ARMSTRONG DOUBLE AS RAITH DRAW
On a day where the four games in the Championship all ended level, Raith remain second on goal difference after sharing four goals with well-disciplined and competitive Arbroath side. Dan Armstrong’s finish saw Raith ahead at the break after a first half of some scintillating passing football from the Kirkcaldy men, with the winger adding another fine finish in the second half, however the Red Lichties tightened up across the park following a second-half reorganisation, and deservedly clawed their way back into the match. Goals from Jack Hamilton and Ricky Little earned Dick Campbell’s men a share of the spoils.
Raith started strongly, and played some fine pass & move football in a first half notable for the incisive running from John McGlynn’s men, particularly from wide areas. However, as so often this year, Raith didn’t take enough of the chances their flowing build-up play merited, and found themselves struggling to regain control in the later stages after a fine Arbroath fight-back. With a mixture of obdurate defending and hard running, Arbroath stuck manfully to their task, and to their credit claimed a point which had looked beyond them after the first forty-five minutes.
With Heart of Midlothian confirmed as title winners given draws for both Raith and fellow play-off hopefuls Dundee, focus turns to the play-off race – with Raith and Dundee to play each other in a fortnight’s time, there remains all to play for in this most competitive of Championship races.
For Raith, the instruction at the beginning of the day was clear – keep winning to the end of the season, to secure the valuable second-spot in the League and earn a welcome break before entering the Premiership play-offs at the semi-final stage. Kieran MacDonald had recovered from his muscle pull to regain his position at left-back, with Frankie Musonda partnering Kyle Benedictus at centre-half; in the only other change from last week’s narrow Cup defeat at Livingston, Dan Armstrong replaced Jamie Gullan – in the opening minutes, it was Armstrong furthest forward as Raith sought to stretch their opponents from the off.
Arbroath arrived in Kirkcaldy buoyed by recent results, having won their critical relegation battle with Alloa the previous Saturday. With the Wasps having fallen heavily at Tynecastle the previous evening, Dick Campbell was confident enough to name an unchanged side, as the Red Lichties sought to catch Morton in eighth place in the table. Jack Hamilton continued his impressive run with another goal last week, started alongside the experienced Kris Doolan upfront – striker Luke Donnelly still a long-term injury absentee. Despite their lowly League position, Arbroath’s defending had been stout all season, with only 28 goals conceded overall – familiar foursome Little, Thomson, O’Brien, and Hamilton all started here, in front of the athletic Derek Gaston in goal.
Following an impeccably-observed minute’s silence to mark the passing of His Majesty Prince Phillip, referee Gavin Duncan got the match underway shortly after 3pm. Although Arbroath had the first chance – Ben Williamson’s a blast from sixteen yards, deflected away – it was only three minutes before Raith’s pace and angled running deconstructed their opponents’ defences. Tait’s clever inside run was tracked by full-back Hamilton, leaving Tumilty in acres of space – the Raith man’s driven cross fizzed through the six-yard box, deserving of a goal-scoring finish.
Despite the blue sky, the Spring chill kept the players’ movements brisk in the opening stages – the beneficiary of a steaming cup of tea in the Main Stand drew envious glances from those without. Arbroath management team Dick and Ian Campbell saw their side’s trademark slick passing matched by Raith’s movement and inter-changing across midfield – Kennedy, Hendry, Spencer, and Tait each covered both left and right flanks in the opening ten minutes as the ball zipped across the slick turf. Hendry’s through-ball was just too steamy for Vaughan to reach before Gaston, coming smartly off his line to avert the danger.
Rovers continued to enjoy the bulk of possession as the first half progressed – while the visitors looked long for Hamilton and Doolan, Raith used the wide expanses of Starks Park to create pockets of space with firm passing and continual rotation and movement.
The home side’s opener just before the half-hour exemplified the approach John McGlynn has instilled in his players – Benedictus surged out of defence to find Vaughan, who looped outside Kennedy having fed his colleague with an inviting pass; Tait was next, slipping in Hendry between the centre-halves, Dan Armstrong on hand to finish after Gaston saved Hendry’s goal-bound effort. It was another lovely team goal, similar in quality to Hendry’s Fife Derby opener last week – all component parts of the Raith footballing machine working in perfect harmony.
While others have grabbed the headlines in recent weeks, Brad Spencer’s excellent first half epitomised his contribution to Raith’s smoothly-functioning midfield – stepping away from his man in a crowded midfield to play in Dylan Tait one minute, and tracking Arbroath’s David Gold to the by-line the next, Spencer has become a key ingredient for manager McGlynn in the second-half of the season, his diligence and work ethic allowing others to prosper.
Little felled Armstrong on the left flank as Raith threatened to break loose once again – referee Duncan brandishing one of four yellow cards Arbroath would receive as the visitors sought by fair means and foul to halt Rovers’ forward flow. Vaughan’s driven free-kick stung the palms of keeper Gaston. For spells in the first half, Raith’s tempo through midfield looked to overwhelm their opponents. Tumilty’s cross saw Armstrong bundle a shot against Gaston at close-range. O’Brien chopped down an advancing Hendry, as the Red Lichties kept their deficit to a single-goal at the half.
