Rovers Go Top With Hard Fought Win
Raith Rovers returned to the top of League One, after an extraordinary afternoon at Stark’s Park.
The 1-0 scoreline over Airdrie doesn’t really do justice to a game which saw both teams finish the game with nine men, while Airdrie manager Ian Murray was also red carded, in a game which was never particularly dirty, but was jam packed with incident.
Ross Matthews gave Rovers the lead at the interval, but a dismissal to Ian Davidson early in the second period gave the home side an uphill battle.
The numbers were even upped with six minutes remaining when Callum Fordyce saw red, and when Charlie Reilly went off injured in the 90th minute, Rovers suddenly had a numerical advantage, but it was nine-a-side for the closing three minutes, when goalscorer Matthews became the latest recipient of referee Greg Aitken’s red card.
Manager John McGlynn made three changes from the side which won up at Montrose last week, with Grant Anderson, Tony Dingwall and Kieron Bowie coming in for Steven Anderson, John Baird and Dylan Tait.
Rovers had been struggling to put together particularly good performances of late, although unusually, that also coincided with an abundance of clean sheets, but they started this one well and almost grabbed the opener in the third minute.
Bowie did well to win possession in the middle of the park, and after supplying Jamie Gullan, he exploited the space that opened up in front of him, by crashing a 20-yard shot past David Hutton, but with the Rovers fans rising to acclaim the goal, they could only watch as the ball scudded off the inside of the post.
The ball could only be half cleared, but Dingwall sclaffed his follow up effort wide.
Despite the strong start, Rovers were a little guilty of playing their way into trouble at times, and after gifting possession away at their own corner flag, Calum Gallagher was presented with a good chance inside the area which David McKay did well to block, with the rebound falling to Kurtis Roberts, whose shot from just outside the area was smothered by Ross Munro.
Another mistake at the back almost gifted Airdrie the opener after a quarter of an hour when a cheap corner was conceded, and from it, Paul McKay sent a header towards goal that came off the top of the crossbar.
Rovers were looking a little ragged at this stage, but they started to look more composed as the half wore on, and Kyle Benedictus’ excellent crossfield pass to Anderson allowed the winger to sprint clear on the right, but while his cross into the area was well weighted, there was no-one pushed up far enough to take advantage of it.
With five minutes of the half remaining, the Diamonds spurned a huge chance to take the lead, when good work from Gallagher released Callum Smith, but as he raced in on goal and with time to pick his spot, he finished horribly, screwing his shot well wide of Munro’s right-hand-post.
Rovers took full advantage of that mistake, by opening the scoring in the 42nd minute.
McKay’s cross found Kieran McDonald who had done well to get forward, and from his powerful cross, Matthews side footed home from the middle of the penalty area.
It could even have been more before the interval, when Bowie found himself in space in the area, but from a narrow angle, he cracked a shot into the side netting, with players possibly better placed in the middle.
Airdrie were pushing for an equaliser at the start of the second period, playing a number of deep crosses and long throws into Rovers penalty area, but other than a tame header from Sean Crighton, they didn’t have too much to show for it.
However, Rovers task got even harder in the 53rd minute, when Davidson was dismissed for a late lunge on Roberts, but despite the numerical disadvantage, Rovers were keeping the visitors at arm’s length.
The incident had saw Rovers make a change, with Jamie Watson replacing Gullan, with the sub going to right back, and McKay going to centre-half.
As the half wore on however, Airdrie started to become more dominant, and they looked certain to equalise with just under 20 minutes remaining, when a cross into the box found McKay, who probably thought he’d restored parity, only for Benedictus to clear off the line.
Rovers were being forced deeper and deeper, but the final 10 minutes of normal time and the six additional minutes, were jam-packed with excitement.
Fordyce was perhaps surprisingly shown a straight red after he hacked down sub, Joao Victoria on the half way line, but Airdrie continued to press, and Ally Roy possibly should have done better with a header which landed on the roof of the net.
The visitors then went down to nine men, after Reilly couldn’t continue and Airdrie had used all three subs, but despite that, they almost equalised in injury time, when McKay’s fierce goal bound shot was headed over the bar by Benedictus, who was having an excellent game.
With time running out, the Rovers fans were just starting to come round to the idea that they were going to hold on after a gallant rearguard performance, but that was thrown into doubt in the third minute of injury time, when Matthews was given a straight red for a foul on the halfway line.
There was still time for more drama, and in the 94th minute, Dale Carrick was denied an equaliser by that man Benedictus again, whose dive deflected Carrick’s shot onto the bar, with the visiting fans adamant it had been the defender’s hands which did the deflecting.
That was the final straw for the Airdrie boss, who was sent packing by the referee for presumably something he said, in what was the final piece of action in a humdinger of a contest.
It was a huge win for Rovers, who head to Falkirk next week top of the league, albeit with a stretched squad due to injuries and suspensions.
Selection headaches can wait till next week however, for now, Rovers fans can just enjoy a hard-fought win in a top-of-the-table encounter.
The match highlights video will appear here the day after the match
Photo’ © Tony Fimister
Interviews will appear shortly
It’s a top of the table clash at Stark’s Park this weekend, as first placed Airdrie take on second place Raith Rovers.
The Lanarkshire club have been in superb form of late, winning their last five league games as they became the latest side to hit the summit of League One.
The Diamonds have scored 15 goals in that run, with Callum Gallagher and Dale Carrick both in fearsome goal scoring streaks.
Ian Murray’s men also boast the best away record in the division, picking up 18 of their 29 points on the road.
This will be the two sides second meeting of the season, with Rovers coming out on top the last time they met back in September, when a goal from Grant Anderson was enough to seal the points.
Rovers do have a stellar record against Airdrie, going 15 games without defeat against them, with the last loss coming way back in 2011, when goals from Derek Holmes and Ryan Donnelly sealed a 2-0 win for Airdrie in the League Cup.
Since then, Rovers have won 11 and drawn four of the 15 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Greg Aitken.
Head-To-Head Home League Record Versus Airdrie:
Raith Rovers Wins: 9 | Airdrie Wins: 3 | Draws: 2
Raith Rovers Goals: 16 | Airdrie Goals: 7
Raith Rovers: L-W-W-W-D-W | Airdrie: W-W-W-W-W-W
Raith Rovers: Kieron Bowie 8 | Lewis Allan 6 | Michael Miller 5
Airdrie: Callum Gallagher 11 | Dale Carrick 9 | Callum Smith 6
Raith Rovers: 20/21 | Airdrie: 23/10 | Draw: 11/4