Raith Stunned By Accies Fightback
If you happened to be at the Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium in 2015, when Raith dominated a Dumbarton side, only to squander a three goal lead in the final 10 minutes to draw 3-3, you’d have been forgiven for thinking you could attend Rovers games for the rest of your days, and not see another capitulation like it.
Well you’d be wrong.
For around an hour today, Rovers tore Hamilton apart, with a brace from Lewis Vaughan and goals from Dario Zanatta and Aidan Connolly putting Raith on easy street, or so it appeared.
Even when Kieran MacDonald pulled a goal back for Accies, Rovers continued to work visiting goalkeeper, Ryan Fulton, but as soon as Andy Ryan blootered home from the edge of the box to reduce the arrears yet further, the momentum completely swung towards the visitors, and the belief and confidence dissipated from the home side.
The third and fourth goals almost felt inevitable, and the injury time equaliser from Shaun Want capped off one of the most remarkable games anyone has ever witnessed.
Manager, John McGlynn went with the same starting eleven which earned a bonus point against Alloa Athletic the week previously, and there was a raucous reception for them from both the McDiarmid and Penman stands, as crowds returned in substantial numbers for the first time since a win over Forfar back in March 2020.
Hamilton fans may have been smaller in number, but they were making themselves heard in the opening stages, and they almost had something to roar in the game’s opening few seconds, when Lewis Smith picked up possession in the middle of the park and made his way forward, before curling his attempt at goal just wide of Jamie MacDonald’s right-hand post.
However, Raith could, and perhaps should have scored with their first foray forward.
The ball was whipped out wide to Zanatta on the left, and his low cross looked ideal for the waiting Lewis Vaughan, but his touch at goal was cleared away for a corner, although it may have been heading off target regardless.
The game was very much an end-to-end during the opening period, but there was concern in the 10th minute, when Brad Spencer went down with a knock, but after treatment he seemed fine to continue.
Three minutes later, the game had its first goal.
Some great interchange play between Aidan Connolly and Matej Poplatnik ended with the former sending a cross into the area which was cleared to the edge of the area, but referee Nick Walsh deemed a hand had been used, and pointed to the spot.
Fulton guessed correctly in terms of where Vaughan was placing his spot-kick, low and to the left, but he wasn’t quite able to move quickly enough to keep it out.
Hamilton had fallen out the game since the opening 10 minutes or so, but they had a half chance for an equaliser in the 25th minute, when Manley Redfearn managed to elude his marker and take possession from a throw-in deep in Rovers half, but he failed to take advantage, pulling his shot wide of the target.
They were made to pay for that a minute later, as Rovers doubled their lead with a sensational strike.
Reghan Tumilty’s brilliant crossfield pass picked out Zannata on the opposite flank, and after cutting inside, he thundered an unstoppable strike into the top corner of the net. There may still have been over 35 and a half league games to go, but Rovers already had a goal of the season contender.
Hamilton’s best route back into the contest appeared to be from a set-piece, but despite having a cluster of them as the interval approached, they were either well defended, or just poorly delivered, much to the frustration of the visiting support.
It was almost three, just before the interval, when Zanatta again did excellently to beat the full back before pulling the ball back for Vaughan, but his goal bound shot was well blocked, to just about keep Accies in the game going into the interval.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brian Rice made two changes for his side at half time, with Scott McMann and Andy Ryan replacing David Moyo and Callum Smith.
It didn’t make too much of a difference to the flow of the game however, as Hamilton were further behind in the 51st minute, with another excellent goal.
A fine passing move ended with Connolly being played in on the left-hand side of the penalty area by Zanatta, and his pinpoint finish was fizzed past Fulton and into the opposite corner to give Rovers a commanding lead.
Hamilton now looked like a dispirited bunch, and Tumilty almost scored an extraordinary goal in the 61st minute, when a cross from way out on the right touch line flew over Fulton’s head, who just managed to get across and scoop the ball away, and he had to look alert a second later, when Spencer’s follow up was drilled straight at him.
