POLISHED RAITH DOMINATE ACCIES
Raith laid their opening-day ghosts to rest with a comprehensive three-goal victory over Hamilton Accies at the Fountain of Youth Stadium. An early goal earned by Ethon Varian although credited as an own-goal, together with two from Ethan Ross, gave Raith a match-winning lead at the interval, and a combination of robust defence and bright passing in the second-half ensured there was no repeat of Hamilton’s recovery from the season’s opening fixture.
While the home side’s second-half was far better than their first, Raith were very much on top in a first half full of attacking verve from both left and right flanks, the high point being Ethan Ross’ fine showing earning the former Aberdeen man two excellent goals. As Rovers stretched their unbeaten run to ten matches, returning defender Frankie Musonda had an impressive ninety minutes at left-back, and club captain Kyle Benedictus also made a welcome appearance in the closing stages – with Inverness’ home defeat, Raith rise to second in the table while Accies’ woes continue, having lost twenty-eight goals in fourteen League fixtures.
With Raith still riding high following an unbeaten run extending to nine games, manager John McGlynn named an unchanged side to the eleven who had taken a point at Palmerston the previous Saturday, with Frankie Musonda continuing at full-back in the absence of injured full-back Liam Dick. There was a welcome return for club captain Kyle Benedictus, taking his place amongst the substitutes following his muscle pull in the home win over Partick Thistle.
Despite looking off the pace for much of the first half of last week’s game against Queen of the South, Raith looked to start as brightly as the autumnal North Lanarkshire sunshine, and in four minutes the visitors were ahead. Reghan Tumilty had already burst down the right before Dylan Tait threaded a lovely ball through the inside left channel for Ethon Varian, and with goalkeeper Hilton rushing out, Varian’s shot deflected off full-back and former Rover Kieran MacDonald into the net, Varian peeling away in celebration as Rovers got off to the best possible start.
With Tait and Spencer patrolling midfield, the home side found it difficult to gain a foothold in the opening stages. Impressive Reegan Mimnaugh looked isolated in his midfield role, unable to link up with striker Andy Ryan. Flying full-back Kieran MacDonald – so often an attacking threat in Raith Rovers’ colours last season – only had one break of note in the opening stages, Raith’s Jamie MacDonald blocking at his near post. Marley Redfern, swapping from right to left flank in the first half, was unable to trouble either full-back.
Dario Zanatta, quiet early on, began to make his presence felt as the half reached the mid-way point. Linking well with full-back Musonda, Zanatta was asking questions of full-back Matheson regularly and often – one free-kick flew dangerously into Hilton’s crowded near-post area; another run and drive had centre-half Popescu at action stations. Starting today at the expense of Jamie Hamilton, the Hearts loanee Popescu was called into action with numerous blocks and challenges for Accies in the early stages.
Accies were missing front-man David Moyo, with five-goal Andy Ryan the lone striker and Ryan’s physicality was a key ingredient as the home side looked to edge their way back into the game. Pressurising centre-halves Berra and Lang from a number of corners, Ryan was putting himself about, although Tait and Spencer did well to sweep up a number of 50/50 balls.
On thirty-two minutes, Raith put themselves further ahead, and it was Zanatta the architect – breaking out of midfield, Zanatta ran hard down the centre, drawing Accies’ defenders. With a lovely weighted pass, Zanatta played in Ethan Ross, and the former Aberdeen man’s composed finish across Hilton found the corner of the net. Rovers’ creative flow through midfield had been the game’s most notable feature in the first half-hour, and none could argue with Raith being two goals to the good given the balance of play. Kieran MacDonald earned a yellow card for a trip on the escaping Connolly – evidence of frustration in the home side’s ranks.
Ethon Varian was next to threaten, his driving run drawing a tug from Popescu inside the Accies penalty area, but referee Peter Stuart was unmoved. Raith’s defensive passing let them down moments later, with Lang and Spencer losing control – Spencer drew a yellow card after having his pocket picked in possession, although Josh Mullin’s free-kick flew harmlessly wide.
Accies pressed again with five minutes to go – Ryan battled Lang and screwed a cross back through the six-yard box, and only Berra’s lusty clearance averted a clear shot on goal. Kieran MacDonald cut inside into central midfield, looking to bring in Redfern and Smith, but Dylan Tait was attentive in his defensive duties.
With a minute till the break, Ethan Ross found a yard of space inside the Accies’ box to net his second and Rovers’ third – after Tumilty and Tait had threatened on the right, the ball was cleared out to Zanatta who left Matheson for dead on the far-left touchline, with the Canadian’s driven low cross finding Ross, who’s finish was clinical and concise – with the half-time whistle following soon after, it was the home side who had a mountain to climb while Raith had looked pacy in possession, and polished in attack.
