Raith Rovers 3 - 3 Rangers: Rangers denied title party

Rangers' Kenny Miller celebrates as he puts his side back in front. Picture: SNS Group

Rangers' Kenny Miller celebrates as he puts his side back in front. Picture: SNS Group

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Rangers will have to wait a few days more to clinch their return to Scotland’s top flight after allowing Raith to spoil their title party with a 3-3 draw in Kirkcaldy.

The Ibrox men looked set to end their four-year lower-league nightmare after twice taking the lead at Stark’s Park.

But the win which would have sealed the Ladbrokes Championship title was snatched away from them in stoppage time when Fifers substitute Harry Panayiotou - who had just seconds earlier missed a penalty - bundled home a last-gasp equaliser.

Rovers had taken a shock lead through Louis Longridge but goals from Harry Forrester and Michael O’Halloran put Mark Warburton’s team back in charge.

James Craigen’s volley just before half-time levelled the match again but with title rivals Hibernian losing at St Mirren, Kenny Miller put Gers on course for the title when he struck four-minutes after the break.

However, there was more drama as the clock ticked past 90. First Wes Foderingham pushed away Panayiotou’s penalty but from the resulting corner, the on-loan Leicester striker made amends with the equaliser, leaving the 5,000 travelling Light Blues supporters deflated.

Gers face Dumbarton on Tuesday, where they will have a second go at clinching promotion to the Premiership.

Rangers were eager to get the celebrations started early and pushed forward from kick-off looking for a breakthrough.

But the bumpy pitch and Rovers’ well-drilled defence were making life uncomfortable for Warburton’s men.

And their was an unexpected twist in the script as the home side grabbed a sensational opener after 25 minutes. From a short throw on the right-hand side, Joel Thomas found the space to pick out Longridge. The on-loan Hamilton frontman let the ball drop in front of him before flashing a dipping 20-yard strike past the stunned Foderingham.

Bad almost became worse as Thomas flashed across goal, while news of Hibs’ opener in Paisley set Gers’ nerves jangling.

But Forrester’s leveller on the half-hour mark was just the tonic the visitors needed. The former Doncaster playmaker had already been denied by a point-blank save from Kevin Cuthbert but from the resulting Barrie McKay corner, he went one better as he stooped to angle a fine header in off the upright.

The Light Blues faithful then looked set to party when O’Halloran slotted home at the back post after Andy Halliday and Forrester combined down the left.

But while St Mirren’s leveller against Hibs sparked a fresh chorus of cheers, the hush was quickly restored seven minutes before the break when Craigen pounced on Iain Davidson’s headed knock-down on the edge of the box. His strike was pretty much down Foderingham’s throat but the keeper somehow let it squirt through his grasp into the net.

Rangers needed to regroup at the break and whatever Warburton said in the dressing room worked as within four minutes of the restart his side were ahead.

Halliday collected from James Tavernier on half-way and had to ride a couple of tackles as he drove forward. But he remained alert enough to spot Miller’s run through the middle and the midfielder’s through ball was inch perfect for the veteran striker, who did not have to break stride before smashing past Cuthbert.

With more good news filtering through from St Mirren Park with news of the Buddies’ second goal, the smiles in the away end only grew wider.

But in the end it was the home supporters who were left cheering in added time.

First Rob Kiernan was punished for tripping Panayiotou as he drove into the box. Foderingham guessed right as he sprang to push away the spot-kick.

With Hibs grabbing an equaliser against Saints, Rangers were desperately praying for the final whistle. But Raith sensed their chance and took it in dramatic fashion as Panayiotou got a vital touch to send the ball into the net after a goalmouth scramble.

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