RUSSELL & REILLY PUNISH RAITH
Raith fell to a third defeat of the season to a vibrant Queen of the South side at Palmerston, after goals from Ian Russell and Gavin Reilly boosted the home side’s push toward a place in this season’s Championship play-offs. After Raith’s cup run came to an end in Inverness in mid-week, today’s defeat all but ends Raith’s participation in the promotion chase for this year.
Over the ninety minutes, Queens did more than enough to take all three points. While the Doonhamer’s flowing and driving play through the midfield was familiar given their two victories over Raith this season, Raith looked feisty and energetic in phases but seldom generated enough quality possession to put the home side under real pressure – maintaining the status quo with their mid-table League position.
After the long trip to Inverness mid-week, manager Grant Murray freshened the Raith side with three changes for the trip down down the M74 – Grant Anderson and Mark Stewart were relegated to the bench, while Barry Mackay dropped out altogether. Raith started with Jimmy Scott and Ryan Conroy wide of a central midfield comprising Ross Callachan and Liam Fox; Lewis Vaughan started alongside Christian Nadé upfront. Raith’s top scorer Ryan Conroy would have relished a return to his former team, whilst another former Queens’ man Craig Barr started for the second week in a row, following his long injury lay-off.
One major success of Raith’s 2015 has been the increasingly assured performances of Ross Callahan. Co-inciding with Maurice Malpas’ appointment as Director of Football, Callachan has bagged his first two goals and notched some of his most impressive performances since the turn of the year. Callachan started again today, in a match key to Raith’s hopes of playing a role in the race for this year’s Championship.
With their own promotion hopes having grown in recent weeks, Queens started today’s fixture with real confidence. An excellent point at Ibrox in mid-week followed an impressive run where only Hearts and Hibs had taken three points from the Doonhamers since mid-December. Stephen McKenna started, with Chris Higgins dropping out, in one change from Tuesday night’s starting eleven. Wednesday’s goal-scorer, teenager Aidan Smith, retained his place on the bench. With Cowdenbeath and a return trip to Starks Park coming up before three games against the Championship’s top three, Queens were looking to put ground between themselves and Falkirk in fourth place in the table.
Raith started the match brightly. Scott snapped into tackles, and had an early effort deflected away from Queens’ keeper Zander Clark’s far-post. Raith’s early game plan looked to take advantage of the fast pace of the artificial surface – in a complete change from the heavy pitches both home and away from Starks Park in recent weeks, the Palmerston pitch allows the ball to zip across it. Raith passed wide and early, letting the ball cover wide areas of the astroturf pitch. Conroy and McKeown exchanged well on the left, with Thomson and Scott working together on the right. In the centre, Callachan won his first duel with his opposite number, the experienced Mark Millar.
Having started slowly, Queens worked their way into the match. Queens are a team easy on the eye – front-men Russell, Paton, and Reilly interchange well and create space with sharp passing and moving. With seven minutes gone, Millar shot from 25 yards after Russell played in Paton. McGurn saved well at a stretch, tipping the goal-bound shot beyond his right-hand post.
With Queens beginning to control possession, they went in front; disappointingly for Raith fans who had returned empty-handed from Inverness in mid-week, the goal was another soft one conceded from a corner. With Barr and Watson marking centrally, the Queens’ corner was flighted to the back post where Russell won his battle with McKeown to fire home, celebrating his twelfth goal of a productive season.
Within minutes, Queens almost doubled their advantage – McKenna found space on the edge of the box, and stroked an educated drive with the outside of his right foot just wide. Moments later, Paton released Carmichael who in turn found Lewis Kidd in an advanced position. The Queens full-back, quick to burst forward, fed Millar who shot from distance, again McGurn scrambling as shot went just wide. The next Queens’ raid saw the Raith midfield allow Paton to run, his shot from distance flying over.
Having taken the lead, Queens’ new-found confidence was epitomised by Russell, taking a pass first time and catching McGurn off his line from forty yards; with the crowd holding its collective breath, the ball fell onto the roof of the net.
Raith’s first chance came in seventeen minutes. Thomson escaped beyond Holt, and crossed allowing Vaughan to take a touch and shoot. Clark saved well with his knees; Conroy’s follow-up was cleared away.
