Rovers Draw Blank At Somerset
Raith Rovers title chances took a jolt at Somerset Park this afternoon, after a dominant Ayr United defeated them 2-0.
Trailing at the interval thanks to a goal from Tomi Adoloye, Rovers failed to seriously threaten to get back into it in the second period, and Mark McKenzie made the points safe with 15 minutes remaining.
John McGlynn made two changes from the side which went down to a late, late defeat at Firhill at the weekend.
Christophe Berra missed out through suspension after Rovers failed with his appeal in midweek, meaning Tom Lang came back into the side to partner Kyle Benedictus at the heart of the defence.
Further forward, Ethan Varian returned to the starting eleven at the expense of Aaron Arnott who dropped to the bench, while Blaise Riley-Snow and Matej Poplatnik were also brought back into the squad after missing out at Maryhill.
Ayr appeared to have a little more of a spring in their step than in recent weeks, and were getting forward well in the opening moments, and although they were happy to take shots on from distance, none of their three efforts in the first five minutes were troubling Jamie MacDonald in the Raith goal.
Both teams were struggling to string together too many passes in the game’s opening quarter of an hour, with the bulk of Raith’s half chances coming from set-pieces, while Ayr had threatened once or twice on the break.
Rovers did eke out a chance in the 16th minute, when good play down the left from Zanatta led to Varian getting a sight at goal, but his shot from 10 yards was well blocked by Jack Baird.
Rovers had been slack in possession in the game, and that cost them in the 21st minute, when Ayr took the lead.
Tumilty’s pass to Lang was wide of the mark and let in Adoloye, who was able to run free in on goal, and despite taking the shot early, he was able to force it past MacDonald and into the corner to gift the home side the lead.
Ayr continued to look the likelier to score again, and James Maxwell almost made it two in the 31st minute, when his volley from the edge of the area was blocked, and although the ball broke back to him, he pulled his follow up attempt wide of the target.
Rovers continued to make life difficult for themselves, with Dylan Tait giving the ball away on the edge of the area, although Adoloye was unable to take advantage of it, only for Tumilty to then give the ball away on the right hand side, allowing Pat Reading to pick up possession and crash a brilliant effort off the bar as Rovers continued to toil.
Ayr came close again in the 42nd minute, when a fine run down the right from Mark McKenzie ended with him delivering a cross into the area for an unmarked Sreven Bardley, who should have doen better than nod the ball wide of target.
It was the final piece of action in a half in which Raith had struggled at both ends of the park, as the Honest Men held the upper hand for the overwhelming majority of it.
The visitors were enjoying a little more possession at the start of the second period, although just like in the first 45, Ayr were doing a great job of closing them down and giving them as little time as possible on the ball.
It was a tentatively encouraging opening however, as Rovers enjoyed their most productive period of the match, with a couple of crosses into the Ayr box causing a degree of anxiety, although both were dealt with effectively.
It was a short lived improvement though, as Ayr started to take command once more, and Bradley perhaps should have done more when the ball broke to him at the back post following a corner in the 59th minute, but he could only rattle the ball into the side netting, albeit with a crowd of players in front of him.
However, Rovers missed a huge chance in the 62nd minute, when a free-kick from Aidan Connolly looked ideal for Varian, but despite catching it well first time, he pulled the chance wide from inside the area.
They almost had an even bigger reason to rue that miss five minutes later, when the home side missed a huge chance of their own.
Again, Rovers played themselves into trouble in the middle of the park, which allowed Andy Murdoch to get down the right, but despite his square pass looking ideal for Adoloye, he somehow skied his chase from close range over the bar.
Rovers had barely created anything of note from open play in the first 70 minutes, but they came close in the 71st, when patient build up play by Tait on the end of the area eventually ended up with the ball falling to Ross Matthews, but from 25 yards, his drilled shot went wide.
However, Ayr got the goal their dominance deserved in the 75th minute, when Murdoch managed to turn away from two Raith players in the middle of the park before playing the ball out wide to McKenzie, who drilled an effort past MacDonald from an angle.
Even with 15 minutes remaining, you sensed that was almost certainly that.
Raith then made a change, with Poplatnik replacing Dario Zanatta, but Ayr should have made it three almost immediately, after Matthews brought down Adoloye inside the area, but the forward got up and took the kick himself, and MacDonald read his effort perfectly, diving to his right and tipping it wide.
Rovers had struggled to contain the 10-goal forward all day, and he almost increased the lead in the 84th minute, after winning a foot race down the right which saw him with just the ‘keeper to beat, but his calm finish was slipped wide of both MacDonald and the post.
The defeat means Raith remain in third place in the table, but teams are starting to bunch up behind them, with Killie just a point behind, while fifth placed Partick Thistle are just two behind with a game in hand.
With Dunfermline next up on January second, Rovers will be hoping to improve their fortunes in the final third, with just one goal scored in their last five outings.
With Thanks to Martin Greig for action photos from Somerset Park:
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the defeat to Ayr United:
After the disappointment of a last gasp defeat to Partick Thistle last weekend, Raith Rovers will be looking to bounce back on Boxing Day with a win at Somerset Park against Ayr United.
The Honest Men relieved Jim Duffy of managerial duties after their 3-0 loss to Queen of the South on Saturday, a result which made it nine league games without a win, and left them eighth in the table, two points ahead of bottom side Morton, and one ahead of ninth place Dunfermline.
David White will take interim charge for the match, which marks the beginning of the second half of the campaign.
It was a much weakened Rovers side which went down to their first defeat in 16 matches against Partick Thistle, and John McGlynn will be hoping to have a number of players back for this one.
The result left them one point behind both Arbroath and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and two ahead of Partick Thistle, as the battle at the top of the table intensifies.
Rovers have a 100% record against Ayr United this term, winning 2-0 at this venue back in September, with goals coming from Ethon Varian and Dario Zanatta.
It was a much tighter affair at Stark’s Park in October however, despite Rovers running into a two goal half time lead, thanks to goals from Zanatta and Ethan Ross. However, a much improved showing from United in the second period, saw the lead halved through Jack Baird, although Rovers held out to take three points.
Rovers have the upper hand in the most recent meetings, with four wins and four draws from the last 10 fixtures.
Sunday’s match referee will be David Dickinson.
Head-To-Head Away League Record:
Ayr United Wins: 34 | Raith Rovers Wins: 17 | Draws: 24
Ayr United Goals: 96 | Raith Rovers Goals: 75
Ayr United: L-L-W-D-D-L
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-D-W-L
Ayr United: Tomi Adeloye 9 | Steven Bradley 2
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 9 | Aidan Connolly 5 | Ethan Ross 5
Ayr United: 2/1 | Raith Rovers: 6/5 | Draw: 21/10