Having seen his side jeered off at half-time, home manager Stuart Taylor sent his side out buzzing, and Accies quickly won a couple of corners as they looked to make inroads into the three-goal deficit. Within a minute, Marley Redfern skied a splendid opportunity after a training-ground routine from a corner saw the midfielder clear at the far post. The Accies’ man held his head, knowing that a scoring finish could have re-invigorated his side. No Raith fan would need reminding of the four-goal collapse on the opening day at Stark’s Park – the three points would not be secure until the final whistle, no matter the score.
Raith did well to re-establish themselves following the home side’s early flurry. Rovers’ passing in the defensive third has been a feature, drawing any momentum from their opponents and controlling the pace of the game. Here, Jamie MacDonald’s passing was of a high quality as Lang and Berra also knocked the ball left and right. On fifty-six minutes, Zanatta escaped beyond Matheson again, his cross an inch too high for the onrushing Varian. Tait’s shot called Hilton into action again.
Accies tried to drive forward, searching in vain for a route back into the match. With the ineffective Ronan Hughes withdrawn for Scott Martin, and under a glorious purple sunset, Hamilton redoubled their efforts. Tait walloped clear as Mullin looked to swoop, and Ryan bustled up against Berra and Lang, however with Raith’s ability to pass and move around the defensive third, Hamilton struggled to build any real momentum despite their increased work-rate.
Frankie Musonda showed his quality under pressure at the end of Raith’s play-off campaign last season, stepping-in at centre-half as injuries and suspensions took their toll on Rovers’ promotion hopes, and the last few games have seen the popular defender re-emerge as an asset in the Raith side. Playing at left full-back, Musonda’s control and composure in possession stood out, linking well with Zanatta, and exchanging short sharp passes with Tait to pass Rovers out of trouble on numerous occasions. Musonda’s return will be a real boost to John McGlynn in the coming weeks and months.
With twenty minutes to go, a second good chance of the half for Accies went a-begging. With Virtanen replacing Redfern, the substitute created space to cross for Andy Ryan, but the striker could only nod a weak header at Jamie MacDonald where a more clinical finish could have burst the net – Ryan pounded the artificial turf in frustration. With his next effort, Ryan opened up from distance having won a midfield skirmish – again, MacDonald gathered comfortably.
Ethon Varian nearly grabbed a fourth for Raith as Ethan Ross broke impressively from midfield with fifteen minutes to go – while keeper Hilton was quickest, rescuing his side with a flying save, Raith’s quickness through midfield and speed on the break sent a clear message to the home side. While Accies were looking to commit men forward in the hope of rescuing a point, Rovers looked as likely to add to their lead as Accies get their first.
With Matej Poplatnik introduced for Ethan Ross – the two-goal striker earning the applause from the travelling band of Raith support – Rovers continued to manage the game toward the victory their dominant first-half had merited. Frankie Musonda connected with a Connolly corner-kick, but was unable to get his header on target. Lewis Smith drove at Musonda, but the Raith man did well to get a leg in to block any progress; Accies’ substitute Ben Stirling was rightly booked for an untidy hack at Musonda having been beaten on his inside.
Raith fans enjoyed the cheering sight of Kyle Benedictus’ return to first-team action, with a late cameo as substitute; home striker Andy Ryan’s miserable afternoon saw the striker earn yellow with a late challenge in midfield. With the match petering out in the closing stages – Popescu’s late header high and wide – Rovers fully deserved their three goals and the clean sheet, showing an appetite for goals and a strength in defence, sending Raith’s boisterous band of travelling fans back home in buoyant mood.
© Eddie Doig 2021
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the win in the cinch Championship
Raith Rovers will be looking to make it 10 games unbeaten this weekend, when they take on Hamilton Academically at New Douglas Park.
Both teams go into this one on the back of a 1-1 draw, with Rovers grabbing a point in Dumfries against the Doonhamers, while Hamilton were denied all three points by Arbroath, who equalised in injury time.
Despite that disappointment, that made it three games unbeaten for the Accies, who now sit seventh in the Championship, two points above ninth placed Queen of the South, and six above bottom club Dunfermline.
This will be Rovers first trip to the venue in seven years, with Hamilton emerging as winners by the odd goal in five.
John Baird had given Rovers the lead, before Tony Andrew and James Keatings swung the match Hamilton’s way.
However, Baird equalised just a moment after Keatings strike, only for Jason Scotland to win it in injury time.
That drama still didn’t match up to what unfolded the last time the sides met this season however, when Raith contrived to let a four goal lead slip in the final 20 minutes, in an incredible 4-4 draw back in July.
Hamilton hold the upper hand in the most recent fixtures, with five wins and two draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Peter Stuart.
Head-To-Head Away League Record:
Hamilton Wins: 28 | Raith Rovers Wins: 20 | Draws: 19
Hamilton Goals: 104 | Raith Rovers Goals: 98
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-D-W-D
Hamilton: Andy Ryan 6 | Lewis Smith 3
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 8 | Lewis Vaughan 4
Hamilton: 2/1 | Raith Rovers: 5/4 | Draw: 21/10