RAITH HANG ON DESPITE LATE RALLY
Kyle Benedictus was the hero as Raith withstood a late rally to claim all three points, following this thrilling and at times heated encounter at Starks Park. Leading at the break following a trade-mark right-foot strike from Dario Zannata, Benedictus’ double had put Raith three goals to the good, before a late rally from the visitors saw Brian Graham and Zac Rudden bring Thistle to within touching distance of a point.
In a second-half which was at times fractious and bad-tempered, these two evenly-matched sides played some fine passing through midfield, with Dylan Tait and Thistle’s Kyle Turner both having excellent games. With memories of the opening day draw with Hamilton still haunting Raith’s collective memory, the full-time whistle brought welcome relief for John McGlynn’s side, leaving Thistle’s supporters shaking their heads in disbelief.
With Raith looking to recover from the mid-week Cup defeat at Parkhead, manager John McGlynn sent out a familiar-looking line-up with only one change – Blaise Riley-Snow dropping to the bench with Brad Spencer making his third start in central midfield following his return from injury. Rovers’ defence remained unchanged – the combination of Tumilty, Berra, captain Benedictus, and Liam Dick had, the Celtic Cup game aside, only conceded three goals since the opening day’s late avalanche against Hamilton, and would look to continue their robust run of form here.
Partick Thistle came into today’s game on the back of a mixed run – three wins and three defeats saw the Jags sit mid-table, although with two recent defeats coming against the top two in the League, manager Ian McCall brought his side to Kirkcaldy brimming with confidence. Jake Hastie missed out after rolling his ankle in previous weeks, and Zak Rudden dropped to the bench, making way for Cammy Smith. With seven goals to his name thus far in an impressive start to the season, former Rover Brian Graham was the focal point upfront.
The bright early conditions saw both sides look to stretch the play. Tiffony and Bannigan linked down Thistle’s left, while Tumilty was first to drive down the right flank. Connolly’s volley flew just over with the game’s first shot on goal. Zanatta’s dig bounced wide moments later.
With the South Stand bustling and busy, Rovers had the better of the opening stages – Brad Spencer particularly moved the ball swiftly and smartly around midfield, prompting and dictating the play. While not creating a clear chance, Rovers made their visitors do the bulk of the early chasing. Having said that, Thistle nearly took the lead in the tenth minute – Kyle Turner smacking MacDonald’s cross-bar from twenty yards having been given time to set himself. Connolly sent a rasping drive fizzing just past Sneddon’s near post in response.
Although both sides’ passing was neat and brisk in the early stages, it was Raith who began to impose themselves and ultimately took the lead following a spell of sustained pressure. First, Spencer released Tumilty, whose fine cross was palmed away by Sneddon under his own cross-bar. Benedictus’ header flew wide from the following corner. Within seconds, there was another almighty scramble in the Thistle box – Christophe Berra rising highest and screaming that his header had crossed the line, the ball coming off the foot of the post and somehow rebounding to safety. However, with Thistle’s defence at sixes and sevens, it was top scorer Dario Zanatta, cutting inside onto his right foot, who fired through Sneddon to put Rovers a goal to the good.
Thistle sought to regain a foothold – Docherty’s thumping drive flying wide with MacDonald at full stretch – and put together a good spell of possession. Bannigan and Tiffoney were bullish, charging through midfield, with the energetic McKenna attacking Zanatta down Thistle’s right. Following one such burst, Bannigan fed Turner who played in McKenna – Liam Dick stretched to clear. Graham’s near-post flick drifted the wrong side of MacDonald’s post – having conceded the first goal, Thistle’s response had been vibrant and impressive.
The central third was proving a key battleground – with each side having had their moments, the end of the half saw several feisty challenges. Tait thumped into Bannigan, Connolly grappled with Tiffoney, and Matthews clipped Docherty – referee Andrew Dallas looked to let the game flow, but his whistle was heard regularly and often.
Thistle redoubled their efforts before the break – following a good spell of Raith passing, McKenna sent Tait sprawling and set off in attack, the move ending with MacDonald repelling a firm downward header from Graham. At the other end, Tait went down under Docherty’s challenge on the edge of the area – referee Dallas saw nothing amiss. With the final chance of the half, Varian’s endeavour won a free-kick, resulting in a Benedictus header flying just over. The South Stand cheered their heroes down the tunnel, the precious one-goal lead sustained to the interval.
Thistle made one change at half-time – full-back McKenna, who had looked good going forward but had struggled against Zanatta’s pace, was withdrawn for Akinola – and forced two early corners. With Mayo pushing further forwards, Ian McCall’s team started on the front foot, but it was Raith who nearly doubled their lead five minutes in – Zanatta battled his way across field, and tee’d up Tumilty whose thunderbolt was wonderfully tipped over by Sneddon. Within seconds, a quickfire break from Thistle saw Bannigan feed Tiffony – Tumilty showed fabulous pace and stamina to recover his ground to make a last-ditch clearance.
Controversy followed minutes later – Zanatta fell to the floor following a contested header, and despite waving for treatment, referee Dallas allowed play to continue with Thistle on the attack – Graham’s rising shot appeared to strike Benedictus’ arm. Despite howls of protest from the visitors, Dallas waved play on – explaining to a furious Ian McCall that any handball wasn’t with an extended arm.
