UNBEATEN RUN GOES AS PARTICK WIN
There was bitter disappointment for Raith at a gloomy and wintry Firhill as substitute Kyle Turner’s close-range finish saw Partick Thistle take a late victory over John McGlynn’s side. Following a first-half in which the Jags had the better possession and the better chances, Christophe Berra’s sending-off on the hour meant that Raith had to defend for their lives in the second half, and came within a minute of taking a point before Turner’s late winner.
With the game’s stand-out performer in wide midfielder Scott Tiffoney, and a regular supply into strikers Rudden and Brian Graham, Partick had the upper hand for long spells as Raith struggled to generate any flow through midfield. As Raith found themselves hemmed in after Berra’s dismissal, a point would have been a reward for a stout defensive performance, but in truth Thistle did enough to deserve the three points. While Raith remain third in this season’s Championship race at the half-way stage, today’s result brings to an end Rovers’ fine run of fifteen games unbeaten in all competitions.
John McGlynn could name only four substitutes, with several familiar faces missing out. There was a welcome return for Kyle Benedictus, restored to the centre of defence alongside Christophe Berra. Upfront there was a start for Aaron Arnott, in the absence of Ethon Varian – Matej Poplatnik was also missing from the substitutes’ bench. Tom Lang and Blaise Riley-Snow were also absent.
Thistle were boosted with the return of Zak Rudden to the starting line-up, the striker being linked with Dundee United earlier in the season. The strike pairing of Rudden and Brian Graham had helped Thistle to be the League’s top scorers, and both would have chances to add to their tallies here. Youngster Cammy Smith was moved back to the right side of midfield, with Kyle Turner dropping to the bench. Still smarting from last week’s defeat to Arbroath, which had brought an end to a long unbeaten run, MacCall’s side would treat today’s fixture as one of their biggest of the season to date.
With thick fog covering much of central Glasgow, the match began with all present peering through the mist to make out the action on the park – Thistle mascot Kingsley cut a particularly striking outline during the pre-match ceremonies. Scott Tiffoney was first to show, and should arguably have found the net inside the first minute – Thistle looked brimming with early purpose.
Early on, Rudden and Graham looked to press up against Berra and Benedictus, offering options to colleagues but also disrupting Raith’s passing from deep. Tiffoney on one side and Cammy Smith also locked horns with Tumilty and Dick in the wide areas.
It was ten minutes or so before Raith began to find their feet – many longer passes were played down the sides rather than engaging Thistle’s sizeable centre-halves, with Ethan Ross and Aaron Arnott the targets. On twelve minutes, a push on Arnott gave Aiden Connolly the chance to fire a free-kick into Sneddon’s box from a dangerous position, but the Thistle keeper was able to usher the set-piece behind. Dick overlapped Zanatta minutes later, with Mayo and Holt each called into action to clear Thistle’s lines.
Thistle regained the initiative – Docherty’s fine cross saw old warriors Benedictus and Graham clash in the six-yard box. Bannigan’s corner on twenty minutes lead to another real stramash in front of MacDonald’s goal, with Liam Dick eventually thumping clear. Ian MacCall’s side were creating real pressure – a Tiffoney cross bounced through the box and off a post, and Cammy Smith’s blast at goal was deflected away through a forest of legs.
With half-an-hour gone, the home side were still very much on top, with Raith unable to string passes together in midfield, and Thistle’s central two of Bannigan and Docherty winning the majority of the second balls in the central third. Sneddon’s long clearance saw Foster escape in behind Zanatta, with the Raith man tugging Foster’s jersey to prevent a clear run into the box, earning a deserved yellow from referee Kirkland.
Raith’s familiar tactic of playing out from the back seemed to be falling victim both to the Firhill pitch and the aggressive press from the Thistle midfield and front-men – Benedictus and Berra were unable to pass except under pressure, with Dick and Tumilty also being closely watched. A 50/50 challenge broke to Docherty, and suddenly Tiffoney was bursting clear, with only Benedictus’ excellent tracking preventing a clear shot on goal.
The balance of play continued to be more toward Jamie MacDonald’s goal with Sneddon the quieter of the two keepers. Tiffoney’s escape and cross had Raith’s centre-halves at action stations, with Graham and Rudden each having sights of goal. Despite no lack of effort from Tait and Matthews, it was Docherty’s promptings from midfield which had been the half’s stand-out feature, with the Thistle captain picking several expert passes to keep play flowing toward the Raith end.
With the final chance of the half, Akinola won a challenge in midfield, and soon Rudden was clear on the left – his shot zipping over MacDonald’s bar. Again, Benedictus and Berra had proved resolute under pressure. With referee Kirkland’s whistle drawing the first half to a close, it would be John McGlynn with more puzzles to ponder at the interval.
Raith’s response was to move Zanatta through the middle to begin the second half, with Ethan Ross moving to the left, and early indications were positive, with Mayo and Akinola working hard to answer any renewed threat from Rovers in attack. Aaron Arnott almost found space from a long clearance, with Kevin Holt showing greater determination to regain possession.
Minutes later, Raith generated their best chance of the game – Tumilty’s driving run at Holt resulted from a fine switch of play after Liam Dick had made good progress on the other flank; Aaron Arnott eventually cracking a fizzing drive right through Sneddon’s six-yard box and away.
