CALEY VICTORIOUS AS RAITH FALTER
Raith missed out on the opportunity to take top spot in the Championship table, falling to defeat at the hands of Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the Caledonian Stadium, courtesy of goals from James Keatings and Scott Allardice. Unable to break down their hosts’ rugged defensive line, Rovers did not create sufficient chances to worry the home side, who looked stronger the longer the match went on and deservedly took all three points.
With players returning from injury and suspension on both sides, it was Caley Thistle who settled first and, having opened the scoring with Keating’s fine shot on nineteen minutes, were never seriously threatened thereafter. Inverness also had the match’s stand-out performance in Miles Storey, who attacked with dangerous intent from both left and right flanks, notched an assist for Keatings’ opening goal, and struck the woodwork twice in the first half.
For Raith, the bright spot was a return from injury for gifted full-back Kieran MacDonald who played the full ninety minutes; however much-vaunted striker Manny Duku was unable to gain much traction against a robust Invernesian defence, and Raith’s midfield was too often crowded out before any real attacking flow could be translated into shots on goal. With the chance to rest and recharge before the home Fife derby in two weeks’ time, Raith’s management team have time to re-assess and re-adjust, after Rovers’ successful recent run of results was brought to a halt in the Highland capital.
The match kicked off in blustery conditions, with a stiff breeze blowing across the park. Both long and short passing proved difficult, with neither side able to string more than two meaningful passes together, as the wind coupled with a bobbly pitch resulted in several loose first-touches and regular changes in possession.
Having said that, the weather conditions mattered little to the 300 paying spectators in attendance – with strict conditions in place and social distancing observed, the albeit small home crowd did give the match a more authentic feel, with cheers and jeers in response to the action lending some degree of atmosphere. While grounds across the country this season have often represented echoey cathedrals, muffled in silence amid the heavy atmosphere of wider social restriction, today’s game represented another small step in the long journey back to a degree of normality, and was all the more welcome for it.
With several gifted midfielders on show in both sides, it was the home side who generally enjoyed the better quality of possession in the first period. The experienced pair of Keatings and Sutherland linked well, regularly drawing Benedictus and Musonda into close contact in the Raith defensive third. Despite Hendry seeing plenty of the ball, there was a lack of rhythm and fluency as Rovers’ sought to drive forward, particularly mid-way through the half around the Inverness opening goal – while Ethan Ross and Dan Armstrong had been prominent on the opening minutes, the home side worked hard to disrupt Raith’s progress through midfield.
The first quarter had passed with chances at both ends. The deadlock was almost broken with Miles Storey’s rasping drive which struck the frame of MacDonald’s goal following sharp work in midfield from Scott Allardice. Storey would strike the cross-bar again on the half-hour, with a turn and shot from the edge of the six-yard box – while the midfielder’s first strike would have been a goal-of-the-week contender, his second was a real let-off for the Raith defence, as a better directed shot would surely have beaten MacDonald. Returning after a month-long injury lay-off, Storey was the brightest performer in the first-half.
With nearly twenty minutes on the clock, Inverness put their noses in front, a lead which reflected the home side looking the likelier to that point. With Hendry caught in midfield, Miles Storey had space on the right flank to attack his opposite number – opting for the early cross, the midfielder found Keatings in the penalty box, who used his body to turn Benedictus and divert the cross beyond MacDonald for the opener. The pair should have combined for a second in the run-up to half-time – having turned Musonda on the by-line, Storey’s driven cross through MacDonald’s area would have brought a second but found Keatings on his heels, not anticipating the quality of delivery from his colleague.
As Rovers looked to get back on terms, Dylan Tait became an important figure – playing closest to Manny Duku in the Raith formation, Tait moved left and right in front of the home defence, looking to create space for midfielders to join in the attack. The youngster bewitched Keatings on the right-wing before playing in Armstrong with one attack; picking up a loose ball, Tait’s shot drew a good save from Ridgers in Raith’s next advance.
With the interval approaching, Raith had their best spell. Hendry, Armstrong, and Ross were all involved as Rovers threaded a number of passes together through midfield – upping the tempo, Duku played in Armstrong and ran for the return, with a combination of Danny Devine and Robbie Deas blocking away the Dutch striker’s turn and shot.
With referee Newlands blowing for half-time shortly afterwards, the sides would depart to the warmth of their respective dressing rooms to reflect on a first half in which the score reflected the balance of play – Raith had failed to ignite with some of the free-flowing passing and attacking brio seen in previous fixtures mostly lacking; Inverness had created the better chances, deservedly taking a slender advantage into the half-time interval. Raith’s marauding full-backs Tumilty and MacDonald, so often visible this season as attacking inside-forwards, had been stifled thus far.
