United Ease To Victory
Raith Rovers moved down to eighth in the Championship table, after a chastening 3-0 loss to Dundee United at Tannadice.
Manager, Gary Locke made two changes from last weekend’s dispiriting 3-1 home defeat to Dumbarton. Declan McManus returned to the fold at the expense of Ryan Hardie who dropped to the bench, whilst Chris Johnston also missed out, with Iain Davidson returning from injury.
This meant a rejig in the midfield, with Davidson tasked with protecting the back four from midfield, with Ross Matthews moving over to the right-hand side in the absence of Johnston.
Neither team went into this one in great form, although there were encouraging early signs for Raith, with captain, Jason Thomson striding forward in the third minute and swinging a good ball into the box, a cross which the United defence struggled to get clear.
United may have had the opportunity to close the gap to league leaders Hibs, after Neil Lennon’s men drew at home with Ayr United, but it was a fairly low-key start to the match, in which Rovers were making reasonable headway against their hosts, albeit they only had a tame Jean Yves M’Voto header from a Bobby Barr corner kick to show for their efforts.
The game had started off in a scrappy fashion, with the ball being sent forward as quickly as possible from both sides, but generally it was overhit, leading to most of the forward passes becoming food and drink for both back-fours, goalkeepers and in the more wayward of passes, ball-boys.
It took until the 17th minute for the first real drive at goal, but even then, Simon Murray somehow managed to strike the backside of his his teammate, Thomas Mikkelsen, after pouncing on some hesitation from M’Voto.
There was a slightly concerning sight a minute later, when Kevin Cuthbert had to receive lengthy treatment, but with Conor Brennan stripped on the sidelines and ready for action, the Raith number one decided he was fine to continue.
Ray McKinnon’s men were starting to grow into the game now, and a fine cross from the left by Blair Spittal picked out Murray, but his first touch was extremely heavy, and he was dispossessed just outside the six-yard-box by Bobby Barr.
A clearly toiling Cuthbert decided enough was enough just before the half-hour mark, and was replaced by Brennan. If United’s intention was to trouble the new arrival right from the get-go, then they failed to really do so, in an error strewn half punctuated by frequent breaks.
The home fans were starting voice their displeasure, and their volume increased in the 40th minute, when a cross by Kevin McHattie was nodded back by Kyle Benedictus, and McManus’ header landed on the roof of the net.
With the interval just moments away, it appeared Rovers were going to take a creditable scoreline and performance into the break, but instead, slackness at the back saw them concede in the final minute of the half.
A free-kick was needlessly conceded just outside the edge of the area, and from Scott Fraser’s 25-yard effort, Brennan could only palm it away as far as Paul Dixon who had popped up on the left bye-line. His cross back into the area was aimed towards the front post, and Mikkelsen, who was completely unmarked, got to the ball before the Raith ‘keeper and nodded it into the net.
Things didn’t improve in the early stages of the second period, as United doubled their lead just two minutes after the restart.
Dixon was the architect, bombing down the left and sending a cross into the area which no-one in blue was able to clear. Tony Andreu was given far too much room inside the area, and despite the ball bobbling around, the Frenchman retained his composure to calmly force the ball into the bottom corner.
Just like last weekend against Dumbarton, Rovers had started poorly after the break, and it got even worse in the 53rd minute, as United added another.
The trouble once again originated from Rovers right, as Murray swung over an excellent deep cross to the back-post, and Mikkelsen rose higher than anyone to nod back across goal and into the far side of the net.
At this point, the concern was that the scoreline could become embarrassing, as Andreu again popped up free inside the area, but his side-foot effort from a short free-kick went just wide.
United sensed blood now, and a shot from distance by Murray was palmed down by Brennan, while Fraser lashed a 30-yard attempt past the post, as Rovers struggled to contain a tangerine tide.
Ryan Hardie replaced Ross Matthews with half-an-hour remaining, but it did little to alter the flow of the match, as United continued to search for a fourth.
Ryan Steveson then came on for McManus with 20 minutes remaining, as Rovers looked to at least reduce the arrears on a difficult evening.
It looked far more likely that the deficit would increase however, and Murray went close again after 73 minutes, taking the ball first time from an angle and whistling it just passed the back-post.
Alex Nicholls then hit the outside of the post after some great build up play involving Murray and Nick van der Velden, and from close range and with plenty of time, the substitute really should have done better.
The chances kept coming and coming for McKinnon’s men, and Spittal was the next to waste a great opportunity, when he blazed over from an angle after being slipped through by van der Velden.
Despite United’s domination, they failed to get on the score-sheet again, as Raith slumped to their 13th game without a win, as they slipped below Dumbarton in the table to eighth.
Next up for Locke’s side is Morton at home on Tuesday evening, as Rovers look to put some distance between themselves and the relegation play-off spot.
The match is available to view here, in full, until 1920hrs on 11th February 2017:
©Eddie Doig 2017
Raith Rovers head over the Tay Bridge this Saturday, to take on a Dundee United team who have yet to get the better of them this term.
It’ll be the third meeting between them this season, with the first, back in August, one of the most exciting games Rovers have been involved in this term.
Gary Locke’s men found themselves two down within half an hour, after a goal on 17 minutes from Willo Flood, whilst a Cammy Smith penalty five minutes later, suggesting that it could be a long afternoon for the visitors.
However, a goal just before the break from Jordan Thompson gained Raith a foothold in the fixture, and a fantastic strike from Kevin McHattie late in the second period, grabbed Rovers a deserved share of the spoils.
There were four fewer goals the next time the two locked horns in December, although there was still a large dollop of intrigue in the 0-0 draw.
Rovers held the upper-hand in the early stages, and a red-card for Lewis Toshney, appeared to move the contest even more into their favour.
However, United gained traction as the game wore on, and it took a late penalty stop from Kevin Cuthbert to ensure Raith ended up with a point.
Both teams form has fluctuated since then, with Ray McKinnon’s team briefly leading the Championship table over Christmas, but a recent dip in form now sees them eight points behind Hibernian before this weekend’s fixtures.
Despite that though, The Terrors still boast the Championship’s best home record, which sees them unbeaten at Tannadice this season.
Rovers and Dundee United actually have an identical record in the last ten league meetings, with three wins apiece and four draws since the 1993/94 season.
Saturday’s match referee will be Stephen Finnie.
Head-To-head League Record At Tannadice:
Dundee United Wins: 13 | Raith Rovers Wins: 5 | Draws: 4
Dundee United Goals: 67 | Raith Rovers Goals: 41
Dundee United: W-L-L-D-L-D
Raith Rovers: L-L-L-D-L-L
Top Goal Scorers:
Dundee United: Simon Murray 11 | Tony Andreu 10
Raith Rovers: Declan McManus 5 | Mark Stewart 5 | Ross Callachan 3 | Kevin McHattie 3
Dundee United: 1/2 | Raith Rovers: 11/2 | Draw: 33/10