With Rovers having fought their way back into the game, suddenly the match lurched away from the Kirkcaldy side – with the ball bouncing in midfield, Christophe Berra clashed with Cammy Smith, the Thistle man collapsing to the turf. Referee Kirkland brandished a straight red card, with Berra’s speed into the challenge adjudged the deciding factor. With Raith having to regroup, Thistle redoubled their efforts – McGlynn withdrew Dario Zanatta for Frankie Musonda, while Ian MacCall replaced the tiring Zak Rudden with Kyle Turner. Raith would require to defend stoutly and in numbers if they were to take anything from the match.
There was drama at the Raith end within minutes – first Graham then Smith had blasts at goal, Jamie MacDonald the hero as the ball bobbled on the goal-line before being thumped clear. MacDonald – who was defending an astonishing run of four successive clean sheets on his last four visits to Firhill – was standing up firm to the Thistle onslaught.
Kyle Turner was offering a useful outlet for the home side, and would prove the match-winner – Docherty and Bannigan looked to the substitute to deliver quality service aimed at Brian Graham, with Frankie Musonda earning his spurs with several strong defensive headers. With Raith looking to play deep and move play into the Thistle half, spaces began to open up for the home side to exploit, with Turner and Tiffoney looking to stretch the Rovers’ defence. Tiffoney’s burst needed a clearance from Matthews as Raith continued to hold on.
The Dickensian fog was still a factor, with visibility poor. At pitch level, the players looked unaffected, but supporters peering through the gloom at MacDonald’s goal had their work cut out following the play. Another high ball saw Musonda outjump Graham again. Docherty blasted wide when there were better options available. Ethan Ross was withdrawn after having run his socks off – Kieran Mitchell would look to badger Thistle’s defenders in possession, and perhaps eke out a chance before the final whistle. Tumilty’s wallop from half-way had Sneddon back-peddling, but did not cause undue alarm for the home side.
There was a golden chance with three minutes remaining – Tiffoney drove beyond Connolly, firing a driven cross through the penalty area, and Kyle Turner could only blast over the bar with the goal at his mercy. With Thistle fans holding their heads, Raith could breathe again.
Fans of both sides were on their feet in the closing minutes – Mitchell’s excellent close control saw Raith commit numbers forward, with Tumilty almost creating room for the shot; only for a good defensive block see Docherty release Tiffoney on the left, with Frankie Musonda covering well. Thistle’s corner came to nothing. Moments later, Dylan Tait’s flying tackle on Tiffoney snuffed out another opportunity deep in injury time. Substitute Ross Maciver earned another Thistle corner – Scott Tiffoney had a clear sight of goal at the far post, but Thistle players could only watch the ball bounce agonisingly wide.
With the watch showing ninety-five minutes, finally Thistle earned the win they had surely deserved on the balance of play – Tiffoney cut inside Tumilty and flighted a lovely cross to the far post, Maciver knocked the ball back across goal and Kyle Turner was sharpest, firing home from point-blank range. The home fans exploded with joy; Raith players sank to their knees.
With the final whistle following moments later, Partick rejoiced, having finally punctured Rovers’ massed defensive ranks at the very end. With eight days before the next fixture, there is a welcome and much-needed chance to regroup for John McGlynn’s men – only a point behind joint leaders Inverness and Arbroath with half of the season gone – but no doubt hugely disappointed after conceding with the last attack of the game.
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after today’s match:
Raith Rovers head to Firhill this Saturday, hoping to extend their unbeaten sequence to 16 matches against fifth placed Partick Thistle.
The Maryhill men have been enjoying a good season of their own, and despite just being outside the playoff spots, are only five points behind second placed Raith, and just a point behind the coveted playoff spots.
It’s been eight years since Raith journeyed to this venue for a league game, a 0-0 draw back in 2013, a season in which Rovers would finish in mid-table, while Thistle would win the league.
Rovers have visited the venue more recently on cup business however, when they played out a Challenge Cup semi-final there in February last year.
Kyle Benedictus edged Rovers in front in the first half, and with 15 minutes remaining, Regan Hendry appeared to put the game beyond the hosts, after a composed finish put Raith two up. However, a late Lewis Mansell goal ensured a nervy finish to the game, although Raith held on to get a place in a final which unfortunately was never played.
The other meeting this term was even more eventful, with Rovers winning 3-2 back in September.
Dario Zanatta had given Rovers the lead midway through the first half, and Benedictus, perhaps unusually, bagged a brace, to seemingly put Rovers on easy street.
However, late goals from Brian Graham and Zak Rudden had Raith fans concerned that a similar collapse to the opening day draw with Hamilton was on the cards, but Rovers held out to take the three points.
Rovers hold the upper hand in the most recent meetings between the clubs, with four wins and four draws from the last 10 games.
Saturday’s match referee will be Steven Kirkland
Head-To-Head Away League Record:
Partick Thistle Wins: 39 | Raith Rovers Wins: 11 | Draws: 16
Partick Thistle Goals: 127 | Raith Rovers Goals: 64
Partick Thistle: W-W-W-W-D-L | Raith Rovers: W-W-W-D-D-W
Partick Thistle: Brian Graham 13 | Zak Rudden 8
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 9 | Aidan Connolly 5 | Ethan Ross 5
Partick Thistle: 11/8 | Raith Rovers: 9/5 | Draw: 11/5