Rovers fans didn’t have to wait too long for the fourth though, and again, it was an exquisite finish.
Vaughan sprinted clear of the static visiting defence, and with Fulton rushing out to meet him, he deftly dinked the ball over him, before rushing to take the acclaim of the home fans, while some of the Hamilton fans had decided they’d had enough. They’ll presumably be regretting that decision now.
The fightback started in the 66th minute, and former Rover Kieran MacDonald was the scorer, turning home at the back post following an Andy Ryan cross.
Rovers made a couple of changes with 20 minutes left, with Kai Fotherighan and Ethon Varian replacing Zanatta and Poplatnik, and one of them should have handed Raith a fifth almost instantly.
Another mesmerising move allowed Varian a clear run in on goal, but as he attempted to take the ball around Fulton he lost his footing, which then resulted in a madhouse of a stramash, with umpteen chances and blocks as Hamilton desperately got the ball clear eventually.
Any one of the chances would surely have put the game to bed, but it was 4-2 with 12 minutes remaining, after Andy Ryan blasted an incredible shot past MacDonald from 20 yards.
It was all getting a little bit too tight for comfort, and it was almost 4-3 just a minute later, when a cross from the left was just turned wide with MacDonald stranded.
Vaughan was then replaced by Blaise Riley-Snow, as Rovers looked to try and see out the game which had appeared done and dusted just 15 minutes earlier, but quite the opposite occurred.
It was 4-3 in the 81st minute, and again MacDonald was on hand at the back post to steer home a cross from the left.
From looking like it could have been five or six, an equaliser almost felt inevitable at this point, and they had to head the ball off the line following a Hamilton free kick, as nerves gripped the home stands.
They were almost able to relax in the 88th minute, when Fotheringham raced clear but could only strike the bar with his shot, with Connolly also in support at the back post.
They’d rue that miss, as Hamilton scored an equaliser in the second minute of injury time, with another goal frittered away down Raith’s right.
This time, Sean Want got on the end of a cross to glance a perfectly placed header past MacDonald to send the Hamilton fans, players and management team into raptures.
While the performance was so impressive for the bulk of the game, the final 10 minutes or so was a chastening experience, which Rovers will need to bounce back from next week, as they head north to face an Inverness side they traditionally struggle against.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
After a successful League Cup group section which saw them win their group and qualify for the knock out stages, Raith Rovers Championship campaign kicks off this weekend, with a home game against Hamilton Academical.
This will be the first league meeting between the two since 2014, and the first meeting of any kind since a League Cup tie in 2015.
Rovers will be hoping for the same outcome as what occurred that evening, when goals from Iain Davidson and Kyle Benedictus saw Rovers through to the next round.
Hamilton have been reasonably quiet in the transfer market this summer, bringing in just five players across that period, as they look to bounce back to the Premiership at the first time of asking.
Kieran MacDonald could very well line up at left back for them, after he made the move after two impressive seasons at Stark’s Park, while Andy Ryan could start up front after joining from Stirling Albion.
Former Dunfermline and Dundee midfielder Lewis Spence was acquired after leaving Scunthorpe and he’ll be predominantly asked to fill the Ross Callachan shaped hole in midfield, after the former Raith man signed for Ross County.
Also joining Brian Rice’s squad over the summer was ex-Rangers defender, Matthew Shiels, while Blackburn goalkeeper Joe Hilton has signed on loan.
Hamilton have the upper hand in the most recent meetings between the two, with five wins to Raith’s four from the last 10 fixtures.
Saturday’s match referee will be Nick Walsh.
Head-To-Head Home League Record Versus Hamilton:
Raith Rovers Wins: 30 | Hamilton Wins: 25 | Draws: 13
Raith Rovers Goals: 97 | Hamilton Goals: 85
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-D | Hamilton: W-W-L-D
Raith Rovers: Brad Spencer 2 | Lewis Vaughan 2
Hamilton: Ronan Hughes 2 | Callum Smith 2
Raith Rovers: 23/20 | Hamilton: 9/4 | Draw: 23/10