Callachan strike earns thrilling point
An injury-time leveller from Ross Callachan earned Raith a point and extended the home side’s unbeaten run to seven games. Callachan’s late strike sent Starks Park into raptures, and keeps Raith on the fringes of the hunt for a play-off place in this season’s Scottish Championship.
Falkirk led for long spells in a stop-start match in which Raith struggled to assert any authority over midfield areas. Behind to John Baird’s first-half penalty, and again to defender McCracken’s header following Raith’s second-half equaliser, manager Murray will have been delighted at the determination and spirit shown by his players right to the very end – Raith’s second goal came five minutes into stoppage time.
Raith were full of confidence after a run of four wins in six, culminating in last week’s televised Cup win at Ibrox. While last week’s result understandably gained the attention of the national media, as pleasing if not more so for manager Grant Murray would have been the manner of the performance – for arguably the first time this season, Raith had played its own controlled passing game against one of the Championship heavyweights. Strong in the centre and with pace and precision on the flanks, Raith had given their best in a high profile fixture and deservedly taken the plaudits with a fine win. The only change today was enforced – Dale Carrick ruled out with Mark Stewart starting upfront alongside Christian Nadé.
The visitors Falkirk – the only team to have taken three points this season from league leaders Hearts – had their eyes on Queen of the South in fourth place, and a lucrative play-off spot at the season’s end. On a similarly good run to their hosts – Falkirk’s last defeat came at the hands of Raith at the Falkirk Stadium before New Year – the visitors’ only two changes arguably strengthened their side from the 2-1 Cup win over Brechin. Both Mark Kerr and Raith favourite John Baird, cup-tied last week, were restored to the starting XI.
No doubt with a view to increasing the Raith support in years to come the Raith Board of Directors are to be applauded for today’s “Bring the Bairns” initiative, with free attendance for children. The larger and more youthful crowd brought a more voluble atmosphere to Starks Park today – long may that continue. As if to welcome new young supporters, the match started in bright sunshine.
Last week’s match-winner Christian Nadé began as the focal point. An early flick ahead of Falkirk stopper Grant released Stewart through on goal, and Nadé’s bustling presence caused early problems for the Falkirk defence.
For Falkirk, two smart transfers this season have arguably installed the Bairns as favourites for fourth spot in this season’s Championship. Former Queen of the South pair John Baird and Mark Kerr have bolstered what was already a strong side – Baird is one of the League’s top strikers, and Kerr has Premier League quality and experience. Both players shown brightly in the opening exchanges.
The match’s few opening chances were shared equally – a Conroy shot was blocked by Grant following neat work from Stewart, while Loy’s curling effort was deflected wide by Watson. A low cross from Stewart was hooked clear by Leahy retreating toward his own goal, and after quarter of an hour, the Raith striker raced free of Grant in the inside right channel to fire at the legs of Falkirk keeper Macdonald.
While in some areas these two teams were well-matched, the sides’ two focal points provided a real contrast. While Nadé thrives in the physical contest, holding defenders with his muscular presence and providing a platform for advancing midfielders, Baird’s elusive running creates space between defenders. Falkirk’s attacks had a greater pace to them as a result – Raith’s defence constantly had numerous forward runners to contend with, while Nadé and Stewart frequently had to wait for support to arrive, allowing the visiting defence to regroup.
Mid-way through the first half, Falkirk took the lead from the penalty spot. A long cross-field ball hung above Thomson deep in the captain’s right-back area – Leahy climbed highest to knock the ball back into the danger area. Raith’s defence hesitated momentarily, allowing Loy to nip in front of Moon and go down under the resultant challenge. Referee Cook rightly judged that Loy reached the ball first, and gave the spot-kick. Baird blasted home to McGurn’s right.
Following the penalty, the visitors had a clear fifteen minutes of real pressure on the Raith goal. Almost straight from Raith’s restart, Loy tested McGurn from distance. Baird twisted and turned, shooting high to McGurn’s left hand; the Raith keeper’s reflexes put to the test to deny the Falkirk striker his second. From the following corner, Vaulks’ downward header was clawed away as McGurn was again tested to the limit.
Vaulks was unable to hit the target with a free-kick moments later as the Raith defence creaked again – Hill clattered Loy as the pacy Falkirk front-man looked to shoot. Tempers flared again soon after, as Watson and Loy clashed near the corner flag, referee Cook adjudicating against the Raith defender.
As the half-hour passed, Falkirk continued to create openings. A Loy shot was blocked by Watson – the Falkirk striker’s reaction suggested his shot was true; and following a sweeping cross-field pass, right-back Duffie ran at McKeown and had his jersey tugged. Referee Cook waved away the Falkirk defender’s protests, much to the relief of his opposite number.
As referee Cook blew the half-time whistle, Raith headed to the dressing room to reflect on a half in which Falkirk had edged the share of possession, and created the better chances – Loy Baird and Sibbald had all combined well to create a good number of chances for the away side, with Raith not matching their visitors with any sustained spells of pressure. Falkirk were worthy of their advantage at the break.
McGurn again denied Loy in the opening moments of the second half – an astute Kerr pass found a gap between Watson and Hill, McGurn’s save low to his left denied a Falkirk second.
