LATE DRAMA AS RUN CONTINUES
The phrase, “You couldn’t write this script” is a bit misleading when it’s applied to football matches by commentators. After all, if Hollywood can churn out movies about time-travel and alien robots which transform into trucks, it’s safe to assume they could rustle up a screenplay about a last-minute goal in a game of football. That said, if anyone attempted to sell the plot of Raith Rovers 3-3 draw with Rangers to 20th Century Fox, they’d probably be shooed out the door for providing an ending that was just too ludicrous.
With injury-time been and gone and Rangers leading by a precious goal, their fans were poised to celebrate the Championship title. Not only that, they were still jumping up and down due to Wes Foderingham’s save from Harry Panayiotou’s last-minute penalty, a moment which had apparently sunk Raith’s attempts to take anything from the game.
Instead, in the game’s dying embers, a cross into Rangers couldn’t-be-more-congested penalty area, was prodded over the line by Panayiotou, who had swerved from crestfallen to cock-a-hoop, in just a few moments. Cue pandemonious delirium in the home stand, and a postponement of the title-party amongst the away ranks.
While the final piece of play in a ding-dong thriller had denied Rangers, of far greater importance to Raith, was the fact it edged them ever closer to mathematically confirming their place in the play-offs, with 14 points now separating themselves and Queen of the South, with the Doonhamers still having 15 points to play for. Stranger things have happened of course, but even the gloomiest of pessimists must be sorely tempted to count some chickens.
The early stages of the match had very few hints of the barnstorming climax which was to follow.
Rangers fans had been afforded the Turnbull Hutton stand for the match, and they were creating a raucous atmosphere as kick-off approached, knowing three points from this one could, depending on Hibernian’s progress, or lack of, against St. Mirren, seal them the title.
Roared on by the big travelling support, Rangers started the game the stronger, but it wasn’t all one-way traffic. Ross Callachan in particular appeared to be enjoying himself, popping up in so many places that you started to wonder if there was more than one of him.
Not only was he helping to shield his defence, he was also the prompter of Raith’s early attacks, although his shot from the edge of the area after five minutes, didn’t trouble Foderingham.
After that however, the game settled into something of a pattern, with Rangers dictating both possession and tempo, and while Raith were coping admirably, it appeared at that stage that it could be a long afternoon for the home side, unless they could figure a way to create some outlets for respite.
Rangers dominance was controlled rather than incessant, and while they were comfortable at playing keep-ball, they were struggling to prise apart an organised looking Rovers team.
Despite that though, it was Raith who took the lead in the 24th minute, with an excellent strike. There seemed little danger as Lee Wallace went to control a long ball forward, but the ball dribbled off his toe and onto the ash surround, gifting Rovers a throw-in in an advanced area. There didn’t appear to be too much danger either from Louis Longridge picking up the ball 25-yards from goal, certainly Foderingham didn’t think so, but unfortunately for the Rangers goalkeeper, Longridge’s smashing first-time drive looped over the custodian’s head and nestled into the net to put Raith in-front.
It was a magnificent bolt from the blue, and it appeared to rattle the visitors who almost went two behind, when Foderingham was forced to tip wide a Thomas drive.
The game was now open, and Cuthbert made his first real save of the afternoon, excellently blocking Harry Forrester’s header from close range. However, the Rangers midfielder wouldn’t be denied for long, and from the resulting corner kick, slack marking saw him nod past Cuthbert and in off the inside of the post, levelling up the scores on the half-hour mark.
It got worse for the home side five minutes later, when Rangers moved ahead with a superbly crafted goal, finished off by O’Halloran. Forrester was the architect this time, beating one challenge down the left-hand side before his low cross was gleefully tapped home by the former St. Johnstone man.
However, as news came through of St. Mirren scoring an equaliser and the Rangers fans starting to limber up for a day of celebration, a somewhat mad-cap first-half took a further twist just two minutes later.
A long free-kick was headed down by Davidson to James Craigen, who struck the ball past Foderingam from the edge of the area, levelling what had suddenly become a thrilling contest. While Craigen caught the ball well, the ‘keeper would have been more than a little disappointed that he failed to keep it out.
Unfortunately for the home side however, they got off to the worst possible start in the second period. They were on the back-foot right from the whistle, with Cuthbert having to look lively to stop O’Halloran’s near-post attempt.
It was a precursor of what was coming though, as Rangers took the lead again in the 49th minute. Halliday was the architect on this occasion, threading the ball through a flurry of bodies to Kenny Miller, who made no mistake as he rifled it high into the net.
