RAITH STAY TOP WITH DESERVED WIN
Raith Rovers took all three points with victory over Forfar Athletic delivered through Daniel Armstrong’s early strike and substitute John Baird’s first touch following his introduction mid-way through the second half, but failed to make the most of numerous chances in a match which should have been sealed long before the end.
Whilst Connor Coupe’s late consolation for Forfar made the final score closer than it should have been, Raith were not comfortable for long spells in the second half, before Baird notched Raith’s second with only fifteen minutes to go. Manager John McGlynn will reflect on a period of dominance late in the first half in which Raith should have put clear distance between them and their visitors.
Raith’s main injury worry in the run-up to today’s game was between the posts – Robbie Thomson’s muscle strain sustained during the midweek top of the table clash with Falkirk had seen the keeper ruled out for several weeks. Ross Munro deputised here, with veteran Dave McGurn named as substitute. Otherwise, John McGlynn’s side was unchanged – McLean upfront supported by Bowie and Armstrong, with a familiar look in defence and in midfield.
Stuart Malcolm brought his Forfar side to Kirkcaldy in the midst of a worrying run – one win in eight had seen the Loons fall down the table, with heavy defeats at Falkirk and Dumbarton sapping morale. Only basement dwellers Stranraer have a poor goal difference. Having said that, before last week’s defeat, Forfar had lost only by the odd goal on two occasions and taken a point against Stranraer and Peterhead. Furthermore, Malcolm could point to two draws against Raith this term to give his players confidence. The Loons made three changes – Jamie Bain, Murray Mackintosh, and Connor Coupe dropping to the bench, with Robbie Leitch, and former Rovers Scott Robertson and Bobby Barr restored.
With the season moving into its final quarter, each side would be looking to start on the front foot. With eighth-placed Peterhead visiting Falkirk, Forfar would see today’s match as an opportunity to climb out of the relegation places. The visitors won the first battle – a coin-toss win forcing Raith to play toward the South Stand in the first half. Looking to attack on the counter, it was the visitors who broke first – Bobby Barr like quicksilver onto a misplaced Spencer pass, Stephen Doris firing straight at Benedictus.
Forfar looked compact, and from the early stages it was clear it would be Raith who would have to do the running. With Doris furthest forward, the visitors’ five-man midfield looked to stop the flow into MacLean and Bowie – Tapping and Roberson shuffling left and right efficiently. Sensing their visitors’ approach, it took Raith only nine minutes to create an opening and draw first blood. Pulling their opponents forward into a high defensive line with a number of sideways passes, Raith suddenly pounced. Bowie’s flick from Davidson’s pass put Armstrong clear – the striker thumped gleefully through McCallum to put Raith a goal up.
With Forfar having to step out, Raith began to look more settled. MacLean and Bowie interchanged well, with Miller and MacDonald prominent down each flank. With Robbie Leitch now alongside Doris upfront, Hendry and Spencer had more room in midfield. On nineteen minutes, MacDonald scorched past Irvine, met Bowie’s return pass, and passed a slide-rule ball through McCallum’s six-yard box – Raith were unlucky not to double their advantage. MacDonald drew applause minutes later with a cross-field pass of which any NFL quarter-back would have been proud, finding the diminutive Armstrong in stride – McCallum gathered the winger’s drive from twenty yards, denying what would have been a fine goal.
For Forfar, there was effort and endeavour through midfield, and their pace in attack put Raith on notice at times. Rovers had a real let-off just before the half-hour – Robertson should have done better, heading Leitch’s cross over with only Munro to beat. Raith were nearly caught napping moments later, Coll finding McKenzie deep down the right, only for Davidson to head clear. Raith countered, with Hendry’s shot held by keeper McCallum.
Referee Newlands drew the ire of the home support soon after, seeing Bowie’s aerial challenge on McCallum under a bouncing through-ball as an offence – with MacLean lurking, the referee’s whistle spared the Forfar keeper’s blushes. After a move of ten or more passes, MacDonald’s pin-point centre was fired just wide by Davidson on the half-volley.
Raith upped the tempo again – Matthews fired at McCallum, Bowie burst past Whyte, and Meechan’s last-ditch block foiled MacLean’s run in on goal. Armstrong, swapping flanks briefly, found MacLean in the six-yard box – following a stramash, Matthews fired just wide. With five minutes till the break, manager McGlynn urged his men forward, sensing a one-goal insufficient end-product from Rovers’ dominance.
In the run-up to the interval, Raith were good value for the sought-after second goal. MacLean found space again from a MacDonald pass, blocked by Meechan. Next it was Tapping showing his defensive mettle, diving in at the last minute to deny an onrushing Matthews a clear shot on goal. As referee Newlands invited the players down the tunnel for the half, Forfar were fortunate to be only a goal in arrears – Raith had repeatedly got into good areas after their early goal, and only a combination of a loose final pass or a last-ditch tackle had kept Raith’s tally at one.
