SPFL Championship: RAITH ROVERS 0 DUNFERMLINE 2: 02/01/17
Pars make three changes as Fordyce, Wedderburn and Higginbotham start. Nicky Clark (11) 0-1: Lee Ashcroft (78) 0-2
Dunfermline proved to be troublesome first foots for Raith Rovers. They scored twice through Clark and Ashcroft and with a little more luck it could have been an even convincing scoreline.
It had been six years since the Pars last faced the Rovers in a New Year Derby at Starks Park. For this the third meeting between the sides this season Dunfermline made three changes from the side that started against Falkirk and Raith two from the side they put out against Hibs.
Allan Johnston brought in Callum Fordyce, Nat Wedderburn and Kallum Higginbotham. Lewis Martin (due to a family bereavement) and Rhys McCabe dropped out altogether and Joe Cardle back on to the bench as Higginbotham returned from suspension.
Raith Rovers manager Gary Locke had two new signings - Ryan Hardie and Ryan Stevenson - both of whom were on the bench. Ross Callachan and Kevin McHattie started in place of the absent duo of Kyle Benedictus and Ross Matthews.
It was a bright but bitterly cold day but the teams entered the field to a warm welcome from sizeable supports for both sides. Just under 3000 had made their way from the Auld Grey Toon. Nicky Clark got the match underway with Dunfermline attacking the goal at the home end.
Fordyce was called upon to head away Chris Johnston`s second minute delivery into the Pars box before a fine run from Michael Moffat created the visitors first chance two minutes later. It was an impressive run from his own half by the Pars number nine who laid the ball off to Higginbotham before gathering it again on the left side of the Raith box and his cut back found John Herron. Unfortunately the ball took too long to come down and the midfielder`s shot was unconvincing and so Kevin Cuthbert held easily.
In seventh minute Paul McMullan was brought down by Kevin McHattie on the edge of the box and Cuthbert had to make a fine save to keep out Higginbotham`s drive from the resultant free kick. Wedderburn collected the defended ball and caused Raith to clear again.
In tenth minute the Pars forced two corners on the right and from the second Ashcroft looked to have scored but Cuthbert scooped the headed effort away for a corner on the left. Higginbotham changed sides and when he delivered the ball from the left CLARK sped in from nowhere to head downwards and into the Rovers net. The home fans called it schoolboy defending and McHattie complained bitterly as he was left floored in the centre of the penalty box but in truth it was a great attacking run by the Pars striker. 0-1
Rovers then had a very good spell where they did everything but score. Sean Murdoch pulled off a fine double save after Chris Johnston had wriggled his way in from the right. Then Ian Davidson met the delivery from the corner only for Fordyce to make an important block. Another corner followed as a result and this one Jason Thomson headed over the bar.
McHattie drove the ball through the Pars box and further passes required some dogged defending. Murdoch became the busier of the two keepers but he easily dealt with Johnston`s 26th minute shot.
Three minutes later Andy Geggan conceded another corner in denying Bobby Barr a cross into the box but the defence got away Johnston`s ball in rather easily and Higginbotham broke only to be very unlucky that his final pass for Moffat in the middle of the Raith half was cut out.
Then in 33 minutes Moffat impeded Johnston`s run and the home side threatened from the free kick but again the Pars having first skied the clearance scrambled the ball away. There was a good opportunity three minutes later when McMullan made the break, he switched the ball inside for Moffat who had Clark ahead of him and Higginbotham free to his left but the pass to the latter was deep and not ahead of him and Raith closed it down.
A Jordan Thompson free kick from down near the right corner flag created more danger in the Pars box and Herron hooked the ball away to further frustrate the home support. Then five minutes from the break a McManus shot broke off the back of one of his own players and Skacel stuck the ball in the net. Everyone looked at the stand side linesman who eventually raised the offside flag.
