Raith rise after seeing off Alloa
Raith Rovers kicked off their first of three consecutive home games with a hard-fought victory over Alloa Athletic. Goals from Iain Davidson, Regan Hendry and Jamie Gullan secured all three points after Innes Cameron headed the visitors into an early lead. Cameron Wanstall reports.
Raith’s double promotion push has faltered recently. A spell of inconsistency has seen the Kirkcaldy outfit pick up just nine points from a possible 21 since last meeting Alloa. That clash ended with the Rovers walking away from the Indodrill Stadium with all three points, courtesy of a thrilling 5-2 beating.
Alloa’s similar inconsistency since that demoralising defeat on Boxing Day leaves them at the bottom of the Scottish Championship. The Wasps have won just once in 2021 – a 2-1 home victory over Queen of the South. A failure to stop the rot could see the Clackmannanshire side return to League One after three years in the second tier.
John McGlynn made two changes from the team that lost 1-0 to Arbroath last weekend, with Manny Duku and Ross Matthews replacing Gozie Ugwu and Hibernian loanee Jamie Gullan. Meanwhile, Peter Grant fielded an unchanged eleven from Tuesday’s spirited 2-2 draw against Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
The Match & Player/Coach Analysis
Each side had a similar game plan. Get the ball to, or ahead, of their respective commanding centre forwards. Innes Cameron, Alloa’s target man, opened the scoring after 14 minutes of play. Kevin Cawley dinked in an excellent cross from the left and Cameron headed the back across goal, leaving Jamie MacDonald flat footed as the net rippled.
A back post sitter from Manny Duku (thankfully for him, he was offside) and an ambitious 35-yard free-kick from Scott Taggart being spilled by MacDonald rounded out a first half lacking in clear-cut chances.
Raith’s Kai Kennedy was the bright spark in an unspectacular opening 45. The 18-year-old left-winger, who is currently on loan from Rangers, was constantly terrorising his opponents with his tricky turns, terrific movement off the ball and threatening crosses.
After the game, Raith manager John McGlynn said his team were upbeat despite trailing at half-time: “I thought we had a lot of control in the game, I thought we controlled a lot in the first half. We were disappointed to have lost the goal but not with the performance.”
As the second-half began, the skies became dull but the game got brighter. Brad Spencer thought he had equalised for the home side but the goal was ruled out for an apparent foul on Alloa goalkeeper Neil Parry.
Raith eventually got their equaliser just before the 70-minute mark. Another dangerous cross from Kennedy – this time from a corner – was headed strongly towards Parry, who could only push the ball toward veteran midfielder Iain Davidson. The 37-year-old showed no signs of aging as he lifted his leg above his waist to volley the ball past a wave of defenders on the goal line.
McGlynn was thrilled with Davidson’s performance, “Iain was outstanding. Today, being in the right place at the right time got us the goal that settled us down a little bit.”
As McGlynn’s men settled into the tie, they started to create more chances. Kennedy continued to shine and he was unfortunate not to grab a goal for himself as Raith pushed for a winner. The youngster took on his man in the opposition box, teed himself up and drove a low shot across goal. Parry reacted quickly to get down to the ground and tip the ball wide.
Raith were knocking at the door for a while before a fatigued Alloa finally collapsed. Kennedy played a delightful through ball for Regan Hendry to run onto; the former-Celtic academy midfielder broke away from his two markers and lashed a left-footed effort into the bottom right corner to put the home side ahead.
Despite being unfortunate not to score himself, Kennedy was pleased after the game that the chances he created led to goals in the second half: “I always look to take players on, that’s what I like to do most, that’s what I’m good at. I just kept going and I knew it’d come at some point. I got my assist that I wanted and I thought the team were great.”
The final nail in Alloa’s coffin was brought about by two more Raith substitutes. Frankie Musonda’s first touch was putting an end to an alarming Alloa attack, before a quick counter-attack moments later caught the visitors short.
The stoppage-time breakaway allowed Hendry to play in substitute Jamie Gullan, who sprinted past the only defender back and slid the ball past Parry with his first involvement. However, Grant’s side are comeback specialists and with seconds remaining they continued to push for something from this game.
Stefan Scougall was impeded by Ross Matthews, and Alan Trouten – for the second time this week – had a chance to score a late penalty. Uncharacteristically, the old-timer missed. Raith ‘keeper MacDonald sprung to his right to push out Trouten’s well hit, but slightly too central, effort. Steven Kirkland almost immediately whistled for full-time.
Raith rose to second in the Championship, leaping above Fife rivals Dunfermline on goal difference ahead of their televised meeting at Stark’s Park on Friday night. Meanwhile, Alloa remained rooted to the foot of the table, four points behind Ayr United. Next up for the Wasps is Inverness at home.
After refusing to openly criticise the officials or put blame on a tiring midweek fixture, Peter Grant said more than once that the ‘better team’ won in Kirkcaldy, but was quick to back his players.
“End of the day, the disappointing thing is we didn’t play well enough to win the game. Nothing else.”
“I am always confident of this group of players, I have always said that. It doesn’t matter who you are, you have got to win games of football… We can more than handle ourselves and we’ve proved that. These boys will prove it time and time again.”
John McGlynn was ‘very pleased’ with his team’s turnaround.
“I thought we showed a lot of determination and character. To be 1-0 down at half-time and I felt we had actually played well enough in the first half. They took their chance very well; we didn’t get enough pressure on the cross and the big lad Innes Cameron headered it really well.
Friday night will be Raith’s biggest game of the season. A second- versus third-place derby match under the lights at Stark’s Park. McGlynn said of the tie:
“We now have a derby game here on Friday night, on the BBC. Now we turn our focus to playing Dunfermline.
“The next game is always the biggest game, and it just so happens that it is a derby game. That brings that little bit of spice to it. We lost at East End Park, so we are due our fans a response to that… We look to have a response to a poor performance at their place. We look to try and put that right here.”