Despite the slow start to the second half, the home midfield began to string several passes together as the match reached the hour mark. Mark Stewart ran willingly into corners to allow Callachan and Moon to gain ground, and Nadé – booked along with Grant for a petty argument earlier in half – began to impose himself.
Raith’s equaliser when it came was a flash of inspiration from young Ross Callachan, and arguably represented the match’s one moment of genuine quality – picking the ball up from deep in his own half, he set off down the left flank, exchanging one-twos with first Stewart and then Nadé. Finding himself beyond Duffie on the left-wing, his early centre found Anderson with time to shoot. Although Anderson’s shot was scuffed, Macdonald and Vaulks conspired to send the ball goalwards, with Nadé on hand to make sure. Although the finish was untidy – the goal was credited to the unfortunate Vaulks – the credit belonged to Callachan.
Raith piled forward – the goal had a galvanising effect on the home side, and for the first time in the match, Falkirk looked under real pressure. Nadé drifted wide, cut inside Duffie, and freed Conroy for a clear shot on goal. The winger’s half-hit finish let Falkirk off the hook.
With Raith in the ascendancy for the first time, a simple goal on seventy minutes undid the hard work. Taiwo’s corner gave centre-half McCracken the invitation to leap and nod powerfully back across McGurn. Falkirk were back in front, and any wind in the Raith sails had been lost.
A goal to the good, Falkirk were able to control play as the match moved toward full-time. Raith’s sense of urgency increased – Barrie McKay replaced Conroy and the yellow-carded Moon was pulled for the granite foundations of Liam Fox, to spring greater numbers forward. A deft dipping volley from Fox nearly crept under Macdonald’s cross-bar in the closing minutes.
Falkirk also made changes, introducing the significant presence of Taylor Morgan for Loy, and the wiry former Scotland under-21 international David Smith. Both looked capable of scoring a third, as Falkirk retained possession despite Raith’s vigour in the closing stages. Vaulks hit a real thunderbolt from distance which flew narrowly past, and Morgan just failed to reach a Smith cut-back.
Earlier in the season, Raith may have faded; today’s team, bolstered by a winning run and late goals in recent games, kept passing and moving as Falkirk fans whistled for the game to end. The crowd of more than 2,000 waved the team forward, desperate for a last heave into the Falkirk area. As the media were writing their headlines in the Main Stand, Raith continued to build patiently. Fox shifted the play from right to left, drawing Anderson in to give Thomson the chance to free Stewart down the inside right channel – with a final burst of pace, the striker crossed into the danger area. The cross was a nightmare for the Falkirk centre-halves, right between them and their advancing keeper Macdonald – with Nadé scrummaging, the ball broke to Callachan who coolly slotted home Raith’s equaliser.
The goal prompted wild celebrations in the South Stand – the noisiest Starks Park roar of the season to date. After being second best for long spells, and having conceded the lion’s share of possession for much of the ninety minutes, Raith had snatched a point – for the second league fixture in a row, a draw felt like a victory.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014
Davie & Grant Murray caught up in the boot room after the match
Ross Callachan broke his scoring duck and chatted with Davie after the match
Raith Rovers face up to Falkirk this weekend, looking to close the gap between themselves and the promotion play-off contenders.
Peter Houston’s men have yet to score against Raith Rovers this season, with the first meeting in September ending in a 0-0 draw, while December’s match at the Falkirk Stadium saw Rovers leave with all three points, after Ryan Conroy’s late goal earned Raith a 1-0 victory. That win was the start of Raith’s current excellent run, which now sees them unbeaten in six matches, after last weekend’s exceptional performance and victory at Ibrox, where goals from Conroy and Christian Nadé, saw Raith through to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.
Falkirk are in a rich vein of form themselves however, with the loss to Raith in December, their only defeat in 10 league matches. That sequence has seen them close the gap on fourth place Queen of the South, with the Bairns now just one point off the Doonhamers. Whilst an away win on Saturday could see Falkirk move back into the top-four, a win for Grant Murray’s team would see them move just three points behind their visitors, with a game in hand.
With four points from six games, Raith’s record over Falkirk this campaign is a far cry from last season, where they failed to beat the Bairns for the first time since the 2004/05 season.
The recent head-to-head record in the league is all square, with three wins apiece and four draws from the last ten meetings. Historically however, Rovers don’t seem to love playing on Valentines Day, with just three wins from eleven fixtures played on that date. The last Valentines victory was in 1987, when an away win at Alloa Athletic, kept Frank Connor’s side top of the Second Division.
Saturday’s match referee will be Barry Cook.
Head-to-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 29 | Falkirk Wins: 26 | Draws: 18
Raith Rovers Goals: 110 | Falkirk Goals: 102
Raith Rovers: W-W-W-D-D-W
Biggest Home Win: 23/02/2002 Division One Raith Rovers 5 Falkirk 1
Biggest Away Win: 26/08/1916 Division One Raith Rovers 0 Falkirk 6
Top Goalscorers in All Competitions:
Raith Rovers: Ryan Conroy 8 | Christian Nadé 7 | Mark Stewart 4
Falkirk: Rory Loy 11 | Blair Alston 6 | Craig Sibbald 5
Raith Rovers: 11/5 | Falkirk: 23/20 | Draw: 27/10