Points Shared In Fife Derby
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The change? This, the first league clash between Fife rivals Raith Rovers and Dunfermline Athletic in three years, against the backdrop of a pandemic, which resulted in the match being played out in a ghostly atmosphere, with fans barred from Stark’s Park.
The same? That, thanks to the players of both sides, this was a derby match packed with thrilling football, goals, and a level of commitment and skill which didn’t need, but deserved, thousands of excited Fifers backing their favourites. Black versus blue, black and blue – Covid may have disrupted our lives, but the beautiful game, including this Fife derby, remains resilient.
Both sides, of course, have made impressive starts to this Championship season. The Pars, unbeaten and sitting prettily at the summit before kick-off, with Rovers within touching distance in third place, thumbing their noses at anyone who thought they might have struggled to adjust in this, their first season back in the second tier in a few years.
Both clubs fielded unchanged starting elevens, but before the action commenced a minute’s silence was keenly observed in honour of the late Diego Maradona. That the players would go on to produce a match of genuine quality, endeavour and menace was befitting of the great Argentinian artist.
Rovers started well, and dominated the opening exchanges. Manny Duku was prominent, and within two minutes had drawn a bad tackle, and forced a corner kick, from which the home side almost claimed the lead. A short corner – no fans present to groan at that – resulted in a lashed shot by Ethan Ross which smacked back off the post with Dunfermline goalkeeper Williams a spectator.
This buoyed the home side, who pressed their opponents back with purposeful intent. Tumilty, not for the first nor last time in this game, drove forward into the box, and his cut-back was clutched out of the air by Williams as several blue jerseys loitered with intent.
Stevie Crawford’s men, however, had not turned up to roll over – well, of course they hadn’t – and shortly afterwards, Declan McManus latched on to a pass, though the striker’s shot was screwed well wide of the target from a promising position.
Rovers continued to press , with Regan Hendry pulling the strings in the middle of the pitch, orchestrating proceedings with a growl here, and a neat left-footed pass there. The young midfielder dropped deep, demanding the ball and looking to set up forays up the pitch. From one of his passes Tumilty took a knock courtesy of Thomas, which earned the Pars player a reprimand from the referee.
The visitors began to impress themselves on proceedings, pushing forward, before Rovers captain Kyle Benedictus required treatment for a head-knock.
And then, with 26 minutes played, it happened – Rovers took the lead. Daniel Armstrong arrowed a tempting free-kick into the box, and Duku’s strong header was parried back by Williams to the striker, who returned the ball with interest into the net. The cardboard cut-out fans in the south stand quietly swayed in the breeze.
That the Pars were rattled was demonstrated by McIlroy’s yellow card, well-earned for a trip on Armstrong, and Rovers, scenting blood, pressed for a second goal. A rasping shot by Armstrong was acrobatically finger-tipped over the bar by Williams, before Hendry stung the keeper’s palms with a shot following a neat interchange of passes with Tumilty down the right wing.
The visitors responded with a long punt into Rovers territory, which, despite the presence of keeper MacDonald and blue-shirted defenders, needed a nerve-jangling ricochet to see the ball sail over the bar with all and sundry trying to comprehend what had happened. Such are the margins in games like this.
McManus incurred the wrath of the referee for lustily protesting a decision to penalise him for a blatant foul, before the same player drew a foul by Ross Matthews. However, Rovers cleared their lines from the free-kick, and headed for the half-time interval in the ascendency, possibly on merit based on the narrowest of margins in terms of possession and chances created.
As might have been expected, Dunfermline emerged for the second half burgeoning with serious intent, albeit the first tangible reward for this was a booking for Mayo for a crude challenge. Not that Rovers were immune to cautions – Benedictus had his name quickly recorded in the wee black book for a blatant body-check. Wilson then joined the yellow card club courtesy of a trip on Ross, and from the resultant free-kick Hendry sent his 30-yard shot high over the bar.
Athletic then made a couple of quick substitutes, although, despite their dominance of the second half to that point, it was Rovers who came close to extending their lead. From a quickly-taken corner kick, Hendry swung over a cross and Armstrong’s deft header clipped the top of the bar with Williams a statue on his line. The same player then stung Williams’ palms with a firm shot following a mix-up in the visitors’ defence.
As an intriguing contest made its way into the final third, Rovers doubled their advantage. An in-swinging corner was knocked down amid a sea of bodies towards Frankie Musonda, who forced the ball over the line from close range. Rovers lustily celebrated the two-goal advantage, but given the nature of the game, played end-to-end with energy and intent by both sides, nobody would have dared assumed the goal was conclusive in the game.
Sure enough, less than ten minutes later, the visitors scored twice in a minute to restore parity, and turn this tantalising derby on its head. Fraser Murray cut inside Tumilty and found the corner of the net from the edge of the box, before, as Rovers attempted to re-group following the concession of the goal, McManus fired a close-range shot past MacDonald. Rovers immediately introduced Brad Spencer for Ross in a bid to address the momentum which had clearly swung in favour of Crawford’s men.
Dunfermline now had their tails up, and clearly scented a winner. However, Rovers, having enjoyed the lead for most of the match, were in no mood to relinquish any advantage, and their spirit was perhaps epitomised by Mathews’ caution for a rough tackle deep inside his opponents’ half. Man of the Match Duku was replaced by Lokotsch as the minutes of this utterly absorbing Fife derby drifted towards the ninety mark.
The final whistle brought an end to what was an entertaining match, one which will have brought mixed emotions from the home side in particular. Having been two goals up after an hour, Rovers will feel that the three points were there for the taking.
However, any rational analysis would conclude that, in truth, a share of the spoils was probably a fair outcome. For all it’s early days in this new season, it’s clear that John McGlynn’s men, after an absence of a few years, are confidently adapting to life in the Championship once again.
Raith’s next assignment sees them take to the road, against Ayr United. The TV cameras offer the chance to shine further light on the progress being made by the club as it looks to cement its Championship credentials.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
RaithTV spoke to Paul Smith after the 2-2 draw with Dunfermline Athletic
Raith Rovers will be looking to preserve their 100% record in Fife derbies this Saturday, but this will be their stiffest derby challenge of the season, when table topping Dunfermline Athletic visit Stark’s Park this Saturday afternoon.
Stevie Crawford’s side have yet to lose a competitive game this season, and go into this one on the back of impressive wins over Arbroath in the League Cup, as well as an eye-catching win over Hearts in their last league game.
Goals from Euan Murray and Dom Thomas gave them a 2-1 win, and those two have combined effectively all season, with Thomas providing a steady stream of set-pieces for the former Raith defender to head home. Murray has 21 career goals, but incredibly, a third of them have come from the start of this campaign, and he’ll need to be watched carefully if Rovers are to have a decent chance of taking all three points.
The two sides haven’t met in the league since 2017, when a Kallum Higginbotham penalty was enough to secure all three points for the Pars, although it was a different story when they were paired in the Scottish Cup in 2018.
On that occasion, Rovers knocked their local rivals out the competition with a 3-0 victory, with Lewis Vaughan bagging a memorable hat-trick, to ease the home side into the nexct round.
That said, Rovers don’t have the best of records in recent times against the Pars, with just three wins and two draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Euan Anderson
Head-To-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 15 | Dunfermline Wins: 19 | Draws: 15
Raith Rovers Goals: 73 | Dunfermline Goals: 70
Raith Rovers: Manny Duku 7 | Daniel Armstrong 3 | Ross Matthews 3
Dunfermline: Euan Murray 7 | Kevin O’Hara 6
Raith Rovers: 19/10 | Dunfermline: 6/5 | Draw: 11/4