With the atmosphere ramped up again, Raith went in search of an equaliser, and while they were making some inroads, their endeavours were mainly ending in some half-hearted penalty appeals.
They did have a snap-chance with just over half-an-hour remaining. Callachan was again at the hub of it, pressurising the Rangers defence into turning over possession, before teeing up Thomas how thumped a shot over.
Ray McKinnon then made his first change, with Longridge going off to be replaced by Harry Panayiotou, as Rovers went with a more attack-minded formation for the final third of the match.
Despite the change, it was Rangers who fashioned the next chance, Jason Holt scampering through with the chance to double Rangers lead, but he blazed it over the bar.
Panayiotou and Thomas hadn’t cobbled together too many moves in their limited time up-top together, but they did fashion a fine chance with 20 minutes remaining. Panayiotou fed it to Thomas, and the latter swept the ball first-time into the path of Lewis Toshney, but he didn’t quite have the pace to hold off Halliday, who did enough to nudge it back to his goalkeeper.
Moments later, McKinnon made two swaps, with Thomas and Craigen making way for Grant Anderson and Aidan Connolly.
Connolly’s trickery and Anderson’s pace were proving to be a nuisance to Rangers, but other than a half-volley from Callachan and a shot from Panayiotou which the forward failed to catch properly, Rovers were struggling to exert too much pressure.
Then, with seconds remaining, came Panayiotou’s surging run into the box, which was only stopped by Rob Kiernan catching his heel. Foderingham’s penalty stop from the Leicester loanee should really have been that, but instead, it was just the beginning of an outrageous climax to a wonderful game.
Perhaps the players and management team won’t be thinking about it quite yet, but their thoughts will quickly turn to next Saturday, where the right result in Dumfries against Queen of the South, would book the team’s spot in the playoffs. If they do so, whoever their opponent, or opponents are, will have their hands full.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2016.
RaithTV spoke to an elated Ray McKinnon after the 3-3 draw with Rangers
RaithTV caught up with a delighted Harry after grabbing his first goal for the club
After two successive wins on their travels, Raith Rovers return to Stark’s Park this Saturday, looking to extend their unbeaten run which currently stands at six matches, while in the process, take points off the only Championship club whom they’ve failed to do so this season.
Champions elect Rangers are the visitors this Saturday, and if Raith are to keep their good form going, it’ll be the first time they’ve avoided defeat to the Ibrox side in a league game since November 1996.
Kevin Twaddle and Scott Thomson were the Rovers goalscorers on that occasion, but while it was a fine result, it was one of just a handful in that campaign, as Raith finished bottom of the Premier League with just 25 points, 55 behind the champions Rangers.
It’s been a radically different campaign from Raith this time around, but while they pushed Rangers close the last time they visited Stark’s Park in February, they’ve yet to score a goal against Mark Warburton’s side this season.
The first meeting in August was the most one-sided of the three head-to-heads so far, with Rangers cantering to victory in a 5-0 win. The aforementioned return fixture ended up with a 1-0 away win for the ‘Gers, despite a spirited second-half performance from the home side, while the final Ibrox meeting between the two teams ended up as a reasonably comfortable 2-0 win for home side.
That evening at Ibrox was the last time Raith tasted defeat, and with five wins and a draw since, Rovers are the form team in the division, picking up more points in the last six games than anyone else. The sequence of 16 points in just six games, makes it Raith’s most productive run in a single season since they won eight consecutive games on the way to winning the Second Division title in the 2008-09 campaign.
Both these sides know that a win on Saturday, coupled with results elsewhere, would see cause for celebration. For Rangers, three points at Stark’s Park would see them champions, if Hibernian drop points at Paisley against St. Mirren, while Rovers place in the playoffs would be confirmed if they win, and Queen of the South fail to do the same against Falkirk.
Saturday’s match referee will be Euan Anderson.
Head-to-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 8 | Rangers Wins: 28 | Draws: 7
Raith Rovers Goals: 49 | Rangers Goals: 93
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-W-W-W
Raith Rovers: Mark Stewart 11 | James Craigen 7 | Kyle Benedictus 4 | Ryan Hardie 4
Rangers: Martyn Waghorn 28 | Kenny Miller 12 | James Tavernier 8 | Jason Holt 8
Raith Rovers: 15/2 | Rangers: 4/11 | Draw: 4/1