Raith Stay Top After Dominant Display
Raith Rovers made it two league wins out of two following a highly entertaining and absorbing 3-1 win against St Mirren at Stark’s Park this afternoon. It was, ultimately, ninety minutes that may possibly come to typify a season that will be fiercely competitive and demanding, in the sense that there will be little margin for error, and three points will only be banked courtesy of maximum application and a slice of luck here and there.
Rovers manager Gary Locke restricted himself to just one change to his starting line-up from last week’s win at Somerset Park, with Aaron Lennox donning the gloves between the posts at the expense of regular keeper Kevin Cuthbert.
The visitors, fresh from last week’s draw in the Renfrewshire derby with Morton, deployed Ryan Hardie up front, and the striker who made such a favourable impression for Rovers last season was quickly in the thick of the action, forcing a corner in the first minute.
Not that the game enjoyed a particularly frenetic start. In fact, the opening exchanges were relatively tepid, as the sides sized each other up without unduly troubling either defence. The aforementioned Hardie did find himself in space inside the Rovers penalty area after ten minutes, but Kyle Benedictus was alert to the danger and his sliding tackle snuffed out the chance with the minimum of fuss.
St Mirren’s Lewis Morgan then embarked on a run down the left flank that flummoxed Rovers captain Jason Thomson, and the winger’s inviting low cross fell invitingly for team mate Lewis Shankland, although the forward’s shot lacked conviction and was easily mopped up by Kevin McHattie.
Rovers responded quickly with an attack initiated by Jordan Thompson, whose surging run down the right flank found Declan McManus, though the forward narrowly failed to take advantage. McManus, however, would not suffer such misfortune for long.
In fact, from the resultant by-kick, the ball was gathered by the ever-alert Lewis Vaughan, who played a delightful, defence-splitting ball through to McManus. The striker, through on goal, held his nerve and lofted his shot over the advancing Jamie Langfield to put Rovers ahead with only quarter of an hour on the clock.
Vaughan was involved in most Rovers attacks and received some heavy marking from the visitors in return. The little striker was also given a stern lecture by referee Kevin Graham who clearly didn’t take too kindly to his protestations, even though the official was invited to take a close look at what was presumably a reddened calf muscle.
Around the half hour mark, Rovers were enjoying virtual domination of the game, displaying neat passing and creating chances, most of which fell for scorer McManus. Both McHattie and Vaughan presented the striker with chances to double the home side’s advantage in quick succession, before the visitors broke upfield and had strong penalty claims waved aside when Stephen Mallon crumpled to the turf following a scramble within the Rovers penalty area. Buddies captain Andy Webster, clearly aggrieved by this vented his spleen in the direction of the referee and received the game’s first caution for his trouble.
Shortly afterwards, Ross Callachan joined Webster in the referee’s book for a lunging tackle on Mallan, and the Rovers midfielder didn’t offer even cursory complaint at this as the stricken St Mirren player received treatment before hobbling vainly on.
St Mirren pushed forward seeking parity as the interval approached, and Jordan Thompson had to look lively to divert a goal-bound header from a corner off the line. However, Rovers then broke forward at speed, and Vaughan’s pass reached Callachan, whose lung-bursting run was almost rewarded with a goal when his pass was met by McManus, though the shot was smothered low to his right by Langfield.
The same player was presented with another opportunity to score barely a minute later following sterling work by Ross Matthews down the right wing, but once again the striker’s shot failed to trouble Langfield, who saved comfortably.
St Mirren started the second half with clear intent on pressing Rovers higher up the pitch, although the home side effectively put the game beyond them with two goals in as many minutes five minutes in. Firstly, Thompson’s surging run down the right wing and floated cross was met at the far post by Lewis Vaughan, whose knock down was turned into the empty net at close range by Ross Callachan. Then, with the celebrations still buzzing within the south stand, Rovers increased their lead to three goals. A long ball into the St Mirren half was inexplicably left by Webster for his goalkeeper, and McManus nipped in to flick the ball beyond the stranded keeper before rolling the ball into the empty net.
With almost forty minutes left, most observers would have been forgiven for thinking that St Mirren were staring an embarrassing score in the face, perhaps one akin to the seven-goal thrashing dished out by Jimmy Nicholl’s Rovers side against the Buddies back in 1993, the last time the Paisley club provided Rovers with their first opponents on home soil for a league campaign.
