FIVE-GOAL ROVERS GO TOP
Rampant Raith Rovers hit the top of the Scottish Championship table with a dominant five-goal rout of visitors Morton, as John McGlynn’s men continued their flying start to the season. Goals from Dan Armstrong, Frankie Musonda, Fernandy Mendy, and a fine brace from Ross Matthews sealed a miserable afternoon for David Hopkins’ Morton side, who had Jim McAllister sent off for a reckless challenge mid-way through the first half.
Raith’s vibrant attacking play undid their visitors as early as the eighth minute, and Rovers didn’t let up, scoring regularly and often to seal a victory which sends a statement out to their Championship opponents – notwithstanding Morton’s brief spell of pressure following the red card for midfielder McAlister, Raith scored soon after half-time, putting their visitors to the sword with pinpoint passing and clinical finishing.
Following last week’s stern test at Dens Park, Raith only change was enforced – Kieran MacDonald’s hamstring pull ruled the flying full-back out of contention, with goal-scorer Frankie Musonda starting at left-back. The midfield had a familiar look with Regan Hendry ably supported by Dylan Tait and Ross Matthews, with Dan Armstrong and Ethan Ross closest to striker Lars Lokotsch. Four-goal Manny Duku took his place on the substitute’s bench after missing out at Dens.
For David Hopkins’ Morton, the season has started well. With two wins from three, Morton began play a point behind Raith in fourth place in the Championship League table. Morton’s late three-goal comeback to seal last week’s victory over Ayr United had confidence flowing through the ranks. Hopkins made two changes – Cameron Salkeld and Aiden Nesbitt missed out, with Kyle Jacobs and Gary Oliver promoted. Robbie Muirhead took a place on the bench, the striker’s one-match suspension served.
Referee Willie Collum got proceedings underway, after a poignant minute’s silence as part of Remembrance Day commemorations, and both sides began at a brisk pace. A lovely Raith move saw Hendry Ross and Matthews exchange passes around the Morton box, while a McGinty blast from twenty-five yards was blocked by Davidson. Armstrong had Raith’s first clear chance – his curling free-kick falling just outside McAdams’ post following a push on Lokotsch.
On eight minutes, Ethan Ross’ wicked inswinging corner was deflected goalwards by Musonda, with Strapp on the far-post clearing the danger. Minutes later, Musonda’s dipping drive drew a good block from McAdams, with Ross’s similar strike bringing another corner – Hendry’s acrobatic attempt from the set-piece drifted wide. With quarter of an hour gone, it looked to be Raith who had settled first.
Rovers’ opener came on nineteen minutes – Benedictus’ through-ball found Matthews running a good diagonal. With the Raith man darting through the Morton area, Strapp unwisely stuck out a leg, leaving referee Collum no option but to point to the spot. Dan Armstrong finished coolly to McAdams’ right to put Raith one up. In the aftermath, Iain Davidson was withdrawn with a muscle strain, Fernandy Mendy taking his place alongside Benedictus in the back four.
Ethan Ross was relishing the spaces down Raith’s left, running at full-back Fjortoft – and from the midfielder’s break on twenty-three minutes, Armstrong had time to centre; Frankie Musonda rose unchallenged to send a fine glancing header beyond McAdams for Rovers’ second. With Morton having lost three goals this season down their right-flank, Raith had clearly picked a weak point and exploited it. Lokotsch’s break down the same side nearly played in Musonda minutes later.
The visitors’ McPake showed brightness and vigour while his team-mates huffed and puffed around him – his driving run inside drew a foul from Tumilty on the half-hour; unfortunately, the midfielder’s free-kick didn’t match the quality of his build-up play. The battle between McPake and Tumilty was the most absorbing personal battle on display – with each man looking to get beyond the other into attacking positions, referee Collum had to step in regularly and often as tempers rose. Tumilty earned the match’s first yellow card, flying late into Oliver.
Out of the blue, a sending-off – with the ball bobbling in midfield, Morton’s McAllister flew into Armstrong, the Raith midfielder falling to the deck and players from both sides joining the fray. Referee Collum went straight to his top pocket, deeming the tackle high and reckless, despite loud protests from the away contingent.
With the sense of injustice still raw, Morton put together their best spell of the match in the run-up to half-time. McPake ran at Tumilty; Strapp hurled two long-throws deep into the Raith six-yard box; Orsi’s lung-bursting run and cross nearly found Blues with the chance to shoot. Two minutes before half-time, another fine chance – McPake escaped on the left, and his driven cross flew through the six-yard box, with Blues and Orsi inches away.
