MACGREGOR’S VOLLEY SEES OFF RAITH
Raith’s winless run against Inverness Caledonian Thistle continued, with substitute Roddy MacGregor’s fine half-volley the difference as Billy Dodds’ side won by the single goal. Following a hard-fought first-half, the home side created the better chances and while Raith enjoyed spells of good possession, Billy Dodds’ side had the power and vitality to earn the three points.
Rovers worked hard through-out with Aiden Connolly and Dario Zanatta prominent, but didn’t do enough to turn possession into clear-cut chances. For the home side, Manny Duku was a constant thorn in Raith’s side, while wily campaigner Michael Gardyne provided a constant stream of quality service from the left-hand side. While it took a special goal to decide the outcome, on balance few could complain about the final result.
With Raith fans still struggling to process the four-goal collapse to Hamilton in last week’s home League opener, John McGlynn took his side north with a change of formation – notwithstanding some of the delightful play which had put Rovers into such a commanding position the previous weekend, a first League start for Tom Lang in a back three suggested an approach based on defensive solidity in the opening stages. Lewis Vaughan dropped out altogether along with Brad Spencer, the latter possibly out for four to six weeks. In better news, Ross Matthews looked to put his recent injury worries behind him, making his first start of the new season.
The early stages were cagey, with both sides getting accustomed to the others’ formation. Robbie Deas’ slide-rule pass down the left looking for Sutherland brought Tom Lang into action early on; Ross Matthews scampered about in midfield, looking to link with Tait and Connolly. The introduction of Michael Gardyne paid dividends early on – with the veteran midfielder playing forward on the left, Reghan Tumilty was pinned to his defensive duties early on – Gardyne’s deep cross after ten minutes was a step beyond Tom Walsh at the far post. McElear’s driven free-kick flew harmlessly through MacDonald’s six-yard box. With quarter of an hour to go, and with rain starting to fall, the match had not yet really come to life.
As the game began to settle twenty minutes in, the home side had developed attacking positions on both sides. With Gardyne on the left and a combination of Carson and Walsh on the right, it was the Caley Jags who were slowly beginning to impose themselves. Broadfoot’s lovely through-ball sent Walsh away into Raith’s left-back area, the midfielder’s cross headed clear. Minutes later, it was Carson crossing into the Raith box – Manny Duku just not sharp enough to take advantage.
Raith responded straight away – Poplatnik escaped down the left, and Connolly’s whipped cross earned Rovers a corner; however from the set-piece, a thumped clearance saw Duku nearly escape through the middle, with only a grapple from Liam Dick halting the striker’s progress – the Raith man earned a deserved yellow for his troubles. Reece McElear’s free-kick was well held by Jamie MacDonald. With Inverness beginning to up the tempo, Carson again crossed dangerously into the area, Berra thumping clear just ahead of Duku’s near-post run.
Again, Raith responded. Poplatnik escaped behind Deas, with the hefty defender earning yellow for an untidy block on the Rovers striker. With Tait causing trouble in the Caley Thistle box, Tumity set up Matthews whose curling effort from twenty yards drifted narrowly over. A blast from Zanatta minutes later flew high and wide, the Raith man clearly still buzzing after his fine strike against Hamilton last weekend.
Starting in the centre of a defensive three, Tom Lang looked calm and assured in the first half. Passing well left and right, and showing real maturity in marshalling the more experienced Benedictus and Berra on either side, Lang was also keen in the tackle with Duku and Sutherland very much quieter as the half progressed. Whether McGlynn opts for a three-man defence regularly will be one of his key strategic decisions of this campaign – Lang showed experience beyond his years in his first start here.
Caley keeper Mark Ridgers was called into action just before the break – Connolly’s driven cross required a firm punch from Ridgers to clear the danger in a crowded box; moments later, Broadfoot and Ridgers got into a mess with Poplatnik almost stealing in to nick an opener for the visitors – recriminations began in the home defence as soon as Robbie Deas cleared their lines. Danny Devine needed to be at full stretch soon after, as another Connolly cross flew in Poplatnik’s direction.
Caley Thistle closed the half by creating their best chance, and again it was Gardyne the source down Raith’s right – the former Ross County man whipped a lovely ball across goal and Tom Walsh was unable to connect with only MacDonald to beat – the groans of the home support as Gardyne’s ball flashed through the area an indication of the quality of the delivery. As the players trooped off on Alan Muir’s half-time whistle, it was the home side who had edged the first half.
With both managers urging greater concentration from their players in the second half, both sides created early chances after the interval. Gardyne’s cross fizzed just over Duku’s head, and Sutherland’s drive didn’t have enough pace on it to trouble MacDonald. At the other end, Tumilty turned Carson and crossed for Connolly to head at Ridgers. Minutes later, Ridgers flapped at a Connolly corner, causing a brief moment of panic in the home defence.
