Fightback Seals Playoff Spot
It was tense, fraught, and perhaps even a little fortunate, but Raith Rovers guaranteed their place in the Premiership playoffs, thanks to a 2-1 win over Alloa Athletic at the Indodrill Stadium this afternoon.
Trailing at the interval, Rovers fought back in the second period, thanks to a penalty from Gozie Ugwu following a controversial dismissal to Alloa goalie, Neil Parry, before Dylan Tait scored the goal which clinched a top four finish.
That wasn’t the end of the action however, with Alloa throwing everything at their visitors for the final 20 minutes, only to squander their chances through poor finishing, rotten fortune and fine goalkeeping from Jamie MacDonald, in a defeat which condemns Alloa to third tier football next season.
John McGlynn made one change from the midweek victory over Queen of the South, with Frankie Musonda dropping out, and Tait coming in.
With Rovers strapped for options at the back, that meant a move to left-back for Daniel Armstrong, and while the winger isn’t a stranger to the full back position, it was very much an auxiliary move for Raith’s second top scorer.
Rovers were straight onto possession from kick off, and after Tait was unceremoniously tripped on the left, they had a decent opportunity to deliver the ball into the area.
Armstrong’s cross was headed clear just outside the area, and while it fell kindly to a Raith player, Kyle Benedictus, isn’t really renowned for his long range finishing ability, and he probably demonstrated why, sclaffing an effort from 25-yards well wide of the target.
Rovers were looking hugely impressive in the opening exchanges, attacking down both flanks, and Ugwu was next to try his luck in the seventh minute, spinning away from one defender, only to see his shot from inside the area blocked by another.
The danger wasn’t clear however, and Armstrong sprinted onto the loose ball, attempting a shot first time around, then a cross after that effort was blocked, but with Alloa looking stretched, their defence just about managed to clear for a corner.
Rovers were continuing to boss proceedings, but Alloa looked dangerous on the break, and they fashioned their first chance after quarter of an hour.
Wasps right back, Jon Robertson pushed forward well from deep, but after taking on Armstrong and cutting inside, he could only drag his shot wide of MacDonald’s left-hand post.
Alloa were just starting to bare their teeth, and Stefan Scougall was the next to test MacDonald, doing well to win the ball back in the middle of the park, before venturing forward and testing MacDonald with a dig from 25-yards.
After a bright first 10 minutes, Rovers had fallen completely out of the game, with the ball struggling to stick in the forward areas, as Alloa started to grow in confidence and pushed Rovers onto the back foot.
As such, there wasn’t a huge surprise when they took the lead in the 25th minute.
Again, the play came down Alloa’s right, with Robertson’s deep cross to the back post finding Kevin Cawley, who thundered a superb first-time finish past MacDonald.
With Dunfermline beating Queen of the South, it made things that bit tighter at the top, and kept Alloa in the hunt to stay up.
Rovers started to see more of the ball in the aftermath of the goal, but while they probed patiently, they failed to test Neil Parry in the Alloa goal.
There was plenty of possession, but with the midfield struggling to get up to support lone frontman Ugwu, never mind get into advanced areas in front of him, attacks were generally withering away in the final third.
It had turned into a frustrating 45 minutes from a Rovers point of view, and with Alloa looking resilient at the back, it was looking like it was going to take a set-piece, something special or an error at the back to change things around.
They almost produced something special right at the start of the second period, and should have been level.
A one two between Regan Hendry and Tait saw the former play in the latter, but despite a fine through pass and with just the ‘keeper to beat, Tait could only blaze his effort wildly over the bar.
Rovers had started the second half well, and the game swung their way significantly in the 52nd minute.
Scott Taggart dwelled on the ball close to goal, allowing Hendry to nip in and dispossess him. He was able to pick out Ugwu, who attempted to round Parry, but was clipped by the custodian in the process.
Referee Greg Aitken awarded the penalty, which looked like a straightforward decision, but there was far more controversy around his decision to send off the Wasps ‘keeper, who appeared to be making a genuine attempt for the ball.
With the incandescent Parry eventually making his way off, the unfortunate Scougall was withdrawn for back up goalie Reece Willison, but his first job was to pick the ball out the net, with Gozie Ugwu calmly steering the ball past him.
At that stage, it looked like it was going to be a difficult afternoon for Peter Grant’s side, and it got even harder for them in the 60th minute, when Rovers took the lead.