Moments later – with Turner having been booked for dissent – Benedictus’ raised foot drew the referee’s whistle. Turner’s cross found Docherty with space, only for the Thistle captain’s shot to fly over. With a clear sense of injustice driving the visitors forward, the match had entered a fractious phase. There was another shout in the Raith box, as Dick clashed with Cammy Smith – again, referee Dallas waved away the protests.
Thistle’s sense of injustice was compounded on the hour mark – Zanatta turned his man and crossed, with Thistle’s Smith blocking with his outstretched arm. To Thistle’s fury and the delight of the home support, Dallas pointed to the spot. Captain Kyle Benedictus took the responsibility, firing home confidently to double Raith’s lead.
The match continued to simmer, just off boiling point. Tait and Turner clashed again in midfield, Spencer was booked for a thumping challenge which left Bannigan needing treatment. Picking up a loose pass, Tait fed Zanatta, whose quicksilver one-two with Varian saw the Canadian’s shot cleared by a last-minute block from Holt.
With twenty minutes remaining, each side made changes – the bruised Bannigan was withdrawn for an extra attacker in the shape of Zak Rudden, and Blaise Riley-Snow was introduced for the tiring Spencer. The chances kept coming – Connolly’s curling effort drifted just wide; Tumilty’s blast was blocked in a ruck of legs. Tait’s neat turn sent Cammy Smith sprawling, although his cross drifted over Varian’s head.
What proved to be the match-winner belonged to captain Kyle Benedictus with his second. A deep corner was knocked back across goal by Christophe Berra, and Varian’s flick let Benedictus place a fine finish beyond Sneddon, prompting wild scenes in the South Stand. Rovers’ captain was mobbed by his players in euphoric celebration
With ten minutes to go, manager McGlynn withdrew Ethon Varian following a fine shift from the Irishman. Despite not getting his name on the score-sheet, Varian’s duel with centre-half Holt was one the game’s engrossing contests. Running hard yards and winning numerous headers, Varian’s hold-up play and movement off-the-ball were key ingredients in Rovers’ win – although the match was far from won even with a three-goal lead and ten minutes remaining.
Thistle played to the end, and gave their supporters cause to cheer – their muscular play through midfield typified by Turner’s twisting run away from three players, drawing another corner after Foster’s cross. Following a melee in the Rovers’ box, Graham’s blast from six yards flew beyond MacDonald to narrow the deficit.
With Raith beginning to retreat, Thistle kept on coming – substitute Shea Gordon’s turn and shot needed a save from MacDonald; Riley-Snow was booked, felling Turner in full flight; full-back Mayo bustled his way forwards, drawing another foul in midfield. With memories of the opening day draw still relatively fresh, Zak Rudden’s sharp finish from a Turner free-kick saw nerves aplenty in the home end.
Deep in injury time, Raith were clearing it anywhere – Tumilty, Berra, and Dick all belting lusty clearances away from their defensive area. Referee Dallas’ full-time whistle seemed to take an eternity – when it came, it drew cheers of triumph and relief in equal measure from the home support. For Raith, a determined and hard-fought win, earned with no lack of quality through midfield; for Thistle, no doubt a hard defeat to take. For the first time this season, Raith climb into the top four – this hard-fought win the perfect boost before the re-arranged Fife Derby against neighbours Dunfermline on Wednesday evening.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
RaithTV talked to John McGlynn after the win against Partick Thistle FC
After their endeavours at Celtic Park on Thursday evening, Raith Rovers return to Stark’s Park this Sunday afternoon, to play Partick Thistle for the first time in a league match since 2013.
The Jags are currently sitting fourth in the Championship table, two points ahead of Raith, albeit John McGlynn’s men are sitting with a game in hand.
Ian McCall’s men started the season strongly, winning three of their first four Championship fixtures, but defeats in their last two games to Inverness and Kilmarnock, now sees them seven points behind table-toppers Inverness, and four behind third placed Arbroath.
Thistle’s top scorer this season is a player that Rovers fans will be well aware of, with Brian Graham, who played for Rovers between 2011-13 starting the season strongly, with seven goals in all competitions to date.
Rovers failed to come out on top in any of the four league meetings between the teams in the 2012/13 campaign, with three of the four ending all square, however, they did win in their last competitive meeting in 2020.
Firhill was the venue for the Challenge Cup semi-final, when goals from Kyle Benedictus and Regan Hendry had appeared to be enough to ease Rovers into the final, although a late David Mansell goal made the closing stages a tense affair.
Rovers have a favourable record in this fixture recently, with four wins and four draws from the last 10 meetings.
Sunday’s match referee will be Andrew Dallas.
Head-To-Head Home League Record:
Raith Rovers Wins: 28 | Partick Thistle Wins: 21 | Draws: 18
Raith Rovers Goals: 115 | Partick Thistle Goals: 96
Raith Rovers: W-W-W-L-W-L | Partick Thistle: W-L-WW-L-L
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 5 | Lewis Vaughan 4
Partick Thistle: Brian Graham 7 | Zak Rudden 3
Raith Rovers: 11/10 | Partick Thistle: 21/10 | Draw: 5/2