After the flurry of openings at the beginning of the half, the second period settled into the same pattern as the first – Gardyne causing difficulties down Raith’s right, and Tumilty and Connolly causing Carson problems deep in the home side’s left-back area. With Roddy MacGregor introduced for McElear in midfield, the home side tried to regain a sense of momentum – Sutherland’s flick saw Duku fire a fierce drive at MacDonald’s near-post, the Raith man blocking well to his left. After Lang’s foul on a flying MacGregor, Duku’s free-kick was goal-bound before MacDonald’s fine save.
The home side were in the ascendant, and notably were now winning most of the 50/50 challenges in midfield – MacGregor scampered down the left with Gardyne eventually firing just over, and Benedictus hauled down Duku on half-way as the rangy striker looked to escape.
With Raith on the back foot, John McGlynn made two substitutions, with Tait and Poplatnik withdrawn, with Riley-Snow and Ethon Varian direct replacements. Within a minute, Zanatta had waltzed inside Carson and Allardice, with Riley-Snow firing into Ridgers midriff. Dario Zanatta was next to show, getting his full weight into a piledriver from distance, again Ridgers holding on well.
With Caley Thistle pressing, great work from Connolly saw Ethon Varian escaping through the middle, only for Raith keeper Ridgers – fully thirty yards from his goal – bring the Raith striker crashing to the floor. With referee Muir deeming there was cover, Ridgers escaped with only a booking – Connolly’s chipped free-kick was gleefully thumped clear by Carson.
The home side got their noses in front with an absolute cracker from substitute Roddy MacGregor – Sutherland’s dinked ball through was laid off by Duku, and MacGregor’s first-time half-volley from fully twenty-five yards flew beyond MacDonald, nestling in the far corner. The goal – similar to his match-winner at Palmerston last season – was the match’s first moment of genuine quality, and had given the home side the lead with only ten minutes for Raith to respond.
With James Keatings brought on for Zanatta, Raith threw numbers forward. Varian battled past Deas and Allardice, calling Ridgers into action; two Reghan Tumilty crosses had the home defence at sixes and sevens; and Kyle Benedictus joined the attack, eventually crowded out following a typically bustling run up the middle.
As time expired, Keatings and Varian were still taking the fight to the home side in search of an equaliser. Well found by Riley-Snow, Keatings burst past Allardice and fired into Deas’ midriff. Tumilty’s cross flew through the six-yard box seconds later; and Benedictus’ late header was gratefully gathered by Ridgers. With the last chance of the game, Liam Dick’s long-throw was flicked on by Varian but Christophe Berra, leaning back as he made contact, could only turn the ball over.
With Raith’s winless run against the home side now extending to twenty-four games, manager McGlynn will reflect on a bustling and busy performance, but ultimately falling short as MacGregor’s fine strike proved a worthy winner. With only one point from their opening two League fixtures, Raith now have two huge games to focus on – the visit of Stephen Glass’s rejuvenated Aberdeen side in the League Cup next Sunday, and the first visit of Derby rivals Dunfermline Athletic the following week.
The match highlights video will appear here the day after the match
Photographs © peterpaul caleyjags.com
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the defeat at the Caledonian Stadium
After the incredible goings on at Stark’s Park last weekend, Raith Rovers will be on their travels this Saturday, as they head north to face Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
John McGlynn’s men will be looking to bounce back from the late collapse against Hamilton Academical, which saw a 4-0 lead and presumed three points, turned into a 4-4 draw, with Hamilton scoring four times in the final 22 minutes.
If Rovers were hoping for an easier time of it this time around, they could scarcely have had a worse fixture, with the Kirkcaldy side now without a win in normal time against the Caley Jags since October 2000, a run of 23 games without that elusive win.
Rovers did pick up a penalty shoot out victory against them last term, after an entertaining 3-3 draw in the group stages of the League Cup, but they failed to score against them in the three league fixtures, losing 2-0 in Inverness in November, through goals from James Keatings and Scott Allardice.
They then had a double header in March, with a 0-0 draw at the Caledonian Stadium followed up by a 1-0 loss at Stark’s Park, with the solitary goal coming from Daniel McKay.
New manager, Billy Dodds has brought in a mixture of youth and experience in the summer, with 19-year old midfielder, Reece McElear joining on loan, while forward Lewis Jamieson, who’s the same age as McElear made a similar move from St Mirren.
In terms of experience however, Kirk Broadfoot signed for the club after leaving Kilmarnock, while Michael Gardyne and Billy McKay made the move from local rivals Ross County.
Rovers will also have a chance to reacquaint themselves with last season’s top scorer, Manny Duku, who has already scored twice for Caley in the group stages of the League Cup.
Dodds new charges got off to a perfect start last weekend, with a win and a clean sheet at Gayfield against Arbroath, with the only goal coming from Shane Sutherland.
Saturday’s match referee will be Alan Muir.
Head-To-Head Away League Record:
Inverness Wins: 8 | Raith Rovers Wins: 2 | Draws: 2
Inverness Goals: 26 | Raith Rovers Goals: 11
Inverness: W-D-L-L-W | Raith Rovers: W-W-D-D-D
Inverness: Manny Duku 2 | Shane Sutherland 2
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 4 | Brad Spencer 2 | Dario Zanatta 2
Inverness: 29/20 | Raith Rovers: 19/10 | Draw: 9/4