Spoils Shared With The Bairns
Raith Rovers missed out on the opportunity to reach the rarefied heights of second in the Championship, but did retain third place in the table, after today’s 0-0 draw with Falkirk.
Manager Grant Murray made just one change from last weekend’s 1-0 victory over Livingston, with Barry McKay replacing the injured Calum Elliot. For Falkirk, former Raith loanee, David Smith started in a forward thinking midfield three, that was expected to support lone striker, Rory Loy.
With only one recognised striker in the Raith starting XI, the first question amongst the fans was who, if anyone, was partnering Christian Nade. As the match began, it became clear that manager Grant Murray had opted to match up with Falkirk’s five man midfield, with Martin Scott the most forward thinking of a central three of himself, Liam Fox and Kevin Moon. Barry McKay made his first start on the right-hand side of midfield, with Ryan Conroy in his customary position wide left.
Raith began the game in a sprightly fashion, and created a decent opening after just a few seconds. Rory McKeown and Liam Fox combined, with the latter sending in a cross that Chritian Nade headed just past the left-hand post.
If the support thought this was the opening salvo of a chance laden opening period, then they were to be sadly mistaken. Not that it was a dull first half by any means, but the lack of any clear-cut chances, was indicative of both sides decision to opt for just one out-and-out striker.
The first Falkirk player to impress was almost inevitably the former Raith player, Smith. He looked lively early on, sidestepping two challenges before winning a free-kick early in the game. He also presented Laidlaw with his first save of any note, although it lacked conviction, and dribbled apologetically into the Raith custodian’s arms.
At this point, Falkirk looked the more comfortable in possession, but not the most likely to score. Indeed, a well-worked move midway through the half, should have seen Raith with the advantage. A McKay cross to the back-post was headed down by Nade, and with Martin Scott in space, his miss-hit half volley was tipped clear by Falkirk goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, who was up quick again to narrow the acute angle and again deny Scott from the rebound.
Despite having similar set-ups, both teams were approaching things in a different manner. Raith were very much reliant on the creative talents of their wide players, McKay and Conroy, while Falkirk were concerting their efforts more centrally. While the Rovers wide players were both swinging dangerous looking crosses into the box, the dearth of forward options meant that most of them were being spurned.
For Falkirk, their best efforts of the half came after the half-hour mark, when first Loy put an ambitious drive past the post, before Sibbald forced Laidlaw into a rudimentary save to his left.
Indeed, that was almost it in terms of penalty box incidents, although Ross Laidlaw’s decision to accept a pass-back and sidestep Rory Loy, did evoke memories of Hamish McAlpine doing exactly that to bewildered opponents most weeks during his short stint with Raith Rovers in the 1980’s.
Bairns boss Peter Houston freshened things up at half-time, by replacing Tom Taiwo with Olly Durojaiye, but the second period began in an almost identical fashion to the first, when a Nade header from a McKay cross settled onto the roof of the rigging.
It seemed clear that Grant Murray’s talk during the interval had involved asking Jason Thomson to get forward more, while imploring Martin Scott to take up a more advanced position closer to Nade. That tweak almost brought the first goal, when Thomson picked up a McKay pass, before swinging a ball into the six-yard-box, that three Raith players couldn’t quite get on the end of.
Thomson elected to go on his own a few moments later, when his fiercely hit shot deflected off MacDonald’s chest and clear.
Rovers then put together their best move of the match, and brought out MacDonald’s best save up to that point in the bargain. McKay, who had been at the hub of most of Raith’s better moments, fed it to Moon, whose first time reverse pass released Rory McKeown who was gallivanting down the wide-left position. Cutting inside, he decided to go himself, and almost squeezed his shot inside the near post, only to be denied by the ex-Hearts ‘keepers digits.
It was far from one-way traffic however. Owain Tudor Jones went close with a volley, while he brought out an excellent stop from Laidlaw, who managed to tip his goal bound header over the bar after the Welshman met it well from a corner.
Laurie Ellis almost managed to do something similar a few moments later, when he was awarded an incredible amount of space in a congested penalty box from a Conroy corner, but his downward header was just wide, although the defender on the post would surely have dealt with it if it was on target.
Thomson went close again, and was unlucky that his rasping drive ended up tipped over for a corner, rather than rising into MacDonald’s net.
Both teams changed things around in the latter stages. Botti Biabi came on for Blair Alston to provide some added potency to the Falkirk front line, while Mark Stewart replaced Nade for the home side. Stewart did attempt to fool MacDonald within moments of his arrival, but the technique of his early shot was haphazard, and his effort suffered the indignity of providing Falkirk with a throw-in.
The final change for Raith saw Lewis Vaughan replacing Kevin Moon, which meant Martin Scott moved central, as the game’s new addition moved up front. In truth however, the closing stages involved more perspiration than inspiration, with both teams probably happy with a point.
While Grant Murray would be frustrated at his side’s inability to eke out a goal, he’ll be able to take positives from a second consecutive clean sheet. With Hibernian up next at Easter Road, he’d be even happier if he could extend that sequence to three.
© Tony Fimister 2014
Davie spoke with the gaffer after the draw with Falkirk