All square at Starks
Raith Rovers and Alloa Athletic shared the spoils in an uneventful 1-1 draw at a very windswept Stark’s Park this afternoon.
That the match failed to ignite for the most part would perhaps come as little surprise to the 1,500 hardy souls who witnessed it, and not just because of the difficult weather conditions. Neither Rovers nor the visitors have been Championship form sides of late, with Grant Murray’s men shipping goals at an alarming rate and the Wasps propping up the table.
Nevertheless, for Rovers in particular, the game afforded the opportunity to banish last week’s heavy defeat at Ibrox from the memory, and improve a home record which has to date fallen short of expectation. Wasps boss Barry Smith would have been equally keen to see his charges recover from a 3-2 loss to fellow early season strugglers Cowdenbeath last Saturday.
Rovers made three changes from last week’s dispiriting trip to Glasgow. David McGurn donned the gloves following a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to injury, Barrie McKay lined up at the expense of Ryan Conroy, and Ross Perry partnered Paul Watson in central defence. Christian Nade was once again ruled out due to injury.
Alloa’s top scorer, former Rovers striker Greig Spence, was also omitted due to injury.
Rovers, unusually shooting towards the home fans in the south stand for the opening period, started strongly, forcing two corner kicks within the opening minute. The ever-willing Mark Stewart then found himself in space inside the box following slack play by the visitors’ defence, though his low shot was confidently parried to safety by Alloa keeper Craig McDowall.
From the ensuing corner, Paul Watson’s header at the back post was met by the lurking Martin Scott, but the forward’s first time volley from eight yards sailed narrowly over the bar.
With ten minutes on the clock, former Rovers midfielder Stephen Simmons hobbled from the field having picked up an early knock, although Alloa quickly recovered from that setback to snatch the lead.
The Rovers defence, clearly nervous having shipped ten goals in their last two league matches, failed to clear their lines, and when the ball fell invitingly for Liam Buchanan, the forward, with all the time in the world six yards from goal, placed an unchallenged looping header beyond McGurn into the far corner of the net.
Those Rovers fans anticipating an immediate surge from their side in a bid to quickly restore parity would have been sorely disappointed as the home side toiled to gain a foothold in the match, with passes often going astray, and the Athletic defence coped easily with any attempted forays into their territory. The conditions were clearly a factor in preventing any semblance of flowing football from either side as the first half progressed, and some Rovers players in particular lost their footing on a greasy surface resulting from heavy rain over the previous 48 hours.
Jason Thomson required treatment for a knock as Rovers tried to push forward, and as restlessness became evident among the home fans, Rovers fashioned an equaliser ten minutes before the break.
Barrie McKay picked up the ball wide on the left wing, and his first time cross into the penalty area appeared to deceive the Alloa defence. Grant Anderson showed no such hesitation, however, as the in-rushing winger planted a crisp header beyond McDowall into the corner of the net from ten yards.
It was perhaps fitting that those two Rovers players should link up to provide the equaliser, as their frequent exchange of patrols on the flanks had, unlike most of Rovers’ play up to that point, given the Alloa defence something to concern themselves with.
McKay, buoyed by his assist with the Rovers goal, then tried his luck with an audacious attempt from fully thirty yards, but the winger’s accuracy deserted him and the shot flew well wide of the target.
The visitors then had a couple of attempts on goal before half time. Mark Docherty should have done better than send a header wide when unmarked with the goal at his mercy, before Daryll Meggatt’s long range free-kick was easily smothered by McGurn.
The Rovers goalkeeper had showed little sign of rustiness following his time on the side lines, and this was just as well for Rovers as the visitors started the send half on the front foot. McGurn produced a fine blocking save when Alloa players lined up to take advantage of poor defending, before the keeper showed his agility in turning a Graeme Holmes shot around the post as the small band of away fans housed in the main stand rose to celebrate what looked like a certain goal.
On 55 minutes, Alloa’s Kyle Benedictus earned the first caution of the game for a crude trip on Mark Stewart. The card matched the colour of the defender’s bright boots, although he would receive another of a different hue later in the match.
Darrell Meggatt then fizzed a shot narrowly over the bar, as Rovers continued to toil in their attempts to inject fluency and momentum into their play.
The second half then became bogged down in a midfield stalemate, with both keepers largely uninvolved for lengthy swathes of play. As the fans began to voice their frustration, Rovers boss Grant Murray replaced McKay with Ryan Conroy, although it was the visitors who almost snatched the lead when McGurn was again called into action with a diving save low to his right from Edward Ferns’ curling free kick.
Liam Fox’s name was then penned into the referee’s notebook for persistent fouling, before team mate Martin Scott joined him following a lunging tackle that appeared to be borne from frustration over Rovers’ inability to exert any meaningful control over the proceedings.
Scott himself was then the victim of the tackle by Benedictus that resulted in the Alloa player being invited to test the bath water early, before Murray chanced a final throw of the dice in his search of a winning goal, with goalscorer Anderson making way for young Lewis Vaughan. Shortly afterwards, Ross Callachan made an appearance at the expense of Kevin moon, but frustratingly for the Rovers fans, the alterations failed to make any impact on Rovers’ attempts to snatch the three points.
If truth be told, this was a poor match which will not be inked for long on the minds of those who witnessed it, and neither side realistically could lay claim to be deserving of a victory. However, the feeling persists that, for all the draw maintains a decent mid-table placing away from the sides at the wrong end of the table for Rovers, it was two points dropped.
The concession of soft goals was stemmed, although manager Murray will be concerned about the paucity of chances created over an uninspiring ninety minutes. In that regard, the blustery weather could only shoulder part of the blame.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014
Grant Murray spoke with Raith TV after the draw with Alloa