It had been a first half in which the visitors had come out of the traps with great intent and deservedly went ahead. Rovers however came back into the game and the interval stats revealed that they had 55% possession, four corners to the Pars three and eight shots to the visitors six. It`s goals that count and Higginbotham came very close in the dying minutes making it two, his effort from outside the box just slipping wide left of the upright.
Half time: Raith Rovers 0 Dunfermline 1
Gary Locke`s half time team talk certainly sent out his side desperately seeking the equaliser. McManus forced a corner within 30 seconds. Herron headed away but another followed and this time Murdoch was pulled down and a free kick was given.
McManus created the Pars first chance of the second half, he appeared to try and beat the entire defence before eventually successfully delivering a low ball into the box that surprised everyone including Moffat.
The visiting support were on their feet again on 53 minutes as Higginbotham threaded a ball through for Moffat on the left side of the box but Rovers prevented the cut back. Three minutes later a cute Higginbotham backheeler put Clark in on goal but from close in he hit the ball at the keeper.
McMullan set up Clark again two minutes later but Davidson intercepted. Play switched back to the other end with McManus sending the ball across the face of Murdoch`s goal and then Jason Thomson getting over a cross that Fordyce was forced to head behind. This time Murdoch held directly from the setpiece.
The steam was taken out of the Rovers momentum by lack of ball boys to get the ball back into play behind the Pars goal and ironically it was Murdoch who was warned by the referee for time wasting when all he had done was gone for the ball.
Then at the midway point of the half Clark was through and managed to miss his second clear cut chance of the Derby. Substitutions saw Raith withdraw McManus and Johnston to introduce top scorer Mark Stewart and new signing Ryan Stevenson.
There was a rousing chorus from the travelling support as the match entered its final quarter of an hour but the two Raith subs forced a corner that Dunfermline`s defence again headed away.
A 78th minute Pars corner on the right then led to a second goal for Athletic. Higginbotham`s first delivery was defended out as far as McMullan who immediately laced it back out for Higginbotham to thrash across the Raith box. ASHCROFT got the connection that sent the ball into the net right at the base of the left upright. Cue great celebrations, 0-2
Joe Cardle replaced Paul McMullan for the final minutes. A long ball from Wedderburn picked out Clark but given the option of a shot or a lay off inside he appeared to get caught considering both. It was Cardle who made Cuthbert pull off another good stop that justified his Man of the Match Award from the home club.
The result was not in any doubt now and when the final whistle went it seemed that neither players nor fans wanted to go home! A happy New Year indeed.
RAITH ROVERS: Kevin Cuthbert: Jason Thomson (c), Jean Yves-Mvoto, Kevin McHattie, Iain Davidson, Chris Johnston (Ryan Stevenson 71): Bobby Barr, Ross Callachan, Jordan Thompson, Rudi Skacel (Ryan Hardie 57), Declan McManus (Mark Stewart 71).
SUBS NOT USED: Scott Roberts, Craig Barr, Joel Coustrain, Aaron Lennox (GK).
YELLOW CARD: McManus (70), McHattie (77)
DUNFERMLINE: Sean Murdoch: Andy Geggan, Callum Fordyce (c), Lee Ashcroft, Jason Talbot: Paul McMullan (Joe Cardle 89), John Herron, Nat Wedderburn, Kallum Higginbotham: Nicky Clark (Gavin Reilly 90+1), Michael Moffat
SUBS NOT USED: Ryan Williamson, Michael Paton, Conner Duthie, Farid El Alagui, David Hutton (GK)
SCORERS: Clark (11), Ashcroft (78)
YELLOW CARD: Higginbotham (43), Moffat (62), Talbot (66)
REFEREE: Don Robertson
WEATHER: Sunny 4C
NEXT MATCH: Ladbrokes Championship: (away) v Ayr United Saturday 7th January 2017, kick off 3.00pm at Somerset Park
Betfred Cup v Peterhead: Saturday 22nd July 2017, kick off 3.00pm