Unbeaten run continues with late winner
Jason Thomson’s late winner sent Raith second in the Championship in a dramatic finish at Starks Park this afternoon. Raith’s fourth league win in a row was celebrated with rapturous scenes amongst the Kirkcaldy faithful, which followed a late Morton equaliser and a disallowed Raith goal in stoppage time.
Mark Stewart’s first-half opener was cancelled out by a thumping finish from Morton centre-half Thomas O’Ware, preceding a last ten minutes in which both sides had chances. While home fans will claim Raith edged and therefore deserved the three points, the match was a niggly disappointing affair for its first eighty minutes, with neither side showing enough quality to claim the victory. The tension and drama of the last ten minutes more than made up for the deficiencies of what had gone before.
Raith brought the first quarter of this season’s Championship campaign to a close with a familiar line-up. The back-four of McKeown, Toshney, Benedictus, and Thomson had been present for six of the first nine league games, and had also contributed five goals. Daly and Stewart were paired upfront, with Craigen and Anderson wide of Davidson and McCord.
Pre-match interest centred on the arrival of former Hibs midfielder Scott Robertson – having trained with Raith for several weeks, manager Ray McKinnon had no hesitation in putting the newcomer on the bench at the first opportunity – international clearance for the transfer was received earlier in the week.
Ray McKinnon’s tenure would celebrate a significant milestone with a home win – not since 1907 had a Raith manager won his first seven home games in charge. Raith’s defence were also looking at a potential record – prior to today, Raith were the only club in the UK not to have lost a competitive league goal at home.
Jim Duffy’s Morton had seen several changes since last season’s promotion, and had adjusted well to the higher level. New striker Denny Johnstone started upfront, looking to add to his three goals in his short loan spell to date. Wins away at Alloa and Queen of the South and a Cup win over Motherwell had bred justified confidence, but four League draws had left Morton in sixth place, perhaps lower than their fans may think some of the Cappielow side’s enterprising play deserved. Alex Samuel – scorer of two in the Cup win over Motherwell – started on the bench.
A great moment before kick-off – Raith Rover’s Teesside supporter’s club were given a signed club shirt by first team coach Lawrie Ellis. The Teesside branch has existed in some form since a 0-0 home draw with Clyde in 1979 – there was a disallowed goal that day too. On a picture-perfect blue-sky day, and on a day when Scottish rugby hopes centred on the north-east of England, would the legion of travelling Raith fans bring luck to the home side?
A shot for goal three seconds after kick-off from Stewart suggested the omens were favourable. Morton’s first foray into Raith territory saw Toshney beaten by through ball two minutes in, McDonald’s square ball was clipped over by Johnstone.
The first quarter was thoroughly disjointed, both sides’ defences over-hitting deep passes, and several players missing first touches. The quiet atmosphere was punctuated by manager McKinnon thumping the perspex dug-out in frustration.
Young McCluskey was first to individual to shine – he held off Thomson on halfway to feed Tidser, running powerfully demanding and getting a quality return. The winger’s cross flew dangerously through Raith airspace, dispatched for a corner. Moments later, Miller dragged a shot wide following neat passing between Pepper, McCluskey, and Barr. The trio would develop over the first half-hour, buzzing intently about the Raith defensive third. Without an end product, Raith’s goal didn’t look threatened, but there was no question the visitors were enjoying better quality possession, with their midfield finding space more easily than the home side’s central quartet.
Anderson swung in an inviting cross on fifteen minutes, the Raith winger’s first contribution of note. Kilday beat Stewart to the header.
McKinnon continued to gesture animatedly at his midfielders’ speed of distribution. Having missed a good Stewart surge once, McCord delayed and over-hit his next ball, leaving Stewart off-side. McKinnon stamped his feet in frustration.
Two chances mid-way through the half – for Morton, a fizzing freekick from McDonald smacked the hoardings behind Cuthbert’s goal; at the other end, a Daly flick from a Cuthbert clearance, sent Stewart running at O’Ware, the eventual shot blocked to safety.
Morton were enjoying the better possession but could create no clear-cut chances, showing greater vibrancy particularly down the right side, but not putting the home defence under genuine pressure. On twenty-eight minutes, McDonald nipped inside with his shot being blocked away; the ball was worked back inside well via Johnstone and Tidser, with McCluskey’s shot eventually deflected wide. McCluskey stretched Davidson moments later, covering fifty yards before his angled shot was gathered by Cuthbert.
Mark Stewart’s energy was the sole shining light for Raith in an otherwise strangely lethargic first half – the diminutive striker chased and harried, both through the middle and out wide. Unfortunately, for the Raith man, Daly was effectively shackled by O’Ware to starve Stewart of service, and Raith’s midfield were unable to harness their frontman’s willingness to run for spaces. On a rare chance to run at the Morton defence, Tidser was booked for a scything challenge.
It was forty minutes before a clear-cut Raith chance – Daly’s header blocked in the six-yard box, and Craigen’s follow-up well-saved at his near post by Gaston. Benedictus headed over from the resultant corner.
With two minutes to the break, arguably Raith’s first moments of quality produced their first goal. Toshney, long white sleeves flowing, strode out of defence, stroking a deft chip toward Daly; with Stewart and Craigen converging, Kilday blocked to safety. From McCord’s deep corner, Thomson climbed to nod back into mix. Stewart was the first to react, poking the ball beyond Gaston to open the scoring.
After a first-half with very little to report save for a slight rise in tempo as the half wore on, a Raith opener separated the sides at the break. Managers McKinnon and Duffy left the scene shaking their heads, both for very different reasons.
