It was sixth time lucky for Raith Rovers as they at last advanced to a play-off final after failing in five previous attempts with a narrow aggregate win over Forfar Athletic following this fiercely competitive second leg at Station Park that ended all square.
They survived a scare early in the second half as the Angus side briefly levelled the tie scoreline but a penalty award put away by Kevin Nisbet, after the hosts’ Euan Murray had been red-carded, allowed them to see out the game in relatively comfortable fashion to set up a showdown with Queen of the South to determine who plays Championship football next season.
Raith manager John McGlynn expressed delight at the outcome whilst also acknowledging there is a significant hurdle still to be overcome to return the Kirkcaldy club back to the second tier.
“It was always going to be a bit nervy defending a one-goal lead, but I thought we were very professional the way we went about the game,” he reflected. “We knew exactly what we wanted to do and, barring switching off at a corner kick for their goal, the guys carried out the game plan almost to the letter.
“It was definitely important to get the goal back quickly. It was a double whammy for them, losing a player and losing the goal from the penalty. After that we didn’t panic and we kept calm.”
For all the boundless effort and athleticism on display the opening 45 minutes were forgettable the instant match referee Euan Anderson sounded his whistle for the interval. These were two well organised sides – and that was the crux of the problem, they were just too well organised for any kind of spectacle to emerge.
Neither was prepared to commit forward in any numbers and a couple of drifting headers from Ross Matthews for the visitors and, later, from Michael Travis for the hosts were all that was on offer. No wonder the queue for the half-time bridies started early.
At least the action heated up after the break. Within ten minutes the tie was level as Forfar at last found a way to unpick the hitherto impressive Raith rearguard, with Jamie Bain’s corner being flicked in by John Baird at the near post.
It had taken a huge effort by the Angus side to pull themselves level and the home support were still taking in the moment when they calamitously imploded. A lapse of concentration saw substitute Nathan Flanagan drive into the home penalty box where a blatant shove by Murray sent him to the floor. It was rightly decreed to be denying a goal scoring opportunity and the Forfar centre-half was sent off while Nisbet hammered home the resultant spot kick.
For a short spell it looked as though there would be a procession of others joining Murray for an early shower as it got distinctly feisty. Baird and the visitors’ Nat Wedderburn were at the epicentre and got yellow cards for their indiscipline. The tousy nature of the game played into Raith’s hands, with the hosts never looking like they could gather the momentum to salvage their promotion hopes.
“We lost the goal too quickly after taking the lead and never got the chance to test Raith’s nerve”, sighed the disappointed Forfar manager Jim Weir.