Raith top after resounding home win
Raith’s 2014/15 Scottish League Championship campaign got off to the best possible start with a 3-1 home victory against Dumbarton at Starks Park today. In bright breezy conditions, Raith created a hatful of second-half chances, deservedly taking three points from a match in which Dumbarton played an equal and entertaining part, only to falter in the final stages.
Following a first half where both sides matched each other stride for stride playing remarkably similar styles and formations, the home side stretched their legs in the second forty-five, scoring three and creating several other clear openings. For Dumbarton, a match in which they edged the first half slipped alarmingly from their grasp as the second half progressed. Although it didn’t look likely at half-time, Raith finished the day at the summit of the league table.
Today’s opening league fixture came after a difficult seven days for Raith. A patchy home cup win over Forfar was followed by a disappointing cup derby defeat at East End Park. Grant Murray made two changes following Tuesday night – Grant Anderson starting wide on the right, with Callum Elliot restored to a role behind Christian Nadé upfront and Lewis Vaughan and Michael Stewart dropping to the bench.
For Dumbarton, the close-season has seen a defensive consolidation after last year’s achievement of fifth-place in the League. Lee Mair and David van Zanten, both experienced Premier League campaigners, started in a back four which, despite last season’s mid-table finish, leaked goals badly. The other side of the same coin is that the ‘Sons scored regularly and often last season, with only promoted Hamilton scoring more. Kirkpatrick, Nish, and Megginson all started here, with former Morton winger Archie Campbell completing the attacking quartet.
How Grant Murray intended the first half to flow will perhaps never be known – the unlucky Calum Elliot was forced to withdraw as early as the tenth minute, clipped in an early challenge. The pacy Stewart was introduced, pushed right up-front to join Nadé in a two-man strike-force.
The opening stages showed clear similarities in each team’s play – Fox and Scott for Raith chased and harried Turner and Agnew, the midfield fulcrum for the visitors; Nish and Nadé provided the focal points for each side’s forward play; Conroy and Anderson for Raith and Megginson and Kirkpatrick for the visitors sought to support the attack from wide areas.
Both sides even possessed left-backs with long-throws – McKeown for Raith and Linton for Dumbarton. A combination of Watson and Nish deflected one huge throw from Linton into the arms of a grateful Cuthbert after five minutes. Dumbarton centre-halves Graham and Mair also joined the fray, putting Cuthbert under real pressure from Linton’s deliveries from the touch-line.
Following Elliot’s withdrawal, Stewart belted around the park, snapping at heels and nipping at ankles. Nadé also looked to appreciate having a fellow striker closer to him. Although the Raith game-plan may not have included the pairing as “Plan A”, a real relationship looked to develop between the pair over the 90 minutes.
Having said that, the first half ebbed more in favour of Dumbarton as time passed. On fifteen minutes, a Nish header was squared to Linton by Agnew. Although the full-back’s shot cleared Cuthbert’s goal by some way, the move was a statement of intent. Moments later, Turner played in Nish, who squared to Campbell. With Watson initially wrong-footed, the pair collided – referee Beaton looked long and hard, but decided against awarding a penalty kick.
Agnew and Turner had the upper hand in midfield, Nish was acting as an excellent base camp to launch assaults on the Raith goal, and both Megginson and Campbell looked purposeful and direct. Cuthbert saved at Nish’s feet on the half-hour, and Kirkpatrick bought a strong right-handed save from the Raith keeper after another Nish invitation. With the best chance of the half, Campbell twisted and ran beyond McKeown, with his centre narrowly evading a stretching Nish.
The second-half saw a resurgent Raith take the fight to their visitors. Nadé forced a corner in the opening minutes, and Anderson and Stewart both battled for 50/50 challenges. Stewart out-foxed Turner and released Nadé from half-way – the big striker used pace and strength to work his way to the Dumbarton six-yard line, Mair sliding in to clear. Although Dumbarton had a chance of their own – Campbell escaping from half-way to lob Cuthbert but from an off-side position – the second-half started with Raith taking a more aggressive role with greater fluency in their retention of the ball through the midfield.
The lively opening to the half saw a poor Rogers clearance collected by Conroy who fed Nadé; the Frenchman’s cross just beyond Scott. At the other end, an ambitious 25-yard free-kick from Agnew swirled just over Cuthbert’s cross-bar.
The opener came on fifty-six minutes – Nadé beat Mair and Graham to McKeown’s long throw. Watson reacted quickest in the box to fire through Rogers’ legs from close-range. Watson was winning the physical battle against the intimidating Nish at the other end – his goal was one part of his significant contribution to today’s three points.
Most home fans would have expected a strong response from the visitors, however Raith’s defence and midfield coped will with any increased sense of urgency from Dumbarton. Scott, enjoying a better second half than his first, patrolled the central third with a new sense of authority; Fox also covered more ground. Rovers had succeeded in disrupting Agnew and Turner’s first-half rhythm.
Grant Anderson was another of the Raith players much more prominent in the second forty-five. Substituted late on to a standing ovation from the South Stand, Anderson was pushed forward to accompany Stewart and Nadé during the second half, and clearly enjoyed the greater attacking responsibility. He ran fifty yards after winning a challenge, crossing tantalisingly across but beyond Nadé – the Frenchman one of many in the ground to applaud the first-class run-and-cross.Dumbarton sought to re-establish a foot-hold, withdrawing Megginson for the resourceful Gilhaney, but play continued to sweep toward the visitors’ goal. Nish’s angry reaction to an innocuous clash on half-way exemplified the frustration felt by Dumbarton at seeing a game in which they had hitherto been competitive slipping beyond them.
Scott was just beaten to a Conroy corner, Fox blasted wide from an excellent lay-off from Nadé, and a galloping Thomson couldn’t quite reach a tempting through-ball again from Nadé. At the other end, all Dumbarton had to show in response was an Agnew thump from distance, always curving beyond Cuthbert’s left-hand post.
A great spell of sustained pressure followed, generating real noise from the home support. Nadé walloped a shot goalwards following Scott’s through-ball. Within twenty seconds, the Frenchman was denied following a Thomson cross.
On seventy-seven minutes, Raith had doubled their lead. A McKeown cross reached Anderson who sought to tee up Thomson, only for the Raith skipper to be felled in the act of shooting. Conroy, who helped Dundee to promotion last season, showed real skill to lift his free-kick into Rogers’ top-left hand corner. A delightful second goal, and on the balance of play, no less than Raith’s second-half performance had deserved.
Before Dumbarton could compose themselves, Raith scored again. Stewart won a midfield challenge, and found space for Nadé to charge into. The big striker at full steam will cause Championship defences real problems this year – with both Mair and Graham trailing in his wake, Nadé took a touch round Rogers before finding the empty net.
A fourth goal would have been unfair on Dumbarton, given their first-half performance; however, their midfield tired badly in the closing stages. Nadé bustled past Graham only for Rogers to save at his feet, a wonderful cross from Stewart found Conroy head only for his finish to beat Rogers’ cross-bar, and Scott advancing from the right flank fired his shot high into the Raith support.
Agnew created space for a late strike, although the consolation didn’t dampen the Raith fans’ appreciation of their side’s second half showing.
While Dumbarton may have edged the first half, Raith attacked with a mixture of strength and verve in the second period, and could have scored more. In what will be the most competitive Championship in years, Raith’s league campaign could hardly have got off to a better start.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014
Brian spoke to Grant after the 3-1 victory over Dumbarton