As the interval approached, McPake’s shot earned a sixth Morton corner of the half, although Raith cleared the danger. There was no doubt the sending-off had galvanised the visitors. While Raith took a two-goal lead in at half-time, there was a sense that Morton were not out of this yet.
Heeding the warning signs, Rovers began the second half on the front foot, and scored a third with the first meaningful attack of the half – after Musonda’s break from full-back, the ball worked its way to Armstrong in the inside right channel – he squared for Ethan Ross who tee’d up Ross Matthews to finish with relish from close range. For the visitors, already down to ten men, the game from here would be an uphill struggle indeed.
Regan Hendry was enjoying the wide open spaces created by Morton’s diminished presence in midfield. With time to pick his pass and with several willing runners, Hendry was able to dictate the pace and direction of play through central areas. Like an experienced and mobile quarterback in the NFL, Hendry moved left and right with ease, occasionally running himself, but more often picking out team-mates with a range of accurate and penetrating passing. Ten minutes into the half, the midfielder picked out Ross Matthews with a tremendous thirty-yard pass, catching his colleague in-stride, bursting between Morton defenders. The quality of the pass deserved a scoring finish, and Matthews obliged, leaving McAdams with no chance.
To their credit, Morton continued to press. With fresh legs in the form of Salkeld and Omar, there was a nip to the Cappielow men’s interplay as they sought an opener. Mindful of the visitor’s comeback last week, the Raith defence remained watchful. Substitute Salkeld linked with with Gary Oliver – now the furthest forward for the visitors – while Strapp and Blues looked to get forward at every opportunity.
Each side continued to string their passes together, but Raith were able to make the extra man in midfield count. With Tait, Matthews, Hendry, Armstrong, and Ross all full of running, Rovers were frequently able to take the sting out of Morton attacks and clear their lines. Salkeld’s driving run required Benedictus to clear, while Oliver remained a willing runner for the visitors, however David Hopkins’ men couldn’t recreate the sustained pressure of the period up to half-time.
Raith continued to create chances – Armstrong’s driven cross at Lokotsch needed McLean at full stretch to clear; Hendry’s far-post finish was blocked away by McAdams; and with seven minutes remaining, Fernandy Mendy found an inch of space in a crowded box to fire home after substitute Brad Spencer’s cross – the young defender delighted with his finish, notching Raith’s fifth, and completing the home side’s demolition of their opponents.
The final minutes saw Raith remain comfortably in control, and Morton with heads bowed, pride wounded after this five-goal defeat. While the first-half sending off was the key incident, Raith were two up at that stage and looking the more likely. With a second five-goal performance in four games, Raith should be brimming with confidence after this fine attacking performance, deservedly top of the Championship table.
The match highlights video will appear here the day after the match
Photo’s © Tony Fimister
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Raith Rovers will be looking to sustain their unbeaten start to their league campaign this weekend, when they host Greenock Morton on Saturday at Stark’s Park.
David Hopkin’s side also go into this one on the back of a decent start to the season, sitting just a point behind Raith in fourth place with six points, after an extraordinary victory at Cappielow against Ayr last time out.
The Ton were trailing by two goals to nil with just seven minutes remaining, but turned the game on its head in that time, thanks to goals from Gary Oliver, Cameron Blues and Lewis Strapp, to round off a memorable win for the home side.
It was their second win of the campaign, after a 1-0 victory over Alloa on the opening day, and the Greenock team are also handily placed in their Betfred Cup section, with four points from their first two games with a local derby against St Mirren next up after this one.
Rovers go into the game on the back of picking up a fine point at Dens Park last time out, thanks to a goal from Frankie Musonda four minutes from time, after Charlie Adam had given Dundee a first half advantage.
The two sides haven’t met in three and a half years, with the last match ending in a 2-0 win for Raith in April 2017, thanks to goals from Craig Barr and Ross Matthews, but it was a different story in the other three matches, with Morton coming out on top in all of them, with Raith failing to find the net.
Rovers do hold the upper hand across the most recent meetings though, with six wins and a draw from the last 10 fixtures.
Saturday’s match referee will be William Collum.
Head-To-Head Home League Record Versus Morton:
Raith Rovers Wins: 31 | Morton Wins: 16 | Draws: 16
Raith Rovers Goals: 105 | Morton Goals: 67
Raith Rovers: W-L-W-W-D | Morton: D-W-W-L-W
Raith Rovers: Manny Duku 4 | Daniel Armstrong 2 | Regan Hendry 2
Morton: Cameron Blues 2 | Aidan Nesbitt 1 | Lewis Strapp 1
Raith Rovers: 21/20 | Morton: 11/5 | Draw: 14/5