Poplatnik Pounces To Down Killie
Raith Rovers pulled off an excellent result at Rugby Park this afternoon, with a 3-1 win making it seven points from nine in the last six days.
A first half goal from Liam Dick had Rovers a goal to the good at the interval, and although Callum Hendry equalised for the hosts with 15 minutes remaining, two well taken goals from Matej Poplanik gave Raith a victory which took them to within two points of the home side.
John McGlynn made one change from the side which drew with Dunfermline in midweek, with Aidan Connolly dropping to the bench to be replaced by Tom Lang.
It meant a change to the 3-5-2 formation which was last used in the 1-0 defeat at Inverness, with Lang slotting in the backline alongside Kyle Benedictus and Christophe Berra.
Kilmarnock’s team sheet had some familiar names on it, with Euan Murray captaining the side from the centre of defence, while Daniel Armstrong had to be content with a seat on the bench, alongside latest loan signing, Callum Hendry.
Kilmarnock had yet to score a league goal in the first half this term, but they started off on the front foot in this one, with Blair Alston whipping in a cross that Jamie MacDonald confidently let drift wide, although it wasn’t too far away from creeping into the far corner.
MacDonald was then called into more direct action a minute later, when Scott Robinson got on the end of a chance at the back post, and his near post drive had to be gathered by the Raith ‘keeper.
Rovers got their first sight at goal after six minutes, when Reghan Tumilty flashed a cross along the six yard box, and while no Raith players were able to turn it home, Dick was able to get on the end of it from a narrow angle, and his shot at goal was well gathered by Zach Hemming.
Rovers were happy to hit the hosts on the break, but they themselves were exposed on the counter in the 12th minute, with Liam Polworth slipping a fine pass through to Oli Shaw, but the forward elected to take it early, and his finish was straight at MacDonald.
Kilmarnock were starting to boss possession as the half progressed, but an organised Raith side took the lead with a well worked goal in the 19th minute.
Ethon Varian picked up the ball wide on the right-hand side, and with time to pick his spot and plenty of Raith players in the penalty area, his deep cross was met perfectly by Dick, whose looping header back across goal dropped into the net to give Rovers the lead.
Tommy Wright’s men almost hit back immediately though, when Robinson’s snap shot from the edge of the area was punched wide by the alert MacDonald.
As much as the Rugby Park side were seeing more of the ball, too many of their passes were going astray, much to the chagrin of the home support.
They were even more annoyed after half an hour, when Varian was allowed to advance from deep and run at the Killie backline, and while the on-loan Stoke man was able to get a shot off, it was well blocked by Euan Murray.
Kilmanock were working the ball well out to both wings, and while they were getting in decent areas to get deliveries into the penalty area, Raith’s defence was coping well with repelling the crosses away, as they headed into the break with a one goal advantage.
Killie were quick out the blocks in the second period, and fashioned a decent chance in the 46th minute, when Alston’s cross was met on the volley by Shaw, but he couldn’t steer his effort on target.
Rovers were asking a lot of Varian, who was occupying defenders and winning his fair share of headers, but with the players behind him struggling to get up in support, he was often ploughing a very lone furrow.
Dario Zanatta hadn’t had too many sights at goal so far, but he came close in the 58th minute, getting on the end of a Tumilty cross and dribbling across the face of the penalty area, before firing a shot at goal that was too close to Zach Hemming, who comfortably gathered.
Tumilty then tried a more direct approach in the 62nd minute, when he attempted to lob Hemming from just inside the Killie half, but his attempt drifted well wide.
Kilmarnock hadn’t threatened too seriously in the second period, but three successive corner kicks in the 65th minute had Rovers defending desperately on their own line, as Tommy Wright’s men started to turn the screw.
There were a flurry of substitutions as the game approached the 70th minute, with Chris Burke and Callum Hendry joining the fray for the hosts, while Aidan Connolly and Matej Poplatnik replaced Varian and Zanatta.
The new introductions had some drama to face in the 74th minute, when Dick was penalised for a passback to MacDonald that disconcertingly appeared to be drifting in, and the ‘keeper had to look alert to tip past.
Wullie Collum deemed it a pass back and awarded an indirect free-kick, and with the entire Rovers team on the goal line ready to rush out, Hendry could only lash it into the advancing red and white line which came out to meet him.
The home side didn’t have to wait long for the equaliser however, drawing level just a minute later.
Burke was the architect, swinging in a perfect cross from the right for Hendry, whose fine downward header was well placed beyond MacDonald.
It appeared that Kilmarnock’s substitutions had given them a way back into the game, but instead, it was McGlynn’s swaps which turned events, as they took the lead again in the 82nd minute.
Poplatnik appeared to have it all to do with a long ball forward, but after bringing it under control under pressure, space opened up in front of him, and he took advantage of it, sprinting away from a lumbering defence and planting a fine finish past Hemming, much to the delight of the Rovers travelling support.
Rovers brought on Blaise Riley-Snow as they attempted to see out the game, and as Killie pushed forwards in the closing stages, Liam Polworth had a sight at goal, but he could only lash his effort well over the bar.
Rather than sit on their laurels however, Rovers went further ahead in the final minute, with a goal that was all to do with the pace of Tumilty.
Despite playing four games in just over a week, the full back not only broke up a Killie foray, he then sprinted past substitute Daniel Armstrong, covering the entire length of the park in the process, before teeing up Poplatnik who had the simple process of side footing home to make the game safe for Raith.
The players took the acclaim of the fans at full time, as Rovers produced their best league result of the season at the home of the title favourites, with a win which kept them in the playoff positions.
Photographs © Jeff Holmes Kilmarnock F.C.
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the win against Kilmarnock FC:
Raith Rovers head to Rugby Park for the first time since 1997 this Saturday, to face a Kilmarnock side currently sitting second in the Championship table.
It’ll be Raith’s fourth game in just nine days, following a defeat at Celtic Park last Thursday, before taking four points from six against Partick Thistle and Dunfermline, which lifted the Kirkcaldy side into the final playoff position in fourth.
Tommy Wright’s side go into this one unbeaten in four matches, and if Raith are to take full points from this fixture, they’ll need to do what six out of seven sides have failed to do in the league this season, and breach the Kilmarnock defence.
League leaders Inverness are the only team to have scored against Killie this term, with goalkeeper Zach Hemming keeping a clean sheet in the other six Championship matches.
You have to go back to 2004 for the last meeting between the sides, when Kilmarnock visited Stark’s Park for a Scottish Cup third round tie.
First half goals from Gary McSwegan, Gary MacDonald and Colin Nish put the visitors firmly in control, and while Vincent Talio pulled one back for the hosts in the second half, a comeback was never realistically on the cards.
Despite that loss, Rovers have the better record across the most recent fixtures, with five wins and a draw from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Willie Collum
Head-To-Head Away League Record:
Kilmarnock Wins: 32 | Raith Rovers Wins: 8 | Draws: 12
Kilmarnock Goals: 114 | Raith Rovers Goals: 50
Kilmarnock: D-W-W-W-L-W | Raith Rovers: W-L-W-L-W-D
Kilmarnock: Fraser Murray 4 | Innes Cameron 2
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 7 | Lewis Vaughan 4
Kilmarnock: 3/4 | Raith Rovers: 16/5 | Draw: 5/2