John Robertson sent his side out with gusto in the second half – Roddy MacGregor struck the outside of MacDonald’s post with his side’s first attack; moments later, Miles Storey ran at Kieran MacDonald, the Raith full-back diverting the striker’s drive away for a corner.
Goal-keeper Jamie MacDonald performed heroics to keep the deficit at one five minutes into the half – Rangers loanee Kai Kennedy cut inside his man, his cross found James Keatings whose goal-bound header was clawed away one-handed by the Raith goalkeeper, who scrambled to recover his ground before any rebound could be diverted goalwards. Kennedy drew another save from MacDonald minutes later, shooting near-post when Keatings and others were better placed.
With an hour gone, Raith had only an Ethan Ross free-kick to show for their second-half endeavours, but began to come more into the match with the introduction of Lars Lokotsch on the right-side of midfield. Dan Armstrong twisted and turned in the box, eventually going down with Brad Mckay in close attendance – referee Newlands was uninterested. The Raith winger tried again moments later, cutting inside and shooting on target, but without sufficient power to beat Ridgers.
While Raith perhaps edged the match in terms of possession, their lack of shots on goal was partly tribute to a resolute home defence. Young centre-back Robbie Deas has been ever-present for Caley Thistle this season since joining in the summer from Alloa, and the obdurate nature of his former employers was evident here; the more experienced Danny Devine, who had by his standards a poor performance at Starks Park in the sides’ recent Cup meeting, was solid and dependable, as waves of Raith possession broke against the home side’s defensive buttresses.
Raith fell a further goal behind with twenty minutes to go – Storey was onside behind Raith’s high defensive line, escaping down the inside right channel; his cross wasn’t cleared with Benedictus and Kennedy battling in the penalty area, and as the ball broke to him with a yard of space, Scott Allardice showed real composure to finish coolly beyond MacDonald from six yards.
With Lokotsch and Duku both pushing forward in the closing stages, Raith generated several half-chances – a Duku free-kick on the edge of the area struck the wall; Kieran MacDonald reached the by-line on a number of occasions; a Lokotsch header drifted wide. However, it was the home side who were better able to navigate the closing stages – club captain Aaron Dorans was introduced for the closing minutes, and fellow substitute Daniel MacKay drew an excellent save from Jamie MacDonald after a Benedictus clearance had held up in the wind. While Raith continued to press in the final minutes, the home side’s rugged defensive line would remain steadfast, with referee Alan Newlands’ final whistle consigning Raith to their first League defeat of the season.
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Photo © Peter Paul ICT
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Raith Rovers get back to league duty this weekend, and it’ll be against opponents that they played not so long ago in Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
The two sides met a little over a week ago, playing out an exciting 3-3 draw at Stark’s Park in the group stages of the League Cup, a match which see-sawed one way then the next, before Raith took the bonus point with a win on penalties.
Manny Duku had given Rovers the lead in the 11th minute, only for Shane Sutherland to equalise in the 24th. Rovers enjoyed the better of the play in the first period, but the opposite was the case in the second, with Danny Devine’s own goal probably coming against the run of play.
Back came John Robertson’s side through, and they turned the game on its head with two goals in two minutes, with James Keatings restoring parity from the penalty spot, seconds before Roddy MacGregor tapped in a rebound to put the away side in front.
However, a frantic last ten minutes saw Raith push for a leveller, and they got it through Duku, before prevailing on penalties three to two.
It was Rovers first win over Inverness since 2000, when Raith won 2-1 up at Inverness in the First Division.
Both teams go into the game on the back of 1-0 wins against lower league opposition.
Raith defeated East Fife in the final game of their Betfred Cup campaign, thanks to a goal from Duku, while Inverness won by the same score line against East Fife, with a goal scored by Sutherland.
Raith’s record in this fixture doesn’t make for great reading, with one win and nine defeats from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Alan Newlands.
Head-To-Head League Record At Inverness:
Inverness Wins: 7 | Raith Rovers Wins: 2 | Draws: 1
Inverness Goals: 24 | Raith Rovers Goals: 11
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-W-W-W
Inverness: Nikolay Todorov 3 | Shane Sutherland 2
Raith Rovers: Manny Duku 7 | Daniel Armstrong 3 | Ross Matthews 3
Inverness: 6/4 | Raith Rovers: 13/8 | Draw: 5/2