SIX GOALS BUT POINTS DROPPED
Raith Rovers and Queen of the South played out an entertaining draw, with goals aplenty on a wintry night at Starks Park. The home side deservedly led at the break with two early goals from Dario Zanatta and Aiden Connolly, but the visitors pulled their way back into it with Liddle and Cooper’s replies leaving the match evenly poised, with Matej Poplatnik and a late cracker from Shea Gordon leaving the sides level.
While each side had their moments, the draw helps neither – Raith losing ground on their rivals with Partick Thistle victorious over Ayr United, and the Doonhamers still rooted to the foot of the table, two points behind nearest rivals Greenock Morton.
Having struggled for goals of late, John McGlynn moved to a more traditional 4-4-2…. with Christophe Berra out, Frankie Musonda and Kyle Benedictus lined up and centre-half; Connolly and Zanatta were recalled in wide midfield, and Ethan Ross partnered Jamie Gullan upfront – the latter was first to show, drawing a sharp save from Josh Rae in the visitors’ goal as early as the first minute.
Queens had the boost of the return of Innes Cameron on loan from Kilmarnock, scorer of three goals in his previous spell. Queens, looking to lift themselves from the foot of the table, could take heart from their last visit to Stark’s in September, when Lee Connelly scored the only goal – the speed-merchant had the ball in the net early on, but was flagged narrowly off-side. Partick Thistle midfielder Shea Gordon had joined on loan and started here, with Middlesbrough forward Sam Folarin on the bench – Gordon would provide the match’s real highlight with his splendid late third.
The opening minutes were bright and breezy, and Raith were two up after only twelve minutes – firstly, Aiden Connolly escaped down the right-hand side beyond full-back Cooper, composed himself by cutting inside, and swerved a wicked far-post cross allowing Dario Zanatta to fire home at the far post, his tenth of the season.
No sooner had Queens settled themselves than they found themselves two down – again it was Aiden Connolly the architect and this time the finisher too. Finding space again down the right, the midfielder’s perfect twenty-yard curler found Rae’s top-right hand corner with the Doonhamers’ keeper a spectator. Incredibly Sam Stanton rattled a post minutes later following a fine run and shot with the Queens’ defence at sixes and sevens.
To their credit, Queens dug in and pulled a goal back almost immediately – Musonda’s header from a Johnston cross didn’t clear the area, and a bouncing ball was flashed home by Ben Liddle to half the deficit. Darragh O’Connor was next to try, forcing a driven cross through MacDonald’s six-yard area – the Raith keeper did well to hang on with Cameron lurking. Connelly had MacDonald scampering from his goal soon after, although was unable to capitalise.
Queens continued to press, and looked the more likely as the half hour passed. The evergreen Willie Gibson was a constant menace, Max Johnston a livewire on the right-hand side, and Lee Connelly a source of danger to the Raith back two – Connelly tested MacDonald with a flighted effort on thirty minutes, although the Raith keeper was equal to it. Ethan Ross deserved to score after doing well to fashion a chance with centre-halves O’Connor and East in close attendance, Gullan’s header drifted just over, and Gullan again saw a shot squirm narrowly wide as Raith finished the half the stronger.
Despite their lead, Raith were sluggish to start the second period, and Queens took advantage. Following a midfield stramash, suddenly full-back Cooper was clear running in on goal from the inside left. The defender showed good composure to draw MacDonald and fire home to bring the sides level.
Within minutes, Raith had the chance to re-take the lead – an untidy attempt at a clearance from O’Connor saw Gullan nip in and collapse under the defender’s challenge. Referee Irvine pointed to the spot, but keeper Rae pulled off a tremendous save to deny the Raith striker. Tumilty’s drive was turned clear moments later, as Queens’ weathered the Rovers storm.
With Queens stiffening their resolve, Zanatta’s surge on the hour followed by Gullan’s zipping drive, was all Raith had to show for a spell of buzzing possession and frantic midfield activity, but little in the way of composure or quality.
With half-an-hour to go, each looked likely. Queens piled forward on the break, with Johnston Connelly and Cameron looking dangerous; for Raith, Gullan Ross and Connolly all posed a threat, with Stanton and Matthews willing runners from midfield. Connolly’s free-kick fizzed narrowly, and seconds later the winger’s tempting cross fell just inches beyond Gullan at the far post. Innes Cameron blasted wide from thirty yards following a loose pass.
With the League table compact at the top and bottom, each side was chasing a victory which would impact their position in the table. With fifteen minutes to go, each manager shuffled their pack – for Raith Williamson, Poplatnik and the returning Varian replacing Connolly, Zanatta and Matthews; for Queens, goalscorer Liddle and Todd made way for Ruari Paton and Roberto Nditi. Varian clattered East with his first challenge, as Paton and Nditi pressed forward – all substitutes were keen to make their mark within their allotted time.
With the game becoming stretched, it was Raith supersub Matej Poplatnik who put Raith’s noses in front in the last ten minutes – with Queens pressing, Tumilty dispossessed Paton and played a deep early ball; Gullan won the flick against O’Connor, and Poplatnik nipped in to fire home from fifteen yards, to bring some winter warmth to the home fans.
No sooner had the score-board been updated than Queens had equalised again, with a goal fit to win any match – Shea Gordon struck a fierce drive with the outside of his right foot, sending a wicked drive swerving across MacDonald and in. Gordon rightly took the acclaim of his colleagues – along with Aiden Connolly’s first-half curler, those in attendance and watching on RaithTV had been treated to two goals of the highest quality. Although the match was full of incident, neither side would be pleased with the point, and each have work to do in pursuit of their targets before the season’s end.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
John McGlynn gave his reaction to the 3-3 draw at Stark’s Park: