RETURN TO ACTION SEES RAITH DRAW
At the end of an awful week, Raith Rovers’ fans could be forgiven for closing their eyes and thinking back to the 31st July 2021, the opening day of the season – around twenty past four to be exact. Amidst warm summer breezes and under blue skies, a rampant Rovers had played some of the finest attacking football of the John McGlynn era, Lewis Vaughan had just netted a dazzling fourth, his second of the afternoon, and – for twenty minutes or so – the Kirkcaldy side were the talk of Scottish football, for all of the right reasons.
This afternoon’s match – a nil-nil draw, played in bitterly cold and windswept conditions – would have felt like an irrelevance to many given the wider issues at stake. On the park, Raith’s better chances in the first half were eclipsed by Hamilton’s dominance in the second, but neither side had the quality nor quantity of possession to build sufficient momentum to deserve all three points. Off the park, the sturdy outlines of Starks Park stood out against the dark clouds overhead, protecting few from the lashing rain. While Raith’s players were warmly applauded during their pre-match routines and roared on through-out, there was a pre-occupied air which hung heavily around this old ground.
Management duo John McGlynn and Paul Smith sent their side out with buzzing intent – Lang (in for Musonda) and Benedictus were both up for an early corner; Tumilty pressed up against Kieran MacDonald; Williamson and Stanton snarled around central areas.
For Hamilton, well beaten at New Douglas Park by Raith in November, a promising recent run had seen an ascent from the foot of the table. Manager Staurt Taylor spoke during the week of having a full squad to choose from, including new arrival Kai Kennedy. David Moyo and Andy Ryan (a scorer in Accies’ remarkable July fightback) started as a twin strike-force, while O’Reilly and Popescu would secure a rare clean sheet for one of the League’s leakiest defences.
The battle down Raith’s right between Reghan Tumilty and Kai Kennedy was absorbing from the opening minutes – Kennedy’s run and shot drew a fine save from MacDonald after quarter of an hour; another burst saw Benedictus come across to cover. Unfortunately for Raith, defender Lang suffered a muscle strain early on and was unable to continue, replaced by Frankie Musonda.
Raith passed left and right in the opening phases, pulling Accies’ midfield across the park, but the visitors generated the better chances. On twenty-three minutes, a corner returned by Mullin gave Jamie Hamilton a sight of goal – Jamie MacDonald thwarted the defender, and reacted quickest to block Moyo’s attempt from the rebound. With ten minutes till the half, Moyo rose unchallenged, heading just wide – the striker holding his head in anguish as Raith defenders began their enquiries.
Rovers responded, and created their best chance of the half – Musonda’s fine cross-field pass found Ethan Ross on the far touchline, and his centre found Connolly whose goal-bound effort was blocked away. Ross was at it again minutes later, bursting between two defenders, with Popescu deflecting away another strike on goal. With the last chance of the half, Stanton and Connolly worked space for Ross to fire just over. A largely uneventful first forty-five gave no clues as to which of the two sides might run out the victors, if either.
Ethan Ross was crackling with intent as soon as the second half got underway – crunched by Andy Ryan in the opening minute, Ross sprinted through midfield to release Tumilty, with Gullan’s shot saved by Hilton. Stanton eased away from Martin, Connolly’s cross cleared – the South Stand roared their approval.
With an hour gone, neither side was doing enough to dominate but both were asking questions. Stanton released Gullan with Kieran MacDonald alert to the danger. Jamie Hamilton was making good ground on the visitors’ right, with Liam Dick often outnumbered on that side. Kai Kennedy burst past Tumilty, sending over a zipping cross which Musonda did well to clear; O’Reilly’s header was palmed away by MacDonald in the Raith goal.
Hamilton threatened again soon after – Kieran MacDonald’s burst from the back saw Moyo running clear, only for Stanton’s excellent covering run to save the day. Another fine cross from Kennedy saw Musonda head clear with Andy Ryan lurking – inexplicably, Kennedy was withdrawn seconds later. Kieran MacDonald’s cross zipped through the home defences. Andy Ryan’s tempting cross with inches beyond substitute Marley Redfearn, as Raith survived another attack.
With the South Stand becoming more agitated, manager McGlynn shuffled his pack – Zanatta Poplatnik and Varian were all introduced, with Connolly, Williamson, and Gullan withdrawn. As Rovers’ substitutes settled, first Moyo then Mullin had blasts at goal.
Raith rallied, lead by the fresh legs of Dario Zanatta. Bursting past Mullin, the youngster’s first break saw his cross cause havoc in the Hamilton defence. Seconds later, a smart exchange with Stanton saw another cross hacked away from a crowded penalty area. In the wintry temperatures, the home support welcomed the increase in tempo from the men in blue.
With eighty-nine minutes on the clock, Tumilty’s back-header was turned over by Stanton. Tumilty went down between two defenders on the edge of the area, earning only a yellow card and a stern rebuke from referee Madden. The match ended with Hamilton on the front foot, but unable to break down the home defences. Of the 1,196 souls in attendance, none could be said to be wholly satisfied with their side’s performance, although the points would ultimately be shared.
Despite the bitter wind and numbing temperatures, many of Kirkcaldy’s football community came out to support their team and their Club’s reputation, which for an awful period this week was a burden and not an asset to the community to which it belongs. While the national media attention should rightly subside, focus is now needed on the fissures rent across all aspects of the Club’s relationships with its wider family, male and female.
For the current custodians of the Club – stewards, working for the benefit of the next generation – the job of repairing the Club’s tarnished reputation is incumbent upon them. While the reaction of fans and supporters’ groups alike has been heartening, there is a long road ahead as the Club seeks to earn its place once more within its local community.
For now, heavy clouds remain over Starks Park.
Photos © Tony Fimister