Hendry was the architect, doing well down the left before picking out Tait with a low cross, and the midfielder placed a fine first time effort past Willison to nudge Rovers a goal up.
Rovers made an instant change, swapping King for Manny Duku, as they went looking for a killer third goal.
Alloa were far from out of things though, and a mix up at the back saw Liam Dick shoot straight at MacDonald, while more indecision in the Rovers ranks saw Alan Trouten get in behind the defence, and while his drive from 20-yards had MacDonald worried, it flew just over.
The Rovers midfield had dropped deep since the goal, and despite John McGlynn’s promptings to move further up, the game was now very much attack versus defence, with the 10 men of Alloa desperately needing to win the game to take the relegation fight into the final two games.
Rovers were under the cosh, and it was almost 2-2 with 13 minutes left.
A free-kick was swung into the area, and in amongst a crowd of bodies, Trouten managed to get something on it to divert the ball past MacDonald, but as it dribbled towards goal, it struck the post, before eventually being cleared.
It was a huge let off for the visitors, but they almost made it three a minute later, when Duku found himself behind the defence, and despite getting good purchase on his effort, Willison was equal to it, doing well to tip it over the bar.
Rovers made their second change of the afternoon, with Jack Smith replacing Kennedy for the final 10 minutes.
Play kept flowing towards the Rovers goal though, and again, they were relieved to retain the lead, after another Athletic chance was passed over.
Play broke down in the middle of the park, and Trouten slipped in Innes Cameron, but with just MacDonald to beat, the Rovers goalie stood up well and diverted the shot away.
McGlynn made his final change with five minutes remaining, with Ugwu making way for Timmy Abraham as the clock ticked down.
Rovers almost put the game to bed in the closing stages, when Duku sprinted clear wide on the left and made a beeline for the penalty area, but his square pass was skelped clear for a corner kick.
There was no time to take it though, with the full-time whistle signalling a hard won three points for the Kirkcaldy men.
With a top four spot now assured, Rovers will hope to cement second place, and with it passage straight into the playoff semi-final, at Dens Park against Dundee next week.
Photographs © David Glencross
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the win against Alloa Athletic:
Dan spoke to RaithTV after the win this afternoon:
After a fantastic away win on Tuesday evening against Queen of the South in Dumfries, Raith Rovers go looking for another win on the road this Saturday, as they travel to Clackmannanshire to take on Alloa Athletic.
A victory for Raith would secure a Premiership playoff position, but they’ll need to work hard against an Alloa side who must get a result to have any hope of staying in the division.
With the Wasps eight points from safety with only three games remaining however, it’s going to take something quite extraordinary to keep Peter Grant’s team from dropping into the third tier.
They also go into this one on the back of a thumping last weekend, with Hearts dishing out a 6-0 rout, in a match which combined with the scores on the Saturday, sealed the title for the Tynecastle team.
Rovers have a 100% record against Alloa this season, with the games featuring 11 goals, the vast majority of which have come for Rovers.
The first meeting was on Boxing Day, when Manny Duku and Daniel Armstrong had Raith in control after just over half an hour, but a Liam Buchanan goal with 15 minutes remaining changed the complexion of the match.
Lars Lokotsch seemed to make the points safe with six minutes left, but another Buchanan goal in the 89th minute had Rovers fans sweating again.
They needn’t have worried though, as two goals in injury time from Ethan Ross eased Rovers home.
It was another case of a win looking more comfortable than it really was in February, when Athletic were the visitors to Stark’s Park.
Innes Cameron gave the away side the lead, and that’s how it stayed until the final quarter of the match. However, an equaliser from Iain Davidson gave Rovers something to build on, and Regan Hendry and Jamie Gullan eventually got Raith over the line in the last five minutes.
Despite those back-to-back wins, Rovers have traditionally struggled in this fixture in recent years, with just three wins and four draws from their last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Greg Aitken.
Head-To-Head Away League Record Versus Alloa:
Alloa Wins: 17 | Raith Rovers Wins: 24 | Draws: 10
Alloa Goals: 76 | Raith Rovers Goals: 91
Alloa: D-W-L-D-L-L | Raith Rovers: D-W-W-W-L-D-W
Alloa: Alan Trouten 8 | Liam Buchanan 6
Raith Rovers: Manny Duku 10 | Daniel Armstrong 6
Alloa: 14/5 | Raith Rovers: 5/6 | Draw: 11/4