At the other end, a strong Dowie header flashed wide, with Scott sprawling on the turf having lost his man as the cross came in. While Raith defenders pleaded with referee Kevin Graham suggesting a push, Dowie’s challenge suggested greater desire on the part of the home side.
Against the run of play, Raith equalised. With the ball bouncing in the Queens’ area, a thumped clearance caught Nadé square in the chest. The big forward reacted quickest, teeing up Vaughan who propelled his first-time shot high and wide of Clark, the shot nestling in the top corner.
Raith’s best spell followed thereafter. After a flowing move resulted in a corner, Conroy’s cross allowed Nadé to send a header just over. Nadé and Vaughan combined, with the young striker’s shot deflected narrowly wide. Having gone behind early and struggled following the Queens opener, Raith had established a more stable pattern to their play, gain parity in the midfield and creating chances. Although Queens showed more control in possession, Raith had regained their footing when the match had threatened to slip away from them.
One of the first half’s main features was the physical clash between former colleagues Craig Barr and Iain Russell. The Queens’ forward, never slow to grab a jersey or use his arms to lever defenders, was enjoying grappling with Barr at set-pieces and in open play. Although Russell had nicked the first goal, the athletic Raith defender matched Russell in close contact.
The home side regained control over the midfield as the match moved toward half-time. Paton caused problems for Watson, McKeown clearing when Paton looked to shoot. In thirty-five minutes, Millar crossed well beyond Paton when released by Russell, the sighs from the Palmerston faithful confirming the wasted opportunity. With Nadé carelessly losing possession near his own box, top-scorer Gavin Reilly fired just wide.
It was no surprise when Queens re-took the lead. Scott lost possession in midfield, Russell worked ball wide, and full-back Holt advanced down the left-flank. With defenders flying in to block the shooting opportunity, Holt’s cross-shot was blocked by Watson, up over McGurn; Reilly had space at the back post to thump home.
With the half-time break giving Raith a chance to re-group and giving Queens a breather after finishing the first half on top, the home side were quickest to settle after the resumption. A Paton cross gave Watson problems, Russell battled, and eventually Barr was able to clear. Moments later, Carmichael buccaneered down the right-flank, turned on a six-pence to befuddle McKeown, with his cross falling just behind the onrushing Paton.
Raith had a real let-off ten minutes into the second-half – Fox lost possession in midfield, and in a flash, Reilly was racing in on McGurn. With Watson and Barr trailing in his wake, the Queens’ forward delayed his shot, allowing McGurn to block with his knees, saving Raith from two behind.
As the second-half progressed, the game developed some real bite as a contest. Scott and Russell tangled at a throw-in, Callachan and Millar snarled around the midfield, and Nadé dropped deeper to pick up possession, drawing the physical battle towards him with relish.
Jimmy Scott had two chances within a minute to create real opportunities in the final third – firstly released by a Nadé flick, his shot was blocked for a corner; secondly, after Nadé impressively turned Holt, Scott was unable to find a colleague with his centre from a good position.
The spell was Scott’s last useful contribution to the match – spoken to by referee Graham early in the match, he was booked for any one of a number of fouls across the midfield. Following a lunge at Millar which had the home support howling for a second yellow, Scott again unwisely became involved with Russell. Heeding the clear warning signs, Murray withdrew the combative midfielder for Grant Anderson, ensuring Raith kept a full compliment.
Queens were beginning to chase and harry the Raith rearguard with real purpose. Russell was allowed a header with Thomson doing well to block, Holt bawled at the referee having been denied a clear header from a corner, and Reilly had another chance blocked away. The high press of Queens’ front five was impressive – Fox and Callachan struggled to get time on the ball, with McKeown and Thomson frequently hurried into high clearances to Nadé and Vaughan rather than playing through the midfield.
There was a moment of worry with twenty minutes to go – Queens’ full-back Holt was played in by Russell on left touchline, and jinked beyond Thomson and Grant Anderson. In the act of crossing and under pressure from the retreating Thomson, Holt clattered the metal advertising hoardings on the touchline with a real crunch. The full-back took two minutes to re-take his place, retaking the field with heavy strapping to his wrist. The incident thankfully seemed less serious than it initially appeared.
