Raith Win Closes Gap At The Top
Raith Rovers moved level on points with Kilmarnock at the top of the Championship this afternoon, after coming from behind to defeat Morton 2-1 at Stark’s Park.
Michael Ledger’s 5th minute goal had given the visitors the early advantage, but an excellently crafted strike finished off by Aidan Connolly had Rovers level by the interval, before Ethan Ross made the points safe with a second half winner.
John McGlynn went with the same starting eleven which won 3-0 away to Hamilton last time out.
Despite going off at half time in that one, Brad Spencer was fit enough to start, while Frankie Musonda continued to fill the left back berth, with Liam Dick returning from injury, but having to make do with a place on the bench.
The visitors made a very bright start to this one, with Gozie Ugwu breaking forward right from kick off, evading a couple of challenges and unleashing a shot from 30 yards that wrong footed Jamie MacDonald through a deflection, before spinning wide, in what could have been the quickest goal scored, well, ever.
Ugwu was proving a handful, and after he again caused consternation in the Rovers defence, he was brought down 25-yards from goal, for a free-kick which was deflected over the bar.
However, there was only a brief reprieve, when Rovers failed to clear Jaako Oskanen’s corner kick, and Ledger forced the ball into the net from a narrow angle, to shock the home side with the opening goal after five minutes.
The goal rocked Rovers on their heels, and while they started to grow in composure and gain some possession, there was little of it taking place within Morton’s defensive third.
McGlynn’s men were making life a little difficult for themselves, and when the ball was given away to Gavin Reilly, the visitors suddenly had a two on two, but his through ball to Ugwu was far too heavy, and the chance was lost.
Rovers were starting to force a number of corners, but whether they were taken short or direct into the area, the result was the same, with Gus MacPherson’s team managing to clear.
Ton keeper, Jack Hamilton was forced into action in the 23rd minute, when he had to be alert to tip over a long distance effort from Connolly, as the home side just started to quicken their tempo and swing the momentum a little more towards the Morton goal.
That momentum continued and Rovers were level by the half hour mark, with a brilliantly well worked goal.
Brad Spencer was heavily involved, taking the ball into feet not once but twice in a move which must have contained around a dozen passes, before Ethan Ross was able to cut the ball back perfectly for Connolly, who slotted past Hamilton to bring the scores level.
Rovers had been the better team since Morton had taken the lead, but with impetus to come back out, the visitors had a good chance with 10 minutes of the half remaining, when Reilly looked like he’d gotten behind the Rovers backline, but Berra just managed to get ahead of him, and block his drive from the edge of the area.
The game was now back and forth, and Dylan Tait’s cross into the area caused some difficulty for the Morton defence, but despite struggling to clear their lines, it wouldn’t quite break for anyone in a home jersey.
It was one of the last moments of action in a first half where Raith had started slowly, but then been on top for the bulk of the 45, albeit Reilly and Ugwu were proving a handful at the other end.
Despite the vast majority of the first five minutes of the second period taking place in the Morton half, Rovers were almost undone by a move that could barely be more back to front.
A huge clearance upfield saw Reilly break away from the Raith defence, but just like in the first half, Berra did well to get back in and deflect his attempt at goal away from danger.
However, Rovers almost took the lead in the 55th minute.
Musonda’s shot from 25 yards ricocheted wide to Reghan Tumilty, whose brilliant low back post cross looked like it was being steered home by Connolly, only for Hamilton to deny him with an excellent goal-line stop.
Rovers now had the upper hand, but Morton were defending well, and while the home side were enjoying plenty of possession, the Cappielow side were restricting their space in their defensive third.
Rovers then went close not just once but twice in the 65th minute, with Dario Zanatta involved in both.
Firstly, his deep corner was nodded goalwards by Berra, but a defender was well placed to clear off the line, and after gathering back at the corner flag, the winger cut inside and unleashed a drive which Hamilton did well to keep out.
Raith’s pressure eventually paid off though, when they took the lead two minutes later, with another excellent finish.
Ross was just in line with the last Morton defender as he ran onto a through ball, and while Jack Hamilton had enjoyed a fine afternoon, he could do nothing about Ross’ exquisite curling finish to make the score 2-1.
Morton’s afternoon, which had started so well, then lurched from bad to to worse, when Alan Lithgow was shown his second yellow card, meaning the visitors were now forced to play the final 20 minutes with just 10 men.
Rovers made their first change in the 78th minute, when Ross Matthews came on for the departing Ross.
Rovers almost put the game to bed with five minutes remaining, when Zanatta’s corner was met well by Berra, but his downward header bounced just wide of the target.
With Kilmarnock losing to Arbroath, one more goal would have put Rovers top, and they almost had it in the final minute, when Poplatnik was put through, but his effort was too close to Hamilton who smothered well.
Referee, Steven Kirkland then blew for a full time, and with results elsewhere, Rovers are now behind leaders Killie by just a single goal, although it could barely be any tighter in the top half, with just two points separating the top five teams in a sensationally competitive second tier.
Rovers will put league business on hold for a week, when they travel to League One side Falkirk next Saturday for a Scottish Cup third round tie.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
RaithTV talked to John McGlynn after todays 2 – 1 win in the cinch SPFL Championship win v Morton
Raith Rovers will be looking to make it 11 games unbeaten this weekend, when they welcome Morton to Stark’s Park.
Rovers went clear in second place at the weekend, after a 3-0 win over Hamilton Accies, which kept them three points behind Kilmarnock, while lifting them a point clear of Inverness, and two clear of Partick Thistle and Arbroath.
Rovers had a clean sweep against Morton last term, with three wins out of three, and they managed to come out on top again in the solitary meeting this term, when Dario Zanatta’s goal was enough for all three points at Cappielow in September.
Morton go into this one on the back of one defeat in five games, with last weekend’s loss to Kilmarnock, their only loss since playing Inverness in October.
There’s generally a winner in this game, with the last 13 games producing a winner, with the last draw coming back in January 2014 with a 0-0 draw.
Rovers have a good record in this fixture, with seven wins and three defeats from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Steven Kirkland.
Head-To-Head home league record versus Morton:
Raith Rovers Wins: 33 | Morton Wins: 16 | Draws: 16
Raith Rovers Goals: 111 | Morton Goals: 67
Raith Rovers: W-D-D-W-D-W | Morton: L-D-D-D-W-L
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 8 | Aidan Connolly 4
Morton: Gary Oliver 4 | Gozie Ugwu 2
Raith Rovers: 4/6 | Morton: 15/4 | Draw: 5/2