later, when he curled a shot fractionally wide from just outside the box.
With half-an-hour remaining, Grant Murray made his first two substitutions, replacing Lewis Vaughan and Mark Stewart with Calum Elliot and Grant Anderson.
The first of those subs, Elliot, was almost involved in a goal right away, nodding a Conroy cross into Nade’s path, but his acrobatic half-volley, was parried away by Brill.
Even though it was his first pre-season match, Martin Scott seemed to be growing into the game the longer it went, and it was encouraging to see his willingness to support the front-men. Indeed, with 15 minutes to go, he was inches away from opening the scoring, sending a powerful header from a great Conroy cross just over the bar.
Whilst Inverness had looked neat and tidy with the ball, they’d failed to ask too many questions of the Raith defence for the majority of the second-half, which added to the feeling of disappointment when they took the lead in the 81st minute.
Left-back Graham Shinnie was able to make his way to the bye-line, crossing into the middle for Ryan Christie, who made no mistake from close range, despite the best efforts of Cuthbert.
Rovers final substitution was a minute later, when Liam Callachan replaced Liam Fox, but Inverness were able to hold on comfortably for the victory.
This may have been Raith’s second loss in a week, but it was a completely different performance from Tuesday night’s defeat. Despite relinquishing possession for large periods of the game, Inverness struggled to create too many chances against a more solid-looking back-four, while the performance of Scott, added some energy to the middle-of-the-park. Whilst it was unfortunate that no-one was able to convert a chance-or-two, the heartening aspect was that several opportunities were created.
Rovers will of course hope to build on these positives, as they head into the first competitive match of the season at East End Park next week.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014