Gozie Goal Seals Vital Win
Raith Rovers put themselves in pole position in the race for a playoff spot this evening, after a brilliant 1-0 win over Queen of the South at Palmerston Park.
An early goal from Gozie Ugwu handed Rovers an advantage they never looked like relinquishing, and while the home side enjoyed the best of the second period, a brilliant defensive performance saw Raith ‘keeper Jamie MacDonald end the game without a save to make.
John McGlynn made three changes from Saturday’s frustrating 2-2 draw with Arbroath.
At the back, Iain Davidson came in for Kieran MacDonald, with the veteran going central alongside Kyle Benedictus, while Frankie Musonda shuttled over to the left back position.
Further forward, Dylan Tait dropped to the subs bench and was replaced by Adam King, while Lewis Vaughan made way for Ugwu.
It was a fairly scrappy opening period, with neither side able to keep hold of the ball for any period of time, never mind stretch the opposing defence or create a chance.
If any side looked like troubling the other in the opening 10 minutes then it was probably the home side, with the pace of Dapo Mebude and Aidan Fitzpatrick testing the back line at points, although Raith were dealing with it well.
Queen’s thought they had valid claims for a penalty in the 12th minute, when a free-kick from the right was swung into the area and was eventually cleared by Regan Hendry, with the home players appealing in vain for a hand being used.
Rovers did have the first attempt at goal just before the quarter hour mark, when a partially cleared cross landed close to Hendry 25-yards from goal, and while his first and second touch were true, his attempt from 20 yards was straight at Queen’s custodian, Rohan Ferguson.
Rovers were in front a moment later though, with an excellently worked strike.
Reghan Tumilty played the ball wide to Daniel Armstrong and continued his run into the box, and he was cleverly found by Armstrong with a reverse pass, allowing the full back to drive in a low cross that was turned home by Gozie Ugwu at the near post.
It was the perfect start to the match, but they were almost pegged back immediately.
Wullie Gibson was the architect, sending in a pin point cross which found Mebude in space 10-yards from goal, but with time to bring the cross down, he elected to take it first time, and even then, will have been disappointed at steering his shot over the bar.
Rovers were looking good going forward though, and a quick free kick in their own area brought about the next chance, when a one-two between Armstrong and Ugwu ended with the former leathering a dipping shot from distance which didn’t quite come down quick enough, and flew just over Fergsuon’s crossbar.
Rovers were doing well to keep the home side at arm’s length, but the hosts were presented with a decent opportunity after half an hour.
Mebude was fouled right on the edge of the penalty area, and while Rovers fans have seen enough similar incidents in recent years to let out a groan at the sight of an opposing team having a direct free-kick, Rhys McCabe, thankfully from their point of view, could only guide his effort from 20-yards well off target.
Allan Johnston’s men were enjoying the upper hand at this point, but Rovers could have been two up in the 32nd minute, when Armstrong did well to nod the ball into Ugwu’s path, and while his shot from an angle was on target, it was well kept out by Ferguson’s toe.
Rovers looked comfortable for the remainder of the first half, keeping possession well and taking the sting out of the game.
The second period started in very much the same manner as the first ended, with both teams neat and tidy in possession, but with neither able to carve an opportunity for themselves.
Rovers were managing to keep the ball in Queen of the South’s final third, but while they were able to play the ball from left to right, they weren’t able to turn the home defence or find an extra yard of pace to get in behind them.
The home side did have a decent chance in the 54th minute, when a cross from the right was nodded into the path of Ciaran Dickson, and while his attempt on the half-volley rippled the net, the midfielder had only managed to thump it into the side netting.
The Doonhamers were just starting to dictate things now, forcing Raith back on their heels for the first time in the match.
The home side forced two corners in quick succession, and while the first didn’t pose too much of a danger, the second fell nicely for Ayo Obileye, who skied his effort over the bar from four yards out.
It was a let off for the visitors who hadn’t really got out the blocks in the second 45.
John McGlynn’s men were coming under fierce pressure from corners and McCabe’s long throws, but they were just about managing to cope with them, through getting bodies in the way, as well as goalkeeper, MacDonald managing to punch clear or gather when required.
