Raith Rise After Somerset Point
Raith Rovers jumped back up to second place in the SPFL Championship table, after a hard fought 1-1 draw with Ayr United at Somerset Park.
Kyle Benedictus nodded Raith in front at the start of the second half, but after an equaliser from Aaron Muirhead with 20 minutes remaining, neither side were able to conjure up a winner.
Manager John McGlynn made four changes for this one, as he attempted to get Raith back to winning ways, after three games without a win, or a goal.
Out went the suspended Iain Davidson, while Gozie Ugwu, Kai Kennedy and Brad Spencer all dropped to the bench.
In their stead came Frankie Musonda, Lewis Vaughan, Jamie Gullan and Manny Duku, as Rovers went for their first win since defeating Alloa at the end of February.
These two teams had failed to produce a goal in the two previous meetings this season, and it was a tight affair at the start of this one, with neither side threatening the opposing goalkeeper in the opening exchanges.
It was the home side who created the first chance in the 10th minute, and it came very much from a route one source.
A huge kick out from Viljami Sinisalo was pounced on by Cammy Smith wide on the right, and his deep cross to the back post looked ideal for Mark McKenzie, but he couldn’t quite connect properly with his headed effort and Jamie MacDonald was able to avert the danger.
At the other end, Sinisalo had his first test after 16 minutes, when Vaughan’s free kick was swung into the box, but it was an easy gather for the Finnish under-21 goalkeeper.
Neither side was managing to exert too much influence over the other in the opening quarter of what had been a pretty nondescript opening 20 minutes or so.
Both teams seemed to be cancelling each other out, in an attritional half of football that was crying out for someone to put their foot on the ball and stamp a little quality on proceedings, but while both sides couldn’t be faulted for effort, aesthetically pleasing passages of play were thin on the ground.
On a difficult-looking surface, both teams were playing pretty directly, but that probably suited neither side, with most balls forward being gobbled up by the respective defences.
Vaughan was doing his best to get close to Duku, and while they had a couple of neat interchanges, they were unable to develop anything of substance.
Rovers did have one final attack as the interval approached, with Gullan doing well down the left, but with Duku to aim at, he couldn’t find the forward and Sinisalo was able to gather, in the last piece of noteworthy action in what hadn’t been the most memorable of first periods.
After 45 minutes of both teams creating very little, Rovers were straight on the front foot at the start of the second, with a cross from the right falling to Gullan in the penalty area, but his attempt was deflected over the bar for a Raith corner.
That was then immediately followed by a second, but it only resulted in a booking for Ross Matthews, after he attempted to block Sinisalo’s quick kick out.
Rovers were looking a little brighter now, and they possibly should have taken the lead after 53 minutes.
Gullan’s cross from the left was diverted out for a corner, and from Vaughan’s delivery, Musonda found himself free in the six-yard box, but he failed to get his header on target, nodding an effort over the bar when most probably expecting to see the net bulge.
At least it offered encouragement though, and Rovers had lifted their performance a few notches since the interval, and they were rewarded with the game’s opening goal three minutes later.
Again, Ayr switched off at a corner kick, and from Daniel Armstrong’s delivery, Kyle Benedictus was able to take advantage of shoddy defending to nod Rovers in front.
Rovers looked like they’d taken heart from the goal, and were knocking the ball around a little better, and if anyone looked like grabbing the game’s second goal, you suspected it would be them.
However, new Ayr United boss, David Hopkin changed things around, with Michael Moffat replacing Joe Chalmers, to give the home side an extra presence up front.
It was another Ayr forward, Luke McCowan who tested the Raith defence next, twisting away from several challenges at the edge of the box, and only a fine sliding challenge from Benedictus prevented him getting a shot off on target.
They did get an effort on target a moment later however, and it saw the scores levelled.
Rovers were unable to clear their lines following an Ayr free-kick, and the ball fell kindly for Aaron Muirhead who bundled the ball home to restore parity to the scoreline.
Rovers were suddenly up against it, and were fortunate not to be behind within a few minutes.
Moffat found himself clean through with just MacDonald to beat, but after advancing at goal from an angle, he couldn’t fire off a clean finish, and the Raith custodian was able to gather.
The match had come alive, and Raith forced a save out of Sinisalo from a direct free-kick 25 yards from goal from Vaughan, before Honest Man substitute, Tom Walsh forced MacDonald into action once again, diving to his left to cleanly take a curling effort that may have been looping in.
Both teams were now going all out for a winner, in an exciting finish that bore little resemblance to the flat first 45 minutes.
However, neither side were able to rustle up a decent chance in the closing stages, and the points, quite rightly, were shared.
Rovers’ hectic schedule continues in midweek, when they face Stirling Albion in the Scottish Cup, with the winner travelling to Livingston in the next round.
Photographs courtesy of Alan Graham
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the draw against Ayr United
Raith Rovers head to Ayrshire this weekend, looking for their first win in four matches, although to do that, they’ll need to change their barren run in front of goal, which has seen them draw a blank in each of their three matches.
That might be easier said than done however, against an Ayr United side that are heading into this one on the back of a good win over Dundee in midweek, and are under new stewardship, with David Hopkin taking over from the recently departed Mark Kerr.
That 3-1 win at Dens Park moved the Honest Men away from the relegation spots and into seventh, and with the league being so tight, are now only three points outside the promotion playoff spots.
Despite that defeat to Inverness in midweek, Rovers are still in third place in the table, but with a large pack of teams in close pursuit.
These two teams have already met twice this term, and there’s yet to be a goal in either game, although on both occasions, both teams probably felt aggrieved not to take all three points.
Rovers are currently without a win in five attempts versus Ayr, with their last win coming in September 2017, when goals from Lewis Vaughan and Jason Thomson secured a 2-1 victory.
Despite Raith’s winless run versus Ayr, they have an even record against each other in recent years, with three wins and four draws apiece from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be David Dickinson.
Head-To-Head League Record at Ayr:
Ayr United Wins: 34 | Raith Rovers Wins: 16 | Draws: 23
Ayr United Goals: 95 | Raith Rovers Goals: 72
Ayr United: L-L-W-D-L-W
Raith Rovers: W-L-W-D-D-L
Ayr United: Luke McCowan 7 | Cammy Smith 6
Raith Rovers: Manny Duku 10 | Daniel Armstrong 4
Ayr United: 6/4 | Raith Rovers: 9/5 | Draw: 9/4