Raith Rovers clinched victory in Kirkcaldy to ensure their game in-hand didn’t go to waste as they saw off the threat of Albion Rovers in a 3-1 win for the home side.
The match had been in doubt due to snow and the cold temperatures within Fife at the beginning of this week, but, due to the hard work of the grounds staff and volunteers, the match was able to played as planned on Tuesday evening.
This meant Barry Smith was able to name an unchanged starting eleven from Saturday’s victory over Queen’s Park – with Scott Robertson and Ross Matthews returning from injury to make their way onto the bench in the place of James Berry and on-loan Celtic midfielder Regan Hendry.
Albion Rovers, on the other hand, were still without key figures such as Alan Reid; Ross Perry and Jason Marr, while Graeme Holmes was also unavailable from Saturday’s defeat to Arbroath. The Red Lichties were to help out their League One opponents though as Kane Hester joined on a 28-day emergency loan just hours before kick-off in the Kingdom.
Both teams warm up ahead of the game
The game started slowly with neither side creating many chances, before the opening goal came on 7 minutes. Albion failed to clear a Raith attack which gifted Jason Thomson posession on the right; he slipped in John Herron for an opportunity inside the area in which the midfielder was composed enough to slot home and give the full-time side an early advantage in this encounter.
Brian Kerr’s side then grew into the game as Sean Higgins delivered from the right for Kane Hester but the newly signed striker was unable to direct his header on target. Just two minutes later and Raith had a corner which Lewis Vaughan sprayed to the edge of the area for Dario Zanatta but his effort went high and wide of target on this occasion.
Kieran Wright was quickly under pressure again as the hosts continued to press forward; this time the on-loan Rangers shot-stopper tried to sweep up by comng out to the edge of the area to head the danger clear but the ball landed straight to Vaughan: thankfully, for the visitors, his effort was off-target with his long-range strike.
Next, Liam Buchanan was quickest to react as a loose Vaughan shot landed inside the area, with the experienced striker being denied by Wright before he dragged the ball across goal as it flashed out for a goal-kick. Then, the Wee Rovers came the closest they had all evening.
Raith tried to play the ball out from the back with Michael McMullin reading the situation well as he intercepted the through ball intended for Bobby Barr. The former Partick Thistle youngster broke down the left before unleashing a rasping drive which went narrowly over Aaron Lennox’s bar.
The game took a bit of a lull as Albion gathered possession and looked to find a way through. The part-time outfit seemed to lack penetrative creativity in the final third to unlock the back door of Barry Smith’s men, but, on 30 minutes, Kane Hester looked to be through on goal – Iain Davidson tackled at the edge of the penalty area with the ex-Dundee defender inches away from giving away a penalty.
Ross Davidson stepped up to take the free-kick from 20 yards out on the left but his effort was wasteful as Lennox was once again untroubled. The hosts then began to take control again as Zanatta began to influence proceedings. Firstly, the Canadian was set up by Willis Furtado, but the wingers effort was saved by Wright before he cut inside of Scott McLaughlin just seconds later, only to see his shot blocked.
Furtado was next to have a go, coming so close to doubling the Rovers’ advantage on 39 minutes but his left-footed effort smashed off the crossbar before being cleared to safety. Then, just two minutes before half-time, Wright denied Raith again as Vaughan struck from the edge of the area, with the keeper conceding a corner.
The final chance of the half landed with Furtado again: after Zanatta had slalomed down the left and had got to the byeline, he teased the Albion backline with a delightful delivery into the far post, only for Furtado to scoop the ball over the bar from 6-yards.
Raith would start the second-half just as strong: Harlain Mbayo nodded the ball away but failed to get any distance onto it – Furtado was first to react but his volleyed effort was off-target. Hester then knocked a ball across goal and Higgins looped the ball over the bar eight minutes into the second period.
Less than 60 seconds later and the Coatbridge side had equalised. Ross Davidson drove the ball across the face of goal and with everyone missing it, it gave Mikey Hopkins the easiest of finishes as he tapped the ball home at the back post to equalise, sending the very small number of away fans into raptures in the Main Stand.
The game got stretched as it went from end-to-end – Barr set Furtado away down the right but his shot was saved by Wright while moments later at the other end, McMullin tried another long-distanced attempt which was straight at Lennox this time around.
Vaughan had a venomous left-footed effort palmed away by Wright as he dived down low to his left. Nobody gambled and Albion would clear. Not for long however; the ball ended up with Davidson who swung the ball in from midway inside the away team’s territory, for Herron to chest down at the back-end of the box before firing the loose ball home as Stark’s Park erupted with relief.
Immediately, Smith brought on experienced campaigner Scott Robertson, in place of Buchanan as Raith tried to get to grips with the game once more. The match then settled down, with only Herron looking likely to score heading into the final stages, as the ex-Blackpool midfielder knocked a shot high into the South Stand from the edge of the area.
Out of nothing, the hosts were under pressure defensively. A defensive clearance was misjudged by young defender David McKay which allowed Hester to storm towards goal. Running from right to left, the striker evaded three challenges before getting his shot away but Lennox was up to the task as the Australian shot-stopper kept the Fifers in front.
Kerr saw this as a good opportunity, with 15 minutes remaining, to replace Higgins with Joao Vitoria up front, as the former Newcastle United trainee looked for some fresh impetus up front as his side tired. Almost straight away, however, his head was in his hands once more.
This time, Robertson sent the ball to the right flank; Jason Thomson latched onto the pass, took a touch on his chest before rifling the ball past Wright at his near post to virtually seal the three points for the home club. With 10 minutes remaining, Greig Spence and Ross Matthews entered the fray for Barr and Furtado but there was very little more action within the game.
Vaughan swung in a delivery from a set-piece with 5 minutes remaining which Euan Murray nodded towards goal. The ball hit the inside of the post before landing in the grateful arms of Wright but the goal wouldn’t have counted, as the offside flag had been raised, in any case.
Ryan Watters came on for goalscorer Mikey Hopkins for Albion in the final few moments but couldn’t make an impact as Raith saw the game out fairly comfortabley. Zanatta had the final shot of the match in injury time, as he cut in from the left once more but his shot was wild and ended up going out for a throw-in!
A good crowd backed Barry Smith’s men on a bitterly cold evening at Stark’s Park
FULL-TIME: Raith Rovers 3-1 Albion Rovers
1. Aaron Lennox
2. Jason Thomson
18. David McKay
14. Iain Davidson
5. Euan Murray
11. Bobby Barr (Ross Matthews 80′)
4. John Herron
10. Lewis Vaughan
19. Dario Zanatta
9. Liam Buchanan (Scott Robertson 63′)
21. Willis Furtado (Greig Spence 80′)
17. Graeme Smith (GK)
3. Jamie Watson
6. Kyle Benedictus
7. Greig Spence
8. Scott Robertson
12. Ross Matthews
16. Jonathan Court
1. Kieran Wright
2. Scott McLaughlin
5. Harlain Mbayo
4. Daniel Baur
3. Michael McMullin
6. Craig McLeish
7. Ross Davidson
8. Mikey Hopkins (Ryan Watters 86′)
9. Sean Higgins (Joao Vitoria 75′)
10. Alan Trouten
11. Kane Hester
17. Daniel Potts (GK)
12. Callum MacDonald
14. John Guthrie
15. Jamie Gallagher
16. Joao Vitoria
18. Ryan Watters
19. John Patrick Queen
Referee: Alan Newlands