Rovers Return With Comfortable Win
Raith Rovers made a fine start to their return to the Championship this afternoon, with an impressive 3-0 win over Arbroath.
First half goals from Daniel Armsrong, Reghan Tumilty and Regan Hendry handed Rovers control of the match before the interval, and they never looked like relinquishing it in a dominant showing.
John McGlynn made two changes from the side which went down by three goals to one to Hearts on Tuesday evening, with Fernandy Mendy making way for Ethan Ross, as Raith reverted to a defensive quartet, after playing the opening 45 minutes against the Jam Tarts with three central defenders.
Brad Spencer was the other player to drop out, with Daniel Armstrong slotting into the right midfield berth while Ross stared on the left.
After Kyle Benedictus unfurled the League One title flag before kick off, Arbroath had the first half chance of the game in the second minute, when a through ball from the right picked out Luke Donnelly, and his flick on eventually fell to James Craigen, whose drilled effort was deflected wide of the target by Tumilty.
That creative path was proving to be a fruitful one for the visitors in the opening moments, and Craigen came close again a minute later, when another ex-Raith player, Jason Thomson delivered a ball to the back post, only for the stand-in left-back to nod a decent opportunity wide of the mark.
The Red Lichties had enjoyed the better of the first ten minutes or so, but Rovers were starting to get on the ball and enjoy plenty possession, albeit without making too much headway into Arbroath’s final third.
Despite playing keep ball, it was the visitors who continued to try their luck, and Dale Hilson was the next to have an attempt, twice in quick succession, with his first attempt rattling Ross Matthews in the jaw, while his follow up attempt from 25 yards curled well wide of Jamie MacDonald’s right-hand post.
They were inches away from taking the lead in the 18th minute, when a cross from Craigen down the left found Michael McKenna arriving at the back post, and he could barely have placed his header any better, guiding it towards the opposite corner of the net, but MacDonald made a fantastic finger tip save, while the follow up was well blocked by Tumilty.
Rovers had their first shot on target in the 24th minute from a set piece, and while Armstrong’s attempt from 22 yards was on target, it was easily gathered by Derek Gaston in the Arbroath goals.
The Smokies continued to look dangerous and Rovers had a huge let off after 26 minutes, when a ball over the top found Donnelly in time and space inside the penalty area, but from reasonably close range and slap bang in front of goal, he could only place his shot wide of the right upright.
Dick Campbell’s men would rue that miss, as Raith took the lead on the half hour mark with an excellent strike.
Armstrong picked up possession 25 yards from goal, and after looking up, he fired a fine low drive past Gaston to hand the hosts the opening goal. 1-0
If Arbroath felt aggrieved at being a goal down, they must have been incandescent in the 35th minute, when Rovers double their lead.
A slide rule pass through the visiting defence from Hendry allowed Tumilty to run in on goal, and he held his nerve superbly, slotting past the advancing Gaston to give Raith a commanding looking lead. 2-0
The game was now threatening to run away from Arbroath, and a quick break almost made it three nil after 40 minutes, after Manny Duku picked up the ball 25 yards from goal and unleashed a fine chipped effort that didn’t quite dip enough, ricocheting off the bar and bouncing away.
It was three before the break though, when Hendry was sent tumbling in the area after an almighty stramash, and the midfielder put the ball to his left as Gaston flung himself to the other side to give Rovers an assured grasp of the match. 3-0
Rovers were quick out the traps in the second period, and they almost grabbed a fourth a minute after the restart, when Hendry’s crossfield pass found Armstrong on the right, and his excellent cross looked like it was going to be pounced on by Duku, but he slipped as it reached him, and the chance was lost.
Rovers had been excellent since taking the lead, and they were slicing through the Arbroath rearguard at every opportunity.
Ethan Ross did well in the 50th minute, coming in from the left and teeing up Dylan Tait, but the teenager couldn’t quite get enough purchase in his effort from outside the box, and his shot was straight at Gaston who gathered at the second attempt.
The game should really have been put to bed a couple of minutes later, when Armstrong and Duku found themselves with a two on one breakaway, but with Duku looking like he’d drifted into an offside position, Armstrong was forced to go alone, and his attempt at goal was blocked for a corner kick.
Despite their superiority, Rovers still had to keep things tight at the other end, and Iain Davidson did well to halt a forward run from Hilson, timing his challenge just right as the forward raced through and shaped to shoot.
Bobby Linn was brought on for Arbroath, and the experienced playmaker was adding something different to the Arbroath attack, with his forward forays giving Tumilty something to think about, but Rovers were keeping the visitors at arms length, as they attempted to get themselves back into the match.
Tumilty was forced off in the 73rd minute, and it signalled the first appearance of Frankie Musonda, who slipped into the vacant right-back berth.
Arbroath continued to push for a strike, but their fortunes were summed up by Hilson’s free-kick with 12 minutes remaining, with his 30-yard effort smashed well over the bar from a promising position.
Rovers continued to look dangerous on the break, and after Armstrong picked out the advancing Kieran MacDonald on the left, his low Ross almost found Duku in the box, but he could only get his studs on the ball and failed to steer it home.
It should have been four with a little over five minutes remaining, after Gaston was smartly off his line to deny Ross, but with the ‘keeper out of position and two defenders on the line, Duku could only spin towards goal and lash the rebound well wide of the target.
After missing umpteen chances to make it four, Rovers passed up an even bigger opportunity with two minutes remaining, when they were awarded another penalty for handball.
However, as Tom O’Brien trooped off the park after receiving his marching orders for a second yellow card, Gaston denied Hendry with a good hand low to his right, to prevent the midfielder bagging his brace.
It was the final piece of excitement in a match where Raith hugely impressed, and could have won by a far greater margin, had they been more clinical.
They’ll be looking to make it two straight wins next week, when they travel to Queen of the South.
The match highlights video will appear here the day after the match
Photos © Tony Fimister
After two outings in the League Cup, Raith Rovers begin their Championship campaign this Saturday, with a home match against Dick Campbell’s Arbroath.
The Red Lichties have made an impressive start to their League Cup fixtures, with wins over Stirling Albion, local rivals Montrose, and a close defeat to Premiership opponents Ross County in midweek, with two Ross Stewart goals sealing the points for the Staggies in Dingwall, after Dale Hilson had given the visitors the lead.
The Gayfield side enjoyed a fantastic season last term, finishing fifth in the Championship, and they’ll be hoping for a similar term this time around, after retaining the vast majority of the squad which did so well last time around.
These two sides last came together in the 2018/19 season, where Arbroath finished 10 points ahead of third placed Rovers in League One, although there was little between the sides in the four meetings, with a win apiece and two draws.
Raith’s win came at Gayfield just before Christmas, thanks to an excellent Daniel Armstrong free-kick, and a second from Liam Buchanan in a 2-0 win. It was hoped that that match might kickstart a comeback in the title challenge, but it failed to materialise, and a 1-0 win for Arbroath at Stark’s Park in February more or less sealed the third tier title for Campbell’s men.
Despite that, Raith have a good record in this fixture, with that defeat Rovers only loss to Arbroath in their last 10 meetings, with four wins and five draws making up the rest.
Head-To-Head League Record At Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 20 | Arbroath Wins: 9 | Draws: 9
Raith Rovers Goals: 69 | Arbroath Goals: 41
Raith Rovers: Manny Duku 2 | Regan Hendry 1
Arbroath: Thomas O’Brien 2 | Luke Donnelly 1 | Jason Thompson 1 | Dale Hilson 1
Raith Rovers: 7/4 | Arbroath: 11/8 | Draw: 13/5