Referee Gavin Duncan was in charge when these sides met at Starks Park in October, awarding Raith two penalties and sending off centre-half O’Brien on that occasion – the second-half began with a fourth booking for the visitors as David Gold felled an advancing Lewis Vaughan – Armstrong’s dipping free-kick drew an intake of breath from all present, falling only narrowly outside Gaston’s left-hand post.
Arbroath, chasing shadows for parts of the first half, had their best spell early in the second period. Gold, Low, and Doolan each dropped into midfield, pressurising their opposite numbers, catching Raith in possession on several occasions. Little headed wide; Hamilton was narrowly flagged off-side was Musonda was caught in an advanced position; Doolan was muscled away by Tumilty after Williamson’s threaded through-ball. With an hour gone, the visitors had successfully disrupted their hosts’ smoothness in possession, the more direct approach moving the balance of play in the away side’s favour.
Rovers stiffened their resolve – Benedictus and Musonda winning their headers, resolute against Hamilton and the wily substitute Dale Hilson; and from another lightning break, John McGlynn’s men notched a second, with Dan Armstrong cutting inside full-back Colin Hamilton and firing low across Gaston. Raith playing out from the back often creates huge spaces in midfield – Benedictus’ smart pass here gave Rovers a four-on-four situation, which Armstrong capitalised on to put Raith two up.
Those watching would accept that Raith had not been in control despite doubling their lead, Arbroath’s no-nonsense approach and longer passing putting Benedictus and Musonda under some pressure. Right enough, no sooner had news of Rovers’ second filtered round the other grounds in the Championship, Arbroath had pulled one back. An early ball through aimed at Hilson was only partially cleared – Jack Hamilton had time to set himself and place a fine volley into the corner of MacDonald’s net. Could the visitors muscle their way back to claim an equaliser? Urged on by their management team, suddenly Raith’s lead looked more precarious at 2-1 than it had at 1-0.
A scrappy period followed, which gave succour to the visitors, having halted the flow toward Vaughan and Armstrong – centre-halves O’Brien and Little began to edge forward, Hilson and Hamilton pressed up against their markers, and for ten minutes it was the Red Lichties who were getting the ball forward more quickly, asking questions of their hosts.
The match had been a contrast in styles from the opening minutes – Raith’s free-flowing passing style, all clever angles and pockets of space, had slowly been overcome by Arbroath’s rugged tackling and hard work, closing spaces and shackling runners – a fascinating contest not so much in terms of tactics, but in terms of the resolve of both sides, sticking to their game-plan to out-play the other. With ten minutes to go and Raith only a goal up, the match was delicately poised.
McGlynn moved to combat Arbroath’s growing physical threat – debutant Nathan Cooney was introduced, sitting deep alongside Musonda and Benedictus; but within seconds Arbroath were level. A long throw-in from O’Brien wasn’t cleared, and centre-half Ricky Little slammed the ball through a ruck of bodies and into the net. The Arbroath management team roared, their team having battled their way back into a match in which they’d been second best for long spells.
With Musonda now at right-back and Reghan Tumilty pushed up in a right-wing position, Raith countered. Spencer’s cross was well held by Gaston, Tumilty’s drive flew into the side-netting. Tempers flared and challenges flew in. MacDonald tipped Gold’s deflected effort away. With the last chance of the game, deep in injury time, Vaughan’s corner was thumped clear by Jason Thomson. With final whistles around the country leaving all matches level, Raith remain in second place on goal difference from Dundee, while Arbroath remain locked in battle with Morton and Ayr United in a bid to secure Championship status for next term.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the draw at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers face another huge game this weekend, as they look to secure their second position in the Championship.
The race for the top four became even tighter in midweek, after wins for Dundee and Inverness bunched everyone even closer together.
Rovers are now second only on goal difference from the Dens Park side, while Inverness now sit in the final playoff spot, just three points behind John McGlynn’s men.
Dunfermline and Queen of the South now sit fifth and sixth respectively, but are also just five and six points behind Rovers, which means a tense and exciting end to the season is on the cards.
Arbroath are next up at Stark’s Park on Saturday, with the Angus club also in desperate needs of points.
The Angus club are only out the relegation spots on goal difference from Morton, with a win last week over Alloa a vital result after a run of five games without a win.
Despite the Smokies tough campaign, the points have been split evenly so far between these teams. Rovers were convincing winners on the opening day of the season, with goals from Daniel Armstrong, Reghan Tumilty and Regan Hendry sealing a 3-0 win, that could easily have been more.
It was a different story in February however, when a dominant showing from the Red Lichties at Gayfield saw Dick Campbell’s men deservedly win thanks to a solitary strike from Kris Doolan.
Despite that loss, Rovers have a good record in this fixture, with four wins and four draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Gavin Duncan.
Head-To-Head Home League Record:
Raith Rovers Wins: 21 | Arbroath Wins: 9 | Draws: 9
Raith Rovers Goals: 72 | Arbroath Goals: 41
Raith Rovers: L-D-W-W-W-L
Raith Rovers: Manny Duku 10 | Daniel Armstrong 4 | Regan Hendry 4 | Jamie Gullan 4
Arbroath: Jack Hamilton 5 | Thomas O’Brien 4
Raith Rovers: 17/20 | Arbroath: 14/5 | Draw: 13/5