DOOLAN STRIKE DOWNS RAITH
Kris Doolan’s second-half goal consigned Raith to defeat as Dick Campbell’s Arbroath side took all three points against Rovers at Gayfield. With Rovers struggling to create any momentum through midfield on a heavy pitch, the Red Lichties dominated a first half relatively free of chances, and made the most of the strong wind at their backs in the second to keep Raith at arm’s length and extend their unbeaten run to seven games.
With Raith having to show their defensive mettle in grinding out a one-goal victory at Cappielow last weekend, manager John McGlynn must have viewed today’s fixture in the same vein: after persistent rain, the Gayfield surface would be heavy; the wind would likely also play a part. Accordingly, McGlynn’s line-up reflected solidity and strength – Kyle Benedictus and Kieran MacDonald were restored to a defensive back four alongside last-week’s goalscorer Iain Davidson and Regan Tumilty; Fernandy Mendy was named amongst the substitutes, with Frankie Musonda dropping off the teamsheet altogether. Raith were forced into a last-minute change, with Brad Spencer withdrawing shortly before kick-off – 19-year-old Dylan Tait taking Spencer’s place in the starting eleven.
Arbroath came into today’s fixture on the back of a good run of form – unbeaten since Festive period reverses at East End Park and Tynecastle, the Red Lichties had gathered ten points from their previous six games. In that spell, whilst Arbroath hadn’t set the scoring charts on fire, consistency in defence had propelled the side away from the relegation places – the defensive understanding between Thomson, Little, O’Brien, and Hamilton was such that their opponents had struggled to break Arbroath down all season. In other areas though, Dick Campbell was forced into two important changes – with James Craigen suspended and in-form loan striker Jack Hamilton dropping down to the bench through injury, Scott Stewart and Kris Doolan were named in the starting line-up.
The two sides took time to settle amid the blustery conditions. With the wind at Rovers’ backs, Raith had to balance their approach play from the opening minutes – Hendry and Tait would alternate building a passing movement from deep and playing long looking for Gozie Ugwu. Reghan Tumilty’s cross skimmed the roof of Derek Gaston’s net after eight minutes, with the only incident of note around the Arbroath area in the opening stages.
The hosts were first to impose themselves on their opponents, creating a number of half-chances. Bobby Linn’s scrambled finish bounced wide with Benedictus and Davidson in close attention after ten minutes; Dale Hilson was inches away from McKenna’s outswinging cross three minutes later. Arbroath’s Bobby Linn was the first player to shine – regularly dropping into midfield on the left, working the ball upfield with authority and confidence. Linn was a thorn in Raith’s defence through-out, and earned the Man-of-the-Match award from the Arbroath TV commentators for his overall contribution.
The first clear chance fell to Kris Doolan – a lovely back-heel from Linn released Williamson through midfield, who allowed Jason Thomson to cross. Only a last-minute intervention from Dylan Tait cleared the ball before Kris Doolan could strike on goal. Another Hilson cross flew narrowly over with Doolan an ever-present in the Raith box.
As the half progressed, Raith struggled to achieve any consistency of possession – Kennedy Gullan and Hendry each showed flashes and flicks in the central third, but Raith were unable to create momentum sufficient to generate chances. As the match passed the half-hour mark, the hosts were making the most of the conditions. Williamson’s delightful pass-and-move called the Raith defence to full alert with Stewart narrowly missing his colleague with the return pass. Rovers responded with two openings shortly afterwards – firstly Jamie Gullan and then Kai Kennedy found space to shoot from distance, but neither troubled Gaston in the Arbroath goal. Regan Hendry regularly sought to release midfield runners, but a combination of the bumpy pitch and the sharpness of the home defence nullified any Rovers threat.
A lung-bursting run from Bobby Linn nearly opened the scoring on forty-two minutes. Breaking from defence, Linn turned inside Benedictus before finding Williamson – Jamie MacDonald flew from his line to thwart the Rangers’ loanee. Williamson was one of the first half’s key performers, breaking from midfield and using possession well – Raith’s own midfield struggled to keep tabs on Arbroath’s vibrant young prospect.
As the players trooped off at the half, John McGlynn’s men had not done enough to trouble Arbroath’s experienced back line – Ricky Little and Thomas O’Brien had limited Gozie Ugwu’s quality of possession, and Rovers’ midfield hadn’t managed to link with their sole striker. With Arbroath playing with the wind at their backs in the second half, a resolute Raith performance would be required if the Kirkcaldy side were to take a point or more from their hosts.
Both sides began the second period on the front foot – Bobby Linn burst inside Tumilty and Armstrong, his cross required Jamie MacDonald to throw himself at Kris Doolan’s feet. Scott Stewart’s drive flew wide moments later. With Raith’s first break of the half, Dan Armstrong’s lovely lofted cross flew just over Ugwu’s head on fifty-three minutes.