However, Rovers, perhaps content with their lead, sat back, and the visitors began to enjoy the lion’s share of possession. It must be recognised that, for the most part, this involved long balls into the penalty box that appeared to be more in hope than expectation, but with just over an hour played the tactic worked and St Mirren reduced the deficit. The Rovers defence failed to clear their lines, and Lawrence Shankland took full advantage, driving a shot into the far corner of the net.
St Mirren were galvanised by the goal, and continued to cause unrest among the Rovers faithful by enjoying significant territorial advantage as Rovers struggled to regain their earlier composure and rhythm.
Mallon was booked for a late challenge on McManus, before a poor headed clearance by Jason Thomson was almost punished by Tom Walsh, although the powerful shot sailed well wide of the target.
Although Rovers continued to look dangerous on the break, Gary Locke clearly felt the need to make changes, and Vaughan made way for Rudi Skacel. However, St Mirren continued to press forward, and loud penalty claims were once again waved aside when Benedictus appeared to handle a lofted cross deep inside the penalty area.
McManus, who had enjoyed an afternoon of chances aplenty, then made way for Mark Stewart, and Jordan Thompson was replaced by Scott Roberts as Rovers looked to see the match out. For all the flow of the game continued to head towards the Rovers goal, St Mirren’s deep crosses into the Rovers half increasingly wore the look of desperation and predictability, and in the end Rovers were able to run the clock down relatively comfortably.
Beyond the ninety minutes, Walsh managed to squeeze his name into the referee’s book for a brainless trip on Callachan, and that was that. For Rovers, they can look back on the first hour of this match with some pride, and as they sit atop the Championship table they can look forward to next weekend’s derby clash against Dunfermline Athletic with relish and no little confidence.
RaithTV spoke with the Gaffer after the 3-1 win against St Mirren
RaithTV spoke with Aaron after making his debut in the 3-1 win against St Mirren
Rovers make their home bow in the Championship this Saturday, when they welcome Alex Rae’s St. Mirren side to Stark’s Park.
Rovers will be hoping to reproduce the same kind of result as they achieved against the Paisley outfit last term, when they took 10 points from 12 from the four meetings, eventually finishing 20 points clear of the Buddies by the end of the campaign.
They’ll find it tough however, against a team who have not only kicked on after the appointment of Rae, but have strengthened significantly over the summer.
Goalkeeper, Scott Gallacher has been brought in after leaving Alloa Athletic, while the defence has been bolstered by the arrivals of Ben Gordon from Livingston as well as former Doncaster centre-half, Gary Mackenzie.
Kyle Hutton and Tom Walsh could both feature in the middle of the park after they were brought in from Queen of the South and Rangers respectively, but it’s up-front which has seen the most amount of new faces.
David Clarkson has been given a permanent contract after he impressed whilst on loan from Motherwell last season, while John Sutton has joined from St. Johnstone. Lawrence Shankland begins a second loan spell from Aberdeen, while Ryan Hardie, a well-known face to Raith fans after an impressive loan term last season, has signed a similar deal with the Buddies this time around.
Rae’s charges will be aiming for their first league win of the season, after they drew one each with Morton in the season-opening Renfrewshire derby, a result which retained St. Mirren’s 17-year unbeaten record in the derby fixture.
Thomas O’Ware put the Greenock side in-front, but a late John Sutton goal meant the match ended all-square.
Rovers on the other hand went top of the fledgling Championship table, after a reasonably straightforward 2-0 win at Ayr United. Ross Callachan opened the scoring in the first-half, while Ross Matthews ensured the points would return to Kirkcaldy with a goal deep into the second-period.
Raith’s unbeaten campaign against St. Mirren last time around, bolstered their recent record against them, with five wins and two draws from their last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Kevin Graham
Head-to-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 29 | St. Mirren Wins: 18 | Draws: 11
Raith Rovers Goals: 118 | St. Mirren Goals: 79
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-L-W
St. Mirren: W-W-L-W-D
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 2 | Kyle Benedictus 1 | Chris Johnston 1 | Ross Callacahan 1 | Ross Matthews 1
St. Mirren: Jack Baird 2 | David Clarkson 2
Raith Rovers: 5/6 | St. Mirren: 17/5 | Draw: 13/5