WEATHER THE WINNER AS RAITH DRAW
Raith took a point amidst driving wind and rain at Cappielow despite having lead at half-time after a Jamie Gullan penalty and a fine strike from Reghan Tumilty had put Rovers’ noses in front following Gozie Ugwu’s first-half strike.
With the strong wind at Morton’s backs in the second half, Raith were required to mount a rearguard action through-out the second period, as strikers Gavin Reilly and Robbie Muirhead missed a series of chances to give the home side the win after Muirhead’s header had pulled the sides level. While Raith are back on the scoring trail after a long barren run, the draw sees Raith lose further ground on their play-off rivals in the Scottish Championship promotion race.
Having secured progress in the Scottish Cup at non-league Banks o’Dee last weekend, manager John McGlynn returned to the conundrum of how to re-open Raith’s goal-scoring account. Jamie Gullan lead the line, ably supported from midfield by Ethan Ross and Ben Williamson. Tom Lang dropped out, with a three-man central defence of Benedictus, Berra, and Musonda allowing Liam Dick and Reghan Tumilty to attack down the flanks. Gullan lured Brandon into a rash booking on only twelve minutes.
Morton had been revitalised with the installation of Dougie Imrie as manager – following a 5-0 goal win over fellow strugglers Dunfermline, Imrie’s side had been victorious at Somerset Park and lost narrowly to Motherwell in the Cup. Gavin Reilly – scorer of both goals against Ayr United – started upfront, with Robbie Muirhead on the bench.
While the conditions didn’t suit flowing football, the home side were first to settle. Reece Lyon looked to sit tight upon Sam Stanton, with Gozie Ugwu engaging Benedictus regularly in the opening stages. Morton pressed high on the Raith defence and midfield, with Rovers unable to string two passes together. The first chance fell to Morton – Strapp dispossessed Gullan, and within seconds Ugwu fired a snap-shot at MacDonald, although the Rovers keeper was equal to it.
With quarter of hour gone, Raith suddenly had a head of steam. A lovely five-man passing move saw Liam Dick work the ball inside via Williamson and Gullan, before Ethan Ross’ goalbound shot was headed clear by Strapp. From the resulting corner, Cameron Blues hacked off the Morton line as Raith were inches from taking the lead.
Rovers suffered a blow midway through the half with the departure through injury of Christophe Berra – the veteran defender having started all but two of Raith’s games this season, but hobbled down the tunnel early here. Tom Lang slotted straight into the centre of defence.
Morton benefitted from the stoppage, taking advantage to regroup, and within a minute the home side took the lead – defender McLean’s snapshot was blocked by MacDonald but Gozie Ugwu finished sharply from the rebound in front of Musonda, peeling away to take the acclaim of his colleagues.
On the half-hour, again Raith had to scramble away Lewis Strapp’s low centre as Morton had numbers forward. The goal had settled the home side after Rovers’ best spell, and highlighted the contrast in each side’s style: Rovers were passing left and right across midfield and out from defence, while Morton attacked directly and quickly as soon as possession was gained. While Morton defenders Lithgow and McLean had time to assess Raith’s slow build-up, Reilly and Ugwu pressed up quickly, harrying Raith’s defensive trio.
Although Rovers’ build-up was often slow, with ten minutes till the break the tempo increased – Benedictus’ inside ball saw Gullan skip away from McLean, and Tumilty was clear down the right flank, the full-back’s fine centre flashing beyond the far post with Ethan Ross inches away from an equaliser.
Raith pressed again – Stanton’s angled drive from a corner was pushed away by keeper Hamilton at full-stretch, the power and whip on the shot causing real problems for the former Scotland squad goalkeeper. Seconds later, another lovely passing move saw Stanton escape behind Ledger, with the full-back’s clumsy challenge giving referee Dickinson no option but to point to the spot. Ledger was booked, with Gullan bursting the net from twelve yards to get Raith back on terms.
Ten minutes of attacking pressure had finally seen a deserved breakthough, and there was clear relief flowing through Rovers’ ranks. Stanton burst through midfield moments later, dissecting McLean and Lithgow with a fine ball allowing Gullan a run, although the Morton defence recovered.
Morton have the poorest home record in the Championship, and within a minute, Raith had their second. It was the visitors’ press which drew the error – Ugwu’s clumsy touch saw the ball break in the Morton rearguard; Gullan challenged Ledger, Tumilty nipped in ahead of McLean, rounded captain Lithgow, and thumped past Hamilton from fully twenty yards. Raith’s character had shone through, and it was the visitors whose momentum carried them to the welcome sanctuary of the dressing-room at the half.
