Woes Deepen After Latest Defeat
You couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu at East End Park this afternoon, as Raith Rovers once again put in a timid and blunt performance away from home, going down by a goal to nil to Dunfermline Athletic in the Fife derby.
Kallum Higginbotham’s penalty early in the second-half was all that separated the sides, but Raith never looked like getting back into it, due to a lacklustre showing in the second period.
Manager, John Hughes made three changes from the side which went down by a goal to nil against Falkirk.
As the Raith boss revealed during the week, Ross Callachan will miss the remainder of the campaign after breaking his arm against Falkirk, with his place taken by recent acquisition, Danny Handling, who was making his first start in Scottish football since February 2015.
Declan McManus also dropped out, with Rudi Skacel returning to the starting eleven for the first time since Rovers lost at home to Dunfermline in January, while at the back, Kyle Benedictus made way for Jason Thomson.
Hughes had recently spoken of the necessity of the team starting to play games in the opponents half, but they were on the back-foot in the opening seconds of this one, with a last gasp sliding challenge from Craig Barr denying Paul McMullan from close range as the winger shaped to shoot.
While that was a let off, it wasn’t quite an early indicator of how the early stages would pan out, with Rovers seeing plenty of possession as the two teams sized each other up, albeit without troubling Pars ‘keeper, Sean Murdoch.
They were presented with an excellent opportunity after 15 minutes, when a clearance from Iain Davidson was completely miscued by Callum Morris, presenting Ryan Hardie with a clear run at goal from 50 yards, but as the penalty box reared into view, he paused, allowing Morris to make up the ground and atone for his initial error.
The same player had another good chance five minutes later, when Kevin McHattie was played into the left channel, before driving a fine low cross to the front post, where Hardie had taken up a fine position, but the on-loan Rangers player was just unable to get anything on it, as the ball flashed across the face of goal.
It had been a reasonable opening period to the match for the visitors, but Raith have shot themselves in the foot so often this season, you suspect their feet must be riddled with holes, and they almost did it again after half-an-hour.
The defence had played themselves into trouble on a couple of occasions already, and Pavol Penksa didn’t appear to appreciate a pass-back from Jean Yves M’Voto, as Michael Moffat bore down on him.
The Slovenian’s clearance was charged down by the former Ayr forward, who then cut the ball back for Nicky Clark who was waiting to pounce in the middle of the box, but thankfully from a Raith perspective, the ball had just crossed the bye-line before Moffat’s attempted pass.
Like the previous week against Falkirk, Rovers had slipped out the game after a decent opening, with Dunfermline looking particularly dangerous down the right, with Kallum Higginbotham giving McHattie an uncomfortable afternoon.
As half-time approached however, Raith missed a gilt-edged chance.
A set-piece was swung in from the right by Johnston, and from inside the six-yard box and straight in front of goal, Skacel got his header all wrong, guiding it straight to Murdoch from point blank range, with the goal gaping.
While Dunfermline had looked better on the ball, Rovers had passed up the three best openings in the first 45, but Raith have made a habit of starting second halves poorly, and they did so again in this one, when Dunfermline went ahead from the penalty spot in the 48th minute.
It started on the left, with Moffat playing a clever pass inside Thomson for McMullan, and with the Raith defender attempting to get goal-side, he clumsily fouled the winger as he cut across him.
The Pars may not have the best of records from the penalty spot this season, but Higginbotham’s panenka past Penksa was coolness personified, and from looking reasonably comfortable, Rovers were now up against it.
They attempted to hit back promptly, but Skacel scuffed his effort from distance, allowing Murdoch ample time to get down to smother.
Rovers had now lost their way, and the trickle of attacking intent that they’d shown earlier in the match had withered away to nought. Indeed, they were reliant on Penksa in keeping them in it on the hour mark, when he excellently diverted an Andy Geggan header over the bar, after a fine cross from Rhys McCabe.
The Dunfermline players had taken huge confidence from the goal, and they were within a whisker of extending their lead five minutes later.
A free-kick was arrowed into the six-yard box from wide on the right, and with Moffat all set to head home from close range, McHattie just managed to nick it away from him to divert it away for a corner.
Rovers were struggling to make any headway by this stage, although there were loud appeals for a penalty when Thomson went down inside the area after a challenge from Talbot.
However, the game should really have been put out of sight immediately after, when Higginbotham’s excellent cross to Clark was headed far too close to Penksa from close range, although the custodian still had to look sharp to keep it out.
Whilst Murdoch was able to comfortably top up his tan in the opposite net, Penksa was being kept extremely busy, saving with his feet as Clark was again played in by the mercurial Higginbotham.
John Hughes made two late changes as the minutes ticked away, with Bobby Barr and Jonny Court both seeing the last few moments, but it failed to influence proceedings, as the side drew a blank for the tenth time in sixteen away games in the Championship.
With both Ayr and St. Mirren now just two points behind, next Saturday’s home match with Morton looks even more pivotal to Raith’s survival hopes.
© Eddie Doig 2017
With just five games left and only three points separating the bottom three sides in the table, Raith Rovers head to East End Park to face local rivals Dunfermline Athletic, in a game that could go a long way to deciding what division Rovers will be participating in next term.
A win would lift Raith level on points with Allan Johnston’s team, who currently sit in sixth place in the table, but a defeat could, depending on results elsewhere, see Rovers bottom of the table by Saturday evening.
John Hughes’s side will be hoping to take advantage of the fact that only St. Mirren and Ayr United have picked up fewer points at home than the Pars this season, although that’ll be easier said than done for a team which has only picked up ten points on the road this term.
This will be the fourth and final Fife tussle of the season, with the previous three encounters producing a win apiece and a draw.
Rovers won the first fixture in August, with goals from Bobby Barr and Mark Stewart sealing a 2-0 win, while it was a fairly tepid meeting at East End Park in November, in a match which ended 0-0.
There was another 2-0 scoreline at Stark’s Park in January, but this time it was for the away side, with goals from Nicky Clark and Lee Ashcroft helping Athletic to a perfunctory win.
Rovers have a poor recent record in this fixture, with just two wins and two draws from their last ten league meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Andrew Dallas.
Head-To-Head League Record at Dunfermline:
Dunfermline Wins: 21 | Raith Rovers Wins: 18 | Draws: 9
Dunfermline Goals: 80 | Raith Rovers Goals: 70
Raith Rovers: L-W-L-W-D-L
Top Goal Scorers:
Dunfermline: Nicky Clark 13 | Paul McMullan 7 | Kallum Higginbotham 6
Raith Rovers: Ryan Hardie 6 | Mark Stewart 6 | Declan McManus 5
Dunfermline: 4/5 | Raith Rovers: 7/2 | Draw: 13/5