Zanatta Seals Vital Win
Raith Rovers made it 15 games unbeaten this afternoon, with a magnificent 1-0 win over Kilmarnock.
Dario Zanatta’s penalty early in the second half was the difference between the sides, but the nature of the clean sheet was what the victory was built on, with a superb defensive performance denying Tommy Wright’s side, as Raith stayed one point behind Inveness at the top of the Championship table.
Manager John McGlynn made three changes from the side which drew 0-0 with Arbroath last weekend.
Kyle Benedictus and Frankie Musonda dropped to the bench, while Brad Spencer missed out after picking up a bad injury in that draw at Gayfield.
In their places came Reghan Tumilty, Aidan Connolly and Ethan Ross, as Rovers looked to put distance between themselves and their opponents in the table.
Raith were on the front foot in the opening moments, and a poorly defended cross into the area fell kindly for Connolly 25-yards from goal, but he failed to connect with his effort properly, and the ball dribbled wide of Zach Hemming’s left-hand post.
Rovers continued to look the likelier side to take the lead in the opening skirmishes, and Ethon Varian’s cross into the area from the right looked ideal, but with no-one able to get a connection on it, the ball drifted harmlessly out of play. Still, an encouraging start for the home side who were keeping possession well.
Despite that bright start, Rovers had a huge let off in the 9th minute, when the ball fell perfectly for Blair Alston slap bang in the middle of the penalty box, but from around 10-yards, he failed to get much oomph into his low attempt at goal, allowing Jamie MacDonald the chance to get down and smother the scuffed effort.
Ethan Ross was finding an abundance of space in midfield, and he started another move in the 15th minute, filtering the ball wide to Liam Dick, but with players in position to receive a cross, his delivery was too high and the chance was lost.
As the rain started to fall however, Kilmarnock started to come more and more into the game, with Scott Robinson in particular keeping the Rovers defence on their toes with his movement up front.
The game had been an intriguing, but reasonably quiet contest, but as the half hour approached, Rovers fashioned another chance, as good work from Reghan Tumilty allowed him to get to the line and play in Dario Zanatta, but his shot from outside the area was dispatched well over the bar.
Rovers should have been a goal behind just a few moments later though, after an excellent Killie counter-attack, Fraser Murray played in Oli Shaw, but after bursting through the rearguard and just having MacDonald to beat, he blootered his attempt well over the bar.
Kilmarnock were now in the ascendancy, and Christophe Berra had to look alert to deny Robinson a shot from close range, with the defender managing to scramble the ball away for a corner.
Rovers were still enjoying plenty possession, but their attacks were withering on the vine against Kilmarnock’s impressive back five, while the away side were looking increasingly dangerous on the counter attack.
It was the home side who looked dangerous immediately after the restart however, when Zanatta and Ross combined to good effect down the right, although Ross’ advances were well stopped by Jack Sanders at the expense of a corner, which Berra nodded wide.
They had an even better chance in the 49th minute, when Connolly was slipped in by Zanatta, but from an angle, he was unable to get his shot on target and his attempt flew over the bar.
Killie were still a threat though, and Fraser Murray’s dipping attempt from distance had MacDonald struggling, but it was only just over the bar.
However, it was Rovers who made the breakthrough in the 57th minute, after a controversial penalty decision.
Willie Collum had adjudged a hand was used inside the penalty area, much to the chagrin of the visiting players, but after the protests had died down, Zanatta stepped up to blast the penalty home for his ninth goal of the season.
The goal gave Raith a fresh impetus, and it was almost two within five minutes, when Tumilty’s cross shot across the face of goal was almost turned in by Connolly.
Killie manager Tommy Wright made a double change in the 68th minute, and the travelling fans were vociferous in their displeasure at Robinson being one of the players withdrawn, as Callum Hendry, who scored in the previous meeting between the clubs, entered the fray along with Chris Burke.
Kilmarnock were starting to enjoy the lion’s share of the ball now, but other than an ambitious overhead kick from Hendry which drifted harmlessly wide, they’d had little to show for it.
Rovers then made a double change of their own with 15 minutes remaining, with Dylan Tait and Zanatta making way for Aaron Arnott and Matej Poplatnik.
Rovers were struggling for an outlet as Killie penned them in, with Burke’s crosses causing some consternation for the Rovers defence, who were doing a fine job of repelling the danger, however, with Raith so deep, Kilmarnock were sensing a way back into the match.
With five minutes left, they had another let off, following a free-kick from Burke, there was a huge stramash in the six-yard box, which they somehow managed to clear.
ln the final minute, Rovers made their last change, with Blaise Riley Snow replacing Ethan Ross who received a rapturous show of appreciation from the fans.
Kilmarnock had one last chance, when the ball broke to Burke outside the penalty area, but his poor shot went well wide of the target.
Willie Collum’s full time whistle was the catalyst for a celebration amongst the fans and players, which gave an indication of just how big a win this was.
The massive games just keep coming for Rovers though, and next week sees them travel to Maryhill, to take on fifth placed Partick Thistle.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after today’s win:
Kilmarnock head to Stark’s Park on league business for the first time since March 1997 this Saturday, as second plays third in a huge Championship fixture.
Killie were knocked off the top spot last weekend after losing to Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Friday evening, but Raith were unable to take full advantage, with their point at Arbroath moving them above the Rugby Park side into second, a point behind the Caley Jags.
Despite having a mixed record at home this term, no-one has picked up more points on the road this season than Tommy Wright’s men, with that defeat their first away from Rugby Park this season.
This is the two sides second meeting this term, with Rovers coming out on top in the first meeting in October.
Liam Dick put Rovers into the lead with well taken header in the first half, but Callum Hendry had brought the scores level with 15 minutes remaining. However, two late goals from Matej Poplatnik sealed an excellent 3-1 win for the visitors.
Rovers hold the upper hand in the most recent meetings between the two, with five wins to Kilmarnock’s four from the last 10 match ups.
Saturday’s match referee will be Willie Collum.
Head-To-Head Home League Record:
Raith Rovers Wins: 21 | Kilmarnock Wins: 18 | Draws: 12
Raith Rovers Goals: 91 | Kilmarnock Goals: 76
Raith Rovers: D-W-W-W-D-D
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 8 | Ethan Ross 5
Kilmarnock: Oliver Shaw 8 | Fraser Murray 4 | Callum Hendry 4
Raith Rovers: 17/10 | Kilmarnock: 6/4 | Draw: 21/10