HONOURS EVEN IN DERBY DRAW
Local rivals Raith Rovers and Dunfermline Athletic shared the points following a breathless Fife Derby at Starks Park, in which Dario Zanatta’s fine first-half strike was cancelled out by substitute Kevin O’Hara’s late leveller for the Pars.
In the archetypal game of two halves, Raith were far superior in the first half and were unlucky not to go in several goals to the good at the interval, whereas Dunfermline manager Peter Grant’s two half-time substitutions turned the balance of play toward the visitors, with the draw being ultimately a fair result.
John McGlynn named an unchanged side, with Ethon Varian upfront, ably supported from wide areas by Dario Zanatta and Aiden Connolly. Rovers’ recent form had been good, and accordingly, any pressure was on visiting boss Peter Grant. The Pars had kept clean sheets in their last two fixtures, but remained rooted to the foot of the table. Loanee Mark Connolly had been drafted in from Dundee United, and slotted straight into the back four, with Paul Watson dropping out. Craig Wighton was also relegated to the bench, as Dunfermline strung five across the middle of the part in the opening stages.
Forty days after the original version of the fixture was postponed prematurely, both sides took the park amid raucous scenes at Starks Park. A boisterous South Stand traded verbal jousts with a healthy visiting contingent in the McDermid Stand. Reghan Tumilty crunched Kai Kennedy in the pair’s first meeting; Liam Dick and Ryan Dow clattered into each other on the other side. Reece Cole headed over from Dunfermline’s first corner. With the first clear sight of goal for the hosts, Zanatta’s run bewitched the visiting defence, the Canadian’s diagonal pass just drifting beyond Reghan Tumilty.
Within ten minutes, Zanatta had escaped again, and this time showed wonderful composure to turn inside Aaron Comrie, firing low through Owain Fon Williams to give Raith the lead. Dunfermline striker Todorov had failed to show for a through ball, allowing Rovers to counter – with Comrie committed too far forward, Zanatta had space to finish, showing the form which has put him to the top of Rovers’ scoring charts this season. Minutes later, Zanatta controlled a spinning ball on his instep and then nutmegged Pybus – the Pars’ man’s crude challenge brought a whistle from referee Anderson and a winning smile from Raith’s starlet.
In response, Dunfermline looked heavy – Todorov got little change from Berra or Benedictus, while Pybus and Dorrans struggled to gain a foothold. Matthews Tait and Spencer looked reasonably comfortable, as Raith passed left and right, making the pitch as large as it could be. With Tumilty and Dick stationed on each touchline, the visitors were made to do all the hard yards running after their rivals.
A Zanatta corner saw Benedictus head up and over Fon Williams’ cross-bar mid-way through the half. With Raith dominating possession, midfielders Dan Pybus and Reece Cole couldn’t put their foot on the ball; central midfield pivot Graham Dorrans looked an isolated figure. Josh Edwards’ frustrated sixty-yard punt from defence drew jeers from the home support. With twenty-six minutes gone, Raith should have had a second – Aiden Connolly was picked out beautifully by Spencer; Connolly waited, before flighting the perfect invitation back for Spencer running in clear at the back post – the midfielder could only place his header back across Fon Williams and wide.
Dunfermline gave warning to their hosts on the half-hour – Reece Cole’s dipping volley zoomed dangerously toward the top corner beyond drifting over. The chance give additional vigour to the visitors’ play – Pybus and Cole looked more interested in midfield, Dorrans began to press higher up the park, and overall Raith looked hurried for the first time.
Raith responded. A lovely switch of play from Tait saw Tumilty race toward the by-line, but the full-back was crowded out; next, Connolly’s deep cross was met by Liam Dick racing forward, with the header across goal thumped clear; a flash of feet in midfield saw Zanatta charging forwards again, the winger’s cross inches away from Ethon Varian. There was another lovely flowing move minutes later – Matthews released Zanatta, with Liam Dick sprinting inside – Aaron Comrie clipped the full-back with Gasputis completing the clearance.
While Dunfermline tried to generate some momentum before the half – winning three corners in succession, with Dan Pybus’ fizzing drive the best of their efforts – Raith still looked the more dangerous, with Zanatta again the most threatening. At the half-time whistle, it was boos and jeers from the away end which were the most noticeable
With Raith enjoying the bulk of possession, Dunfermline upped the ante with two half-time changes – Todorov and Cole withdrawn with Craig Wighton and Kevin O’Hara introduced, with the Pars matching Raith’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Again, though, it was Raith’s pace through midfield which brought the first chance – Tumilty haring across half-way, with the ball played across to Zanatta, only a deflection denying the youngster a second.
Although they took ten minutes to settle, Dunfermline’s change of shape saw a real improvement from Peter Grant’s men. Craig Wighton crossed straight into MacDonald’s midriff, and several corners rained in on Benedictus and Berra, although the Raith defensive duo dealt with the challenge. Kai Kennedy wriggled away from Benedictus and Spencer, only to earn a yellow for simulation.
The Pars continued to push – Wighton had the ball in the net following a dinked cross from Kennedy, only to be ruled narrowly off-side; Tumilty was booked and Matthews was lucky to avoid similar as passions ruled in the middle of the park, although a grapple with Dorrans moments later earned both a place in referee Anderson’s notebook. Tumilty’s glorious right-foot drive flew inches past in a rare moment of second-half quality.
As tackles flew in midfield, Dunfermline had clawed their way back into the game – with added numbers in Raith’s defensive third and added endeavour in all areas, it was the Pars who were asking the questions. While Raith’s passing was neat and tidy, Wighton Dorrans and O’Hara were all involved in putting Rovers’ defence under pressure. Gasputis was narrowly wide with a header, while Tumilty was fortunate to avoid a second yellow with a late foul on Josh Edwards. Following a Raith corner, Brad Spencer’s crashing drive was blocked in a ruck of legs, with captain Dorrans heading off for treatment very gingerly thereafter.
With eleven minutes to go, Dunfermline gained the equaliser their second half performance had deserved following a sustained period of pressure – Kevin O’Hara was the beneficiary of a great run and cross from Josh Edwards round the outside of Reghan Tumilty, O’Hara finishing well from close range.
With the home support baying for a winner, Raith rallied. With Poplatnik on for Varian – who had had another strong game as the lone front-man – Raith looked more direct as the match entered its final stages. Connolly and Tumilty fired inviting crosses in on Fon Williams. The Dunfermline goal-keeper pulled off a wonderful save, diving full-length to his right to clear Poplatnik’s firm header – as good as a goal for the visitors.
Raith continued to press. Tumilty fired a lovely ball right through the six-yard box, with Aiden Connolly and Zanatta both throwing themselves in vain; Berra’s header was cleared away; substitute Fotheringham twisted and turned, driving straight at Fon Willliams from twenty yards. With a last hurrah at the Dunfermline goal, Aiden Connolly’s neat flick allowed Fotheringham to blast at goal, with Dorrans blocking the goalbound effort.
While both sets of fans would arguably go home disappointed – Raith’s first half performance meriting the win, while the Pars’ response gave the visiting support hope of snatching a late victory – over the piece the draw was fair. Each set of fans could head home taking heart from the positive endeavours of their players – Raith’s slick passing against Dunfermline’s pressure – and the hopes for the future for these two settled sides. In Dario Zanatta, Raith had the match’s outstanding performer, while Dunfermline’s much stronger second-half would give manager Peter Grant confidence for forthcoming fixtures, not least the next League meeting between the pair at East End Park on Tuesday 26 October.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the draw at Stark’s Park