The second-half began slowly. Raith’s late goal had arguably saved the first team from a hair-drying blast in the dressing room, but still there was a lack of fluency around the home side’s play. The first moments of action were nearly ten minutes in – Toshney’s header was cleared off his own line by Pepper, and Craigen saw yellow for clipping the escaping Pepper. BENEDICTUS’s attempt from fully forty yards would be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
On sixty-two minutes, another chance for Stewart – as the ball bounced around the Morton box, a snapshot under real pressure from Kilday was sent skimming high over Gaston’s crossbar. STEWART’s reaction suggested he expected better.
Russell created a good opening with twenty minutes to go – beating Anderson and McCord, his square ball found Johnstone in space. Unfortunately for the Morton man, his shot lacked the power to beat Cuthbert. McCluskey cut inside with Morton’s next attack, clipping a rising shot across Cuthbert. With the Morton fans at the opposite end of the ground on their feet, the ball slipped agonisingly wide of Cuthbert’s far post.
Both sides made changes – Morton introduced Alex Samuel, scorer of two against Motherwell, who’s pace and directness gave Toshney and Benedictus another channel to defend; while McKinnon introduced both Megginson and Robertson – the former Hibs man particularly looked composed in midfield, offering a languid yet controlled figure, composed in both pass and move. Daly’s downward header bounced just the wrong side of Gaston’s post.
As the match moved into its last quarter, Morton’s greater urgency looked to cause Raith trouble. Toshney and Benedictus were frequently troubled by the direct running of Johnstone and substitutes Samuel and Scullion. Wide men Barr and Pepper both looked to stretch their opposite numbers at every opportunity as Raith defended more and more deeply.
A real let-off for Raith in the seventy-seventh minute – a driven Barr free-kick from wide was deflected right in front of Cuthbert; somehow Toshney extended a leg to block a certain goal, the deflection falling back into the grateful arms of the Raith keeper. The South Stand cheered as if a goal had been scored.
Morton continued to generate pressure, and got a deserved reward with ten minutes to go – O’Ware blasted home after a goal-mouth scramble following a corner. Raith’s home league clean sheet had gone, but more importantly, the introduction of three Morton substitutes had tilted the flow in the visitors’ favour. With ten minutes to go, Morton looked more likely. O’Ware climbed over Benedictus moments later but headed wide.
The last ten minutes saw plenty huff and puff, but little in the way of quality. There was plenty of bluster, with Daly and his opposing centre-halves Kilday and O’Ware clashing regularly under high crosses, but no clear-cut chances until deep into stoppage time. With the Morton box packed, an uncultured hoist saw a flick from Daly and a powerful header from Benedictus – clear and sharp with his whistle, referee Bobby Madden’s eyes picked an infringement, and the goal was disallowed.
Barely a minute later, with McKinnon waving his players forward, a real old rugby scrum of a goal sent the South Stand into delirium. A high ball fell in the six-yard box, Daly tussled with his man, and with bodies everywhere, Thomson and goalkeeper Gaston clashed with the ball ending up in the Morton net. Cue joyous scenes – McKinnon, already having been spoken to by referee Madden for outbursts from the touchline, leapt in celebration, with the Raith bench spilling on to the park. Jim Duffy looked on, disconsolate and disbelieving.
The win sent Raith fans home chanting and cheering, following arguably some of Raith’s least convincing Starks Park play of the season so far. With one round of fixtures past, Raith are best of the rest behind leaders Rangers. Six wins from nine, and the dramatic and tumultuous nature of this latest in a run of four consecutive victories, sends Raith into the autumn run of fixtures full of confidence.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2015
RaithTV spoke to an elated Ray McKinnon after the late win against Morton:
RaithTV spoke with target-man Jon Daly after the win against Morton:
Raith Rovers will complete the first quarter of their Championship campaign this Saturday, when they welcome Jim Duffy’s Greenock Morton side to Stark’s Park.
Both teams go into the match on the back of contrasting results from last weekend. Rovers ground out a 1-0 win over Dumbarton thanks to a goal from Lewis Toshney, while a day later, Morton lost by four goals to nil at home to Rangers. Despite that, Morton have started the season impressively, and currently sit sixth in the Championship, four points behind third place Raith, after just two league defeats, the other coming back in August to Hibernian.
Whilst Rovers now have the best home record in the division, with four wins from four, they’ll have to be wary of a Greenock team, who have the third best away record in the league, after wins over Livingston and Alloa, and a draw at Palmerston Park against Queen of the South. Only Rangers and Falkirk have picked up more points on their travels.
Most of Jim Duffy’s summer signings have made a real difference to the squad, with Lucas Gasparotto slotting in well at centre-half after arriving on-loan from Ibrox, while Bobby Barr has impressed on the left-wing, after leaving Ray McKinnon’s previous club, Brechin City.
Up-front, Denny Johnstone has scored three goals since signing a loan-deal which saw him leave Birmingham City temporarily, and another loan striker, Alex Samuel could be paired alongside him, after he was acquired from Swansea City.
Morton’s last win at Stark’s Park was a fourth round Scottish Cup tie in 2012, which finished 2-1, but overall, they’ve a poor recent record against the Kirkcaldy club. Their last league win at Stark’s Park was in 2010, and in the last 21 league meetings between the clubs, Morton have only won on four occasions.
The most recent head-to-head league fixtures between the two clubs, sees Raith with five wins, compared to Morton’s two.
Saturday’s match referee will be Bobby Madden.
Head-to-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 28 | Draws: 16 | Morton Wins: 15
Raith Rovers Goals: 98 | Morton Goals: 63
Raith Rovers: L-L-W-W-L-W | Morton: W-W-D-D-W-L
Raith Rovers: Kyle Benedictus 3, James Craigen 2, Mark Stewart 2, Lewis Vaughan 2
Morton: Denny Johnstone 3, Jon Scullion 3
Raith Rovers: 5/4 | Draw: 12/5 | Morton: 9/4