A fine save from Jamie MacDonald kept the sides level just before the hour-mark – Armstrong could only clear as far as Hilson, with Bobby Linn firing straight at the Raith keeper with the goal gaping. Only a minute later, Arbroath deservedly put their noses in front with a goal almost identical in its inception – again, Raith couldn’t clear their lines, and McKenna’s instant cross found Kris Doolan with time to flick over MacDonald for what would prove the different between the two sides.
Raith sought an immediate response – a last-minute tackle by Ricky Little halted Gozie Ugwu in his tracks, as Rovers’ tempo through midfield increased. Hendry was next to threaten, his low cross finding Ugwu at the near-post, although the striker’s finish flew over. In between, Bobby Linn escaped between Davidson and Kieran MacDonald, drawing a good block from Jame MacDonald in the Raith goal. Dylan Tait found space on the edge of the Arbroath box, but was crowded out before getting a shot away.
With Raith now buzzing through midfield, it was the home defence which remained resolute – O’Brien and Little launched several deep clearances back into the Raith half, and full-backs Thomson and Hamilton kept any space afforded to Raith’s wide midfielders to a bare minimum.
Manager McGlynn chased the game with his substitutions – first Manny Duku replaced the tiring Gozie Ugwu, and Timmy Abraham was also introduced for Jamie Gullan. With two strikers upfront, and Kyle Benedictus pushed upfront in the closing stages, still Raith struggled to create the clear chances which could have brought an equaliser. With ten minutes remaining, Regan Hendry’s fine surge through midfield saw Dan Armstrong find Duku in the six-yard box – only Jason Thomson’s last-minute clearance prevented a sure-fire equaliser from Raith’s top scorer.
With Raith continuing to press, Arbroath remained dangerous on the break – Dale Hilson frew an excellent save from MacDonald after Arbroath’s new Hearts’ loanee Lewis Moore had broken through in midfield; minutes later Moore linked up with Hilson again, with MacDonald forced into another excellent save to keep the deficit at one.
Dick Campbell’s men were able to see out the closing minutes with several hefty clearances and good retention of possession – with Raith often crowded out in the central third, Rovers’ neat passing often foundered in the midfield area, with neither Abraham nor Duku able to impose themselves in the final minutes.
Referee Aitken brought a frustrating afternoon for Raith to an end with the final whistle – the victory seeing Arbroath rise to sixth in the table, defeat meaning Raith fall back to third, three points behind Dunfermline. After two draining away fixtures, Rovers will be pleased to have three consecutive home fixtures – with Alloa, Dunfermline, and Ayr each due to visit Kirkcaldy in the coming weeks.
Photo’s courtesy of Graham Black Arbroath F C
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after today’s defeat
After Raith’s fixture against Ayr United was frozen out last weekend, they return to action this Saturday with a Championship fixture against Arbroath at Gayfield.
Dick Campbell’s men are on a run of good form going into this one, with their last defeat coming against Hearts at the end of December.
Since then, they’ve been unbeaten in 2021, a sequence of six matches which has lifted them away from the relegation spots and up to eighth.
The picture could have been even more rosy for them last week, when they led Alloa by a goal to nil heading into injury time, but a late, late leveller from Innes Cameron rescued a point for the Wasps at the death.
A big part in that upturn of form has been the addition of loan signings in the transfer window, with box-to-box midfielder, Rangers Ben Williamson impressing in the middle of the park, while in-form forward, Jack Hamilton has scored three goals in four games since arriving from Livingston. Hamilton has already enjoyed a loan spell at East Fife earlier in the campaign, where he netted nine goals in 13 appearances.
Raith have faced the Red Lichties once already this season, on the opening day of the campaign, which ended as a comfortable 3-0 win for John McGlynn’s side.
First half goals from Daniel Armstrong, Reghan Tumilty and Regan Hendry had Rovers in an excellent position at the interval, and it could have been more in a controlled second half performance.
Rovers are unbeaten in their last six visits to Gayfield, with heir last loss coming back in 2003, with a 1-0 reverse in a League Cup First Round tie.
Indeed, Raith have a good record against Arbroath in general, with four wins and five draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Greg Aitken.
Head-To-Head Record at Arbroath:
Arbroath Wins: 13 | Raith Rovers Wins: 16 | Draws: 5
Arbroath Goals: 57 | Raith Rovers Goals: 58
Raith Rovers: L-W-L-W-L-W
Arbroath: Thomas O’Brien 4 | Jack Hamilton 3 | Dale Hilson 3
Raith Rovers: Manny Duku 10 | Daniel Armstrong 4
Arbroath: 19/10 | Raith Rovers: 7/5 | Draw: 23/10