With the swirling rain and breeze at their backs, the home side looked to get numbers forward early, with the words of their manager no doubt ringing in their ears. Brandon burst past Liam Dick to earn a corner, Ugwu held off Lang to feed Reilly, and several corners swung dangerously through MacDonald’s six-yard box – an Ugwu header clasped out of the air by a relieved Raith goalkeeper. At the other end, Stanton dragged a shot wide after fabulous close-control in difficult conditions. Reece Lyon’s free-kick whizzed just over.
Morton scented an equaliser. Brandon’s driven cross beat both Lang and Benedictus, with MacDonald beating Ugwu to the cut-back. With the Raith penalty box full of bodies, Lithgow’s flick was stabbed home by Oliver, only for the linesman’s flag to cut short the home celebrations. With a rare sortie into the Morton half, Jamie Gullan nipped in behind McLean and nearly played in Liam Dick at the far post, with the ball just drifting beyond the Raith full-back.
With the home side pressing, Cup goal-scorer Robbie Muirhead was introduced, with full-back Ledger withdrawn, as Morton moved to a 4-3-3, but the next chance fell to Raith – a nice reverse ball from Stanton saw Gullan fire at goal, with Hamilton’s strong right-hand denying Raith a third. Stanton saw yellow seconds later as an escaping Ugwu was felled on half-way.
The swirling wind continued to be a factor. Blowing straight down the park, Strapp’s long throws were becoming a real issue with Morton packing the box at every opportunity. With fifteen minutes to go, there was joy for the home fans as substitute Muirhead rose highest to flick home another angled Strapp delivery, with MacDonald helpless.
Although Raith looked to have the quality to carve out chances, the conditions saw the play naturally drift toward MacDonald’s goal – numerous crosses and throw-ins produced regular moments of drama around the Raith rearguard. There were shouts of handball, as Benedictus rose to head clear another troubling cross. With ten minutes remaining, it was the home side who looked the more likely. A four-on-three chance went a-begging as Cameron Blues headed over from Reilly’s inch-perfect delivery.
With Matej Poplatnik introduced, Raith began to connect with passes through midfield, but Morton continued to press. Ugwu’s audacious backheel required a sharp save from MacDonald – the Morton striker grinning as his former colleague read his intentions. Reilly’s slide-rule pass saw Muirhead charging through the middle, only for the Raith keeper to charge from his line and clear the danger. With the last of a succession of fine deliveries from wide out, Lewis Strapp’s vicious inswinging cross flew inches beyond Reilly sliding in at the far post.
While Raith’s enterprising pass-and-move play had produced the better moments of quality particularly in the first half, the second half was notable for the waves of pressure toward Jamie MacDonald’s goal. With Lewis Strapp’s deliveries a constant source of danger from a Raith perspective, the visitors could look upon this as a point gained and not two points dropped. Raith will look to regroup before next Tuesday’s home League encounter with Queen of the South.
Photo Gallery will appear here shortly
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the draw at Cappielow:
After getting back to winning ways against Banks O’ Dee at the weekend, Raith Rovers will be looking to carry that momentum into the league campaign as they travel to Greenock to take on a resurgent Morton side on Friday evening.
New ‘Ton boss, Dougie Imrie has made a bright start to his managerial career, with a 5-0 win over Dunfermline, and a win and a draw against Ayr and Kilmarnock respectively, as well as a narrow defeat to Motherwell in the Scottish Cup last weekend.
Those league wins have helped lift Morton off the foot of the table and they now reside in eighth place, out of the danger zone, but only two points ahead of bottom side Queen of the South.
Rovers on the other hand, will be hoping that three points here can lift them level on points with second placed Inverness, and within three points of leaders Arbroath, with the rest of the division all playing a day later on Saturday.
This will be the clubs third meeting this term, and Rovers have won on both previous occasions. Indeed, Rovers have now won six in a row against the Greenock side, with Morton’s last win coming in 2017.
Rovers won 1-0 in September when the clubs last met at Cappielow, with Dario Zanatta scoring the only goal.
It was similarly close in the return fixture in November, with Michael Ledger giving the visitors an early lead, but goals from Aidan Connolly and Ethan Ross ensured Rovers would again take the win.
As you’d expect from the glut of wins in recent seasons, Rovers have a good record in this one, with seven wins and three defeats from the last 10 contests.
Friday night’s match referee will be David Dickinson.
Head-To-Head Away Record:
Morton Wins: 34
Raith Rovers Wins: 18
Morton Goals: 115
Raith Rovers Goals: 60
Raith Rovers: L-L-D-D-L-W
Morton: Robbie Muirhead 6, Gary Oliver 6
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 9, Ethan Ross 6
Raith Rovers: 13/10