Rovers were still looking threatening on the break though, and they almost had a chance to make it 2-0 with 16 minutes remaining.
Ugwu did really well to make some room for himself and spin on the ball, picking out Armstrong who had evaded the left back James Maxwell, and while he had a lot to do, he was now in a foot race with Maxwell with just the ‘keeper to beat.
However, Maxwell made amends for his positional error, getting goal side of Armstrong and winning back the ball.
Raith were restricting the Palmerston men to half chances, and they fashioned another with just over 10 minutes left, when Fitzpatrick did well down the left, eventually picking out Obilieye 20 yards from goal, but his first time effort was well wide.
They came much closer a minute later, when a stramash in the penalty area again ended with Obileye getting on the end of it, but from close range he blootered his shot just wide of the post.
It was all getting a little tense as the minutes ticked down, and Rovers changed things around, with Dylan Tait coming on in the 84th minute for Kai Kennedy.
Rovers almost made the game safe with four minutes left, when Hendry picked up the ball in midfield and took the ball for a run, evading one player, and another, and with only Ugwu up in support, he elected to go himself, straight into the Queens penalty area, and with a goal of the season contender in the offing, only a despairing last gasp challenge prevented him getting a shot off.
The final moments were played out at the Queens corner area, as Raith saw out time, and the final whistle brought a huge response from the players, who knew exactly what this result meant.
This win, coupled with Dundee’s draw with Dunfermline, means Raith are now seven clear of the East End Park side and nine clear of Queen of the South who sit fifth and sixth, with just three games remaining.
The first of those comes this Saturday, with a 12 o’clock kick off against Alloa at the Indodrill, a game where a win for Raith would guarantee a playoff spot.
Photographs by courtesy of Colin Johnstone @ QoSFC.com
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the win against Queen of the South:
RaithTV spoke to striker Gozie Ugwu after his MOTM performance against Queen of the South:
It was very much a case of as you were at the top of the Championship table at the weekend, with only Hearts able to win a match across the five weekend fixtures.
While that result sealed the title. It was very much a case of as you were at the top of the Championship table at the weekend, with only Hearts able to win a match across the five weekend fixtures.
While that result sealed the title for the Jam Tarts, and made it extremely difficult for their opponents Alloa to avoid relegation in the process, it made things no clearer in terms of the race for the playoff spots.
A win for Raith would have seen them pull clear of the pack in second, and with half an hour remaining on Saturday, it looked like that’s exactly what was going to happen.
Leading two nil against Arbroath, thanks to a brace from Daniel Armstrong, it looked like Rovers were about to make it three league wins in a row, but goals from Jack Hamilton and Ricky Little meant the points were shared, and left Raith with plenty to do to secure a top four finish.
That journey starts on Tuesday evening with a game against Queen of the South at Palmerston Park, a fixture that could have a huge say in who ends the season in the playoffs.
A win for Raith would take them nine points clear of the Doonhamers with just nine points to play for, and with a better goal difference, it’s unlikely Allan Johnstone’s team could usurp them.
A defeat however, and it would make Rovers last three matches, which includes trips to Dundee, Alloa even more important.
So far this season, the home side have yet to take any points from this fixture, with Rovers winning in October, while Queens turned the tables in December.
It was goals galore in the first game in Dumfries, with Ross Matthews, Manny Duku and Daniel Armstrong giving Rovers a 3-1 lead at the interval, while second half strikes from Duku again and Dylan Tait sealed a memorable 5-2 victory.
It was a different story at Stark’s Park at the end of last year however, when a fine away performance from Queens saw them win by two goals to nil, thanks to goals from Connor Shields and Tommy Goss.
The two can’t be split in terms of their head to head record recently, with four wins and two draws apiece from the last 10 meetings.
Tuesday evening’s match referee will be David Dickinson
Head-To-Head Away League Record:
Queen of the South Wins: 20 | Raith Rovers Wins: 17 | Draws: 16
Queen of the South Goals: 85 | Raith Rovers Goals: 76
Queen of the South: W-L-L-W-L-D
Raith Rovers: D-W-W-W-L-D
Queen of the South: Connor Shields 11 | Ayo Obileye 9
Raith Rovers: Manny Duku 10 | Daniel Armstrong 6