Raith Rovers snatched a deserved share of the spoils today with a last gasp equaliser from Damian Casalinuovo in a dramatic two all draw.
Raith made two changes from last weeks disappointing defeat to bottom of the table Queen of the South. David McGurn returned from injury replacing Ross Laidlaw in goals despite the youngsters impressive form while deputising. At the other end of the park Brian Graham returned from suspension to spearhead the attack alongside John Baird with Damian Casalinuovo dropping to the bench.
After last weeks defeat, and with upcoming games against high flying Dundee and Ross County, boss John McGlynn had made clear the importance of winning the remaining home matches. While no one at the club had labelled this as a “must win game” the feeling amongst the supporters at kick off was that it was exactly that.
Despite the unusually glorious conditions for playing football the game started off scrappily, Graham having the first sight at goal after some head tennis involving himself and Hamill, but his ambitious attempt from 25 yards sailed harmlessly wide.
The first real chance came on 9 minutes and it fell to the away side. A corner from Michael McGowan found Ross Robertson with time at the back post but under pressure he seemed to stumble over the ball, allowing McGurn to pounce on the loose ball.
Raith responded immediately and a harmless looking header forward from Dougie Hill somehow managed to find Graham unmarked and 25 yards from goal. With only the keeper to beat however his low straight drive was straight at the shins of Kevin Cuthbert in the Ayr goal.
A minute later however the tall front man made amends. A 13th minute corner fell to Davidson and as the Ayr defence claimed a free kick for high feet as he brought it down in the box, his mishit shot fell perfectly to Graham who swivelled and swept the ball home from close range.
Whilst the lead was merited at this stage the goal seemed to galvanise Ayr rather than the home side. Adam Dodd and Kiegan Parker were causing Raith the majority of their discomfort, while the experienced Mark Roberts was also a handfull. The central midfield partnership of Davidson and Murray was again proving a useful anchor for the home side though and Davidson again was proving his worth with vital tackles and calmness in posession.
Raith’s right back Jason Thomson was the first player to make his way into the referee’s book in the 28th minute with two lunging fouls in quick succession.
Ayr were starting to turn the screw now and in the 33rd minute a run from Jonathon Tiffoney to the bye line saw him cut it back to Roberts but his shot was blocked. From the resultant corner McGurn sprang from his line to gather the ball but under pressure from three Ayr players both he and the ball ended up over the line. To Ayr’s consternation the referee disallowed the goal.
Five minutes later there was more controversy. After winning a free kick for Raith, Brian Graham seemed to go head to head with United defender Malone. Despite appearing to push the defender away with his forehead, Graham then went to ground, only to be red carded by referee Crawford Allan as he got to his feet. Whilst Graham was furious at the official, he will surely rue his decision to square up to the opponent rather than prepare himself for the free kick he’d just won.
From the free kick the referee again infuriated the home support. Walker’s delivery found Davidson in yards of space, allowing him to send the header past Cuthbert with an angled header, but the Ayr defence had pushed up to play offside and the effort was disallowed.
Ayr’s McGowan was the next to be booked after throwing himself to the ground inside the box after he appeared to have done the hard work by evading two challenges and making himself some space for the cross.
The half then ended with McGurn denying Ayr an equaliser. Again it was from an excellent delivery from a Dodd corner that was met by Smith but his header was tipped over.
As the second half started it was clear right away what difficulties Raith were going to have in creating anything. Despite hoping to hit Ayr on the break, the long balls forward were finding Baird in complete isolation. At one point he picked up the ball 25 yards from goal and his closest support was from Allan Walker who was only just inside the Ayr half. Strangely though Baird almost seemed to revel in the situation, with Graham’s absence seeming to give him more room to run into. As a result the diminutive front man found himself at times taking on three quarters of the Ayr defence on his own with a reasonable degree of success.
Despite Ayr having the extra man they were struggling to make the most of it, and on 55 minutes they were almost caught out in the most direct fashion. A long punt from McGurn found Baird out wide. As he come inside he sidestepped two challenges and drilled a cross into the box which Smith almost nodded into his own net.
Two minutes later Ayr should have equalised. A cross from the right was somehow missed by three Raith defenders and fell to Dodd. Rather than shoot first time however he wanted a touch, and as he came inside he was dispossessed and the chance was lost.
Baird was then booked for what appeared to be a strong but fair tackle, much to the forwards displeasure.
If Baird was angry at his booking then he was incensed minutes later as Ayr grabbed their equaliser. On 64 minutes he again looked to break free but appeared to be pulled back on the half way line. As the referee waved play on the ball was eventually worked to Liam Tonsett who went down under pressure inside the box and despite Raith’s protestations that he’d gone down easily the referee pointed to the spot. Mark Roberts swept the ball past McGurn low to the keepers left to bring the scores level.
The game was end to end stuff at this point and although Ayr looked the the likelier to score Raith still looked lively on the counter. More good work from Baird after 70 minutes saw Raith win a corner from which Murray’s downward header was palmed up into the air by Cuthbert and cleared to safety.
On 79 minutes however it appeared Rovers hard work and resilience would be in vain. A Hill hand ball 22 yards from goal gave Eddie Malone the opportunity from a free kick and he expertly guided it over the wall and beyond McGurns reach for a stunning strike. The vociferous travelling support must have felt that they’d just about done enough to move themselves even further from the drop zone.
John McGlynn decided to have a final roll of the dice, instantly replacing Hamill and Baird with Pat Clarke and Jamie Walker before replacing Dougie Hill with Casalinuovo a few minutes later.
The changes didn’t seem to rejuvenate Raith and they didn’t threaten again until injury time. A Pat Clarke shot appeared to strike an Ayr hand inside the box but the ref gave nothing much to the players disgust. Davidson was booked for his protests.
Just as it seemed all hope was gone Rovers eked out one final chance. A long ball into the box found Pat Clarke and his nod down fell perfectly to Damian Casalinuovo who’s brilliant finish from ten yards caused delirium in the home stands. Players and supporters were in a heap on the park as they celebrated a hugely important equaliser from almost literally the last kick of the ball.
The magnificent feeling of a last minute goal meant that the Raith support went home delighted despite not winning a game that many felt they had to. The positives in the performance and attitude shown by the players, especially after Graham’s red card, probably outweigh the negatives of only taking a point. If they can recreate those battling qualities in the remaining weeks then there’s every chance that the team will be playing first division football next season.
Report by Shaughan McGuigan. Photos by Tony Fimister.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Dyer, Ellis, Hill, Murray, Allan Walker, Davidson, Baird, Graham, Hamill. Subs: Clarke, Casalinuovo, Williamson, Jamie Walker, Laidlaw
Ayr United: Cuthbert, Tiffoney, Malone, Robertson, Smith, Robertson, Dodd, Tomsett, Parker, Roberts, McGowan. Subs: Moffatt, Wardlaw, Mckernon, Campbell, McWilliams.
Filmed and Edited by Andy Finlay and Steven Ward
Photos by Tony Fimister
John McGlynn said that it was a well-deserved point, but felt more like a win at the end of the match.
Speaking shortly after his last-minute equaliser, Damian Casalinuovo said he appreciated seeing the Argentinian flag in the stands.