Referee Graham was again called into action with quarter of an hour remaining – Nadé dropped into midfield and clattered into Russell. Nadé unwisely followed through, but Russell’s over-reaction was a clear effort to have the Raith forward booked or worse. Holding his face as if struck, Russell’s reaction excited players from both sides to join a fracas. Referee Graham took no further action in relation to both the foul and the subsequent simulation.
Raith’s final chance to steal an equaliser came from an unlikely source – under no pressure, goalkeeper Clark got his angles wrong with a passed clearance, with Nadé a toe’s width away from intercepting and running in on goal. The crowd’s and Nadé’s reaction demonstrated how close Clark had come to gifting Raith an equaliser.
In the closing minutes, the home side cheered the introduction of their Ibrox goal-scorer from mid-week Aidan Smith. Shortly after coming on, Mark Millar punted long, allowing Smith the chance to test his legs with Raith skipper Thomson in full retreat – Dave McGurn raced from his box to hoof clear.
Queens deserved the three points in a match in which several Raith individuals were prominent and positive, but as a collective the visitors were second best. With Raith now in no danger at either end of the table, the challenge for the Raith management team will be to keep their players’ focus to the end of the season. What better opportunity for the Raith players to set the tone for the season’s final stretch with the first of four home fixtures in succession – the visit of the runaway Championship leaders Hearts to Starks Park on Tuesday night.
Match highlights generously filmed and edited by Malcolm Johnson at QoSTV
©Eddie Doig 2015
After a long journey north to face Inverness Caledonian Thistle in midweek, Raith Rovers head south on Saturday, to face a Queen of the South side who picked up a valuable point at Ibrox on Tuesday evening. The 1-1 draw, which arrived courtesy of a first career goal for Aidan Smith, means that the Doonhamers remain in the play-off spots, one point ahead of Falkirk, and eight clear of Raith, who have played a game less.
This weekend’s fixture will be the third time these two sides have met this season, and Raith Rovers have yet to muster up a point against their Dumfries opponents this term. The first meeting was in October, when a frantic finish saw Queens edge Rovers out by the odd goal in seven, thanks to a last minute goal from Iain Russell. John Baird and Gavin Reilly had given the away side a two goal lead, although that was pegged back in the second half, after goals from Mark Stewart and Christian Nadé restored parity. Derek Lyle then put James Fowler’s men back into the lead, but Stewart appeared to have rescued a point, only for Russell’s last gasp strike to snatch all three for the visitors.
The return match at Palmerston was a more prosaic affair, with goals from Baird and Reilly settling a straightforward 2-0 win for Queen of the South.
Despite the two consecutive wins for Queens, the two sides can’t be separated in the recent head-to-head record, with five wins apiece from the last ten meetings. Generally speaking, there’s rarely a drawn match between these two teams, with the last 14 encounters having a winner one way or another. The last meeting to finish all-square was a 0-0 draw at Stark’s Park, back in April 2010.
A win for the home side on Saturday would ensure that Queen of the South remain in the play-off spots, whilst a win for Grant Murray’s side, would move them to within five points of the Doonhamers, with a game in hand.
Saturday’s match referee will be Kevin Graham.
Head-to-Head League Record at Palmerston Park:
Queen of the South wins: 17 | Raith Rovers wins: 15 | Draws: 15
Queen of the South goals: 74 | Raith Rovers goals: 65
Queen of the South: W-W-L-D-L-D
Raith Rovers: D-W-D-L-W-L
Biggest Home Win:
31/10/1953 Division One Queen of the South 5 Raith Rovers 1
24/11/1962 Division One Queen of the South 5 Raith Rovers 1
Biggest Away Win:
06/10/1956 Division One Queen of the South 1 Raith Rovers 5
05/12/1987 Division One Queen of the South 1 Raith Rovers 5
Top Goalscorers in All Competitions:
Queen of the South: Derek Lyle 15 | Gavin Reilly 13 | Iain Russell 11
Raith Rovers: Ryan Conroy 9 | Christian Nadé 7 | Mark Stewart 4
Queen of the South: 4/6 | Raith Rovers: 4/1 | Draw: 3/1