PARS HIT FOUR IN DERBY DEFEAT
Raith fell to local rivals Dunfermline in this mid-week Fife Derby, as a strong second-half showing from Stevie Crawford’s side saw the Pars ease past the Rovers by four goals to one. A second-half double from Fraser Murray and a fine solo effort from Aaron Comrie put paid to Raith’s chances, following Declan McManus’ opportunist first-half goal – Brad Spencer’s fine angled drive for Rovers briefly looked to draw Raith back into the contest on the hour, only for Dunfermline to stretch away in the closing stages.
While Raith were unlucky to reach half-time a goal down – McManus’ goal had put the Pars’ noses in front following an evenly-fought first half – Dunfermline looked the more powerful in the second half, with Fraser Murray, Iain Wilson, and Scott Banks winning the midfield battle on the heavy East End Park pitch. Dunfermline leap-frog Raith into second place in the Championship table, three points ahead of their Kirkcaldy neighbours – Raith retain one game in hand.
Following the weekend’s fine win over Dundee, the main interest on the Rovers team-sheet was the return to the starting line-up of defender Iain Davidson – the talismanic centre-half also wore the captain’s arm-band. Kyle Benedictus joined Gozie Ugwu and Ross Matthews on the physio’s treatment table this week, with each ruled out of this evening’s action – Regan Hendry also missed out, continuing his suspension. Timmy Abraham started upfront with Manny Duku on the bench, with new loan signings Adam Park and Jamie Gullan also among the substitutes.
The hosts began with purpose, driving forwards notwithstanding the blustery snow and freezing temperatures. With loan signing Scott Banks starting in midfield in place of Steven Whittaker – manager Stevie Crawford’s only change from the Pars’ side who lost 1-0 at Tynecastle at the weekend – there was a largely familiar look to the Dunfermline side. With Declan McManus buzzing in forward areas, ably supported by runners from midfield, the Pars were keen to arrest a recent lack of goals in a run of only one win in five.
The first ten minutes – notable largely for the increase in windspeed, blowing at Dunfermline’s backs in the first half – saw Timmy Abraham and the experienced Paul Watson lock horns on several occasions. At the other end, Frankie Musonda appeared to have responsibility for shackling Declan McManus, with Davidson dropping deeper. Raith’s first concerted period of pressure saw two Tumilty crosses – sandwiching two driven corners – troubling the centre of the Dunfermline defence. With the wind and snow swirling, high crosses would prove problematic for each rearguard over the ninety minutes.
With quarter of an hour gone, Dunfermline’s first clear chance saw Dow scamper clear on the right, his cross aimed at McManus was cut out as Jamie MacDonald advanced smartly from his line. Kennedy turned Comrie in midfield to release Kieran MacDonald down Raith’s left, but the full-back’s cross was cleared away. Abraham exchanged a sharp 1-2 with Spencer in midfield and sprinted away from his man, winning another corner. Tait scooped a shot high over Fon Williams’ bar on twenty minutes.
The first-half was simmering nicely as it reached the mid-way point – Abraham tangled with Watson and Euan Murray on several occasions, while Fraser Murray clattered Brad Spencer. Referee Steven’s whistle punctured the wintry air regularly and often. In a free passage of play, Dunfermline full-back Edwards won his battle with Tumilty, allowing McManus a sight of goal, although the striker’s effort was blocked away. Fraser Murray’s curling effort flew just wide, following a series of corners.
Dunfermline were enjoying a period of sustained pressure as the match passed the half-hour – Edwards and Fraser Murray were combining well on the left, with Comrie and Scott Banks linking on the opposite flank. Raith’s defence remained resolute – Davidson and Musonda winning their challenges, with Spencer diligent in tidying up any loose possession.
With thirty-four minutes on the clock, the first clear chance for the hosts fell to Fraser Murray – McManus was released down the inside-right channel and squared to Murray, however the midfielder could only screw his right-foot shot well wide. Raith responded immediately: Abraham sprinted clear, firing a left-footed drive straight into the keeper’s midriff. Each striker should arguably have done better with their respective chances.