The second half began in a similar vein, MacLean looking to link with Bowie, Armstrong and MacDonald the most dynamic from a Raith perspective. For the visitors, Bobby Barr’s half-time cuppa seemed to have been stronger than most – the winger flew at Miller, burst through midfield, and chased down tackles from the first whistle. For the visitors, two good chances – first, Tapping’s high cross was well claimed by Munro in a crowded box, and minutes later, Tapping again burst past Benedictus, to be denied by Raith’s young keeper not once but twice. The South Stand roared its approval.
A distinct half-time lethargy seemed to have captured the home side – Spencer mis-fired with a number of passes, Bowie and MacLean struggled to keep possession, and it was Forfar who looked the more poised. With one stirring move, Armstrong took Hendry’s pass on the run, earning a corner, but it was the visitors who were pressing. With Aitken introduced for the tiring Doris, the visitors had the momentum. Meechan’s drive from thirty yards lodged firmly in Munro’s midriff. With Forfar leaving three up, Raith found their passing game disrupted.
With the introduction of Dingwall for Bowie, and latterly Baird for Armstrong, Raith looked to reassert themselves. MacLean bustled his way past Meechan, creating a headed chance for Armstrong moments before his withdrawal, and with his first touch, Baird doubled Raith’s lead – Hendry and MacLean were involved, before the former Forfar man, playing just off Meechan’s shoulder, found a gap to beat McCallum from twelve yards. The restlessness which had taken root in the South Stand lifted in an instant, Baird’s goal the perfect tonic to put nerves to one side.
Raith began to retain possession for the first time in the second half. Dingwall played in MacLean, with Coll diving in to clear; Baird was bundled over by Leitch in the act of shooting; MacLean again burst clear, narrowly failing to find Dingwall in an advanced position.
With ten minutes to go, Stuart Malcolm rolled the dice to bring his men back from the two-goal deficit. A tiring Benedictus and Davidson held their own, but on occasion looked unsettled by the numbers facing them as Forfar committed more men forward. Barr, now on the right, took on Spencer and MacDonald; Tapping’s inswinger put Munro under pressure; Leitch’s run and cross forced Benedictus into a hasty clearance.
Dylan Tait’s introduction on eighty-three minutes brought some youthful vigour to the midfield – stepping away from Tapping with his first contribution, the youngster created a shooting chance for Dingwall. With Baird also dropping deeper into midfield, in the space of five minutes, Raith had stemmed Forfar’s drive through the central third. Neat inter-passing between Tait, Dingwall, Baird, and Miller allowed Hendry the chance to shoot. With Leitch and Robertson now outnumbered in the midfield, McGlynn’s substitutions again had a decisive effect. Hendry fired just over after another lovely exchange between Tait and Dingwall – the stadium announcer confirmed Hendry as man of the match with perfect timing.
There was a final twist – substitute Connor Coupe fired beyond Munro after Aitken had won a tussle with Davidson and Benedictus. To the relief of the home support, referee Newlands blew for time moments later, Coupe’s late strike proving too little too late for the visitors. While Raith had appeared laboured at times, the introduction of added legs in midfield and Baird’s instinctive finish had seen Rovers home. With Falkirk also victorious, Raith had retained their one-point lead in the League One table, and head to Peterhead next week still in pole position with the title race entering its final stages.
Photo’s © Tony Fimister
RaithTV talked to Paul Smith after the 2-1 win against Forfar Athletic
Raith Rovers preserved their single point lead at the top of the table on midweek, and they begin the final quarter of the campaign with a home match against Forfar Athletic this Saturday.
Rovers drew one each with second placed Falkirk on Tuesday evening, after Steven MacLean gave the home side the lead just after the interval, only for Declan McManus to equalise midway through the second period.
That result was enough to keep Raith’s nose in front of the chasing Bairns, and they face a Loons side who they are unbeaten against this season.
That said, Rovers certainly haven’t had it all their own way against Stuart Malcolm’s side this term, with the last two meetings both ending all square.
Rovers came out on top in the first meeting in September, but only just. Lewis Vaughan equalised for Rovers at the start of the second half, after Russell McLean gave the home side the lead, and with the points looking like they were going to be shared, Kieran MacDonald popped up with an injury time winner to hand Raith all three points.
There was a lot less excitement in November, when the two teams played out a 0-0 draw at Stark’s Park, and both teams had to make do with a point again in January, with John Baird equalising for Raith after Ross Forbes had given Forfar an early lead.
Forfar currently sit ninth in the table, just two points behind ninth Peterhead, who lie just outside the relegation places.
Both teams have an identical record in recent times in this fixture, with three wins and four draws each from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Alan Newlands
Head-To-Head Home Record Versus Forfar:
Raith Rovers Wins: 26 | Forfar Athletic Wins: 10 | Draws: 6
Raith Rovers Goals: 94 | Forfar Athletic Goals: 55
Raith Rovers: W-D-W-W-L-D
Forfar Athletic: L-W-D-D-L-L
Raith Rovers: Kieron Bowie 9 | Jamie Gullan 7 | Lewis Allan 6
Forfar Athletic: Dale Hilson 7 | Ross Forbes 6
Raith Rovers: 4/9 | Forfar Athletic: 19/4 | Draw: 7/2