The young Fulham loanee Abraham was the pick of the Raith side in the first forty-five, showing strength under the high ball, appetite for a physical challenge, and pace on the move when given the chance to stretch his legs. On forty minutes, the striker seized possession in midfield and took off, rounding Watson and jinking past Edwards. Referee Steven booked Abraham for simulation following Watson’s challenge – unfortunate for the Raith man as, although contact was slight, there was no appeal for a free-kick and – on a different night – the decision may have gone a Rovers way.
With half-time approaching, the hosts upped the tempo and got their noses in front on forty-three minutes. Declan McManus had fired against Davidson moments before opening the scoring, but showed his striker’s instinct two minutes later, peeling away from the Raith defender to collect Iain Wilson’s smart through-ball – the striker kept his head and fired Dunfermline into the lead, scoring the Pars’ first goal of 2021 in the process. With referee Steven blowing for half-time soon after, the home dressing room would no doubt be the happier at the interval with their narrow lead, despite all metrics showing the match evenly poised.
With Jamie Gullan introduced at half-time for Lewis Vaughan, the second half began in a cagy fashion, with Euan Murray, Ryan Dow, and Dylan Tait all picking up early knocks – Dow leaving the pitch on a stretcher. Neither side could string many passes together as the players took time to reacclimatise from the warmth of the dressing rooms to the bitter cold and swirling snow.
The match burst into life on fifty minutes with Aaron Comrie picking up possession in transition and driving forwards – out-running Regan Tumilty, the full-back ran fully fifty yards before firing powerfully across MacDonald for Dunfermline’s second. While Rovers’ defence should have closed down the marauding defender, Comrie deserved the congratulations of his team-mates for his fine solo effort.
Raith responded, bringing on Adam King for Dylan Tait, the youngster not shaking off his earlier knock. Passes between Gullan Armstrong and Kennedy looked sharper; Abraham looked to turn Murray and Watson; both Tumilty and MacDonald advanced down their respective flanks. Pars midfielder Wilson was booked for clattering Kai Kennedy as Raith sought a route back into the match.
Just after the hour-mark, Rovers made their move – Brad Spencer dispossessed Wilson thirty yards out, set himself, and fired beyond Fon Williams. While Dunfermline’s defenders were sloppy in not closing down space, Spencer’s shot was true, deservedly reducing Rovers’ deficit to a single goal.
Moments later, Dunfermline regained their two-goal advantage – Fraser Murray’s free-kick fired high into Jamie MacDonald’s left-hand side from fully twenty-five yards. The midfielder peeled away in celebration, taking the plaudits of his colleagues for a fine strike from the set-piece – Raith would need to redouble their efforts if they were to take even a point back to Kirkcaldy. Murray’s driven cross was nearly headed past MacDonald by Iain Davidson at full stretch as Dunfermline looked to press home their advantage.
With the onus on Raith to chase the game, Dunfermline introduced muscular midfielder McInroy for Banks, looking to shore up midfield possession and prevent Rovers building any momentum through the central third. While Gullan and Abraham buzzed around the Pars rearguard, Raith couldn’t create a clear chance – indeed Dunfermline almost extended their lead as McManus escaped on eighty-two minutes, firing narrowly wide of MacDonald’s far post. With four minutes to go, Dunfermline sealed the three points as Fraser Murray scored his second – taking the ball wide on the left, Murray cut inside Regan Tumilty and fired at goal, the shot taking a deflection on its way past MacDonald.
While referee Colin Steven added nine minutes of injury time – largely due to the significant period of treatment given to Dunfermline’s Ryan Dow – Raith were unable to build sufficient momentum to inject drama into the closing stages. Substitute Manny Duku joined Abraham upfront, and while Kennedy and Gullan took every opportunity to join their twin strikers in attack, Dunfermline’s defence – bolstered by the introduction of the experienced Steven Whittaker – held firm. Kieran McDonald’s driven effort was blocked away in the last action of the match, and the clock approached ninety-nine minutes.
While a Derby defeat is always disappointing, Rovers could have no complaints with the final result. The truncated League season means Raith have the benefit of two home derbies this season to Dunfermline’s one – John McGlynn’s men will no doubt be looking ahead to the next four winnable fixtures of this season’s campaign before the final Derby of the season, at Starks Park before the BBC Scotland cameras on Friday 5th March.
Photo’s courtesy of Craig Brown DAFC
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the defeat at East End Park: