Raith Rovers breathe new life into title race with victory in Arbroath
Arbroath 0 Raith Rovers 2
There may still be a gap of 10 points, but there is renewed hope at Raith Rovers following this terrific 2-0 win at Arbroath.
The Kirkcaldy side travelled to Gayfield knowing that in order to give themselves an outside chance of winning the title, they had to break Arbroath’s long unbeaten record on their own patch.
That would require a complete away performance – something Raith have often struggled with in recent times – but at the toughest of venues, the team stood up and delivered.
They may have got a slight helping hand by Gavin Swankie’s somewhat harsh sending off, which left Arbroath to battle the entire second half with 10 men, but by the time the midfielder received his second booking, Raith were already in control at 2-0 up.
Everyone played their part but captain Kyle Benendictus was a stand-out, leading by example with an immense display in the heart of the defence, making sure he was first to every ball, either with head or foot.
That is the level of drive and determination the team will need, not only from their skipper, but from every individual, every week, if they are to catch Arbroath in the second half of the campaign.
Overall, the entire back four were much more solid than in recent weeks, with the sloppiness that resulted in the loss of five goals in the previous two fixtures eradicated.
Raith also defended from the front with the forwards doing their bit both in terms of carrying a threat, and dilligently tracking back to counter what is a dangerous Arbroath attack.
The fact that Bobby Linn, the home side’s talisman and a player who terrorised Rovers at Stark’s Park earlier in the campaign, was subbed after struggling to impact the game says everything about the way Raith defended.
With strikers and wingers in good form, so much so that players like Chris Duggan and Lewis Vaughan had to settle for a place on the bench, there was a feeling before kick-off that Raith could hurt Arbroath, and so it proved.
Daniel Armstrong has been nothing short of a revelation since joining the club, so much so that the Kirkcaldy side may struggle to keep hold of him beyond his contract in January due to the level of interest.
His spectacular 19th opener, his fifth goal in seven appearances, will only raise his stock further as, after winning a foul 25 yards from goal, he stepped up and curled a left-footed free-kick over the wall, which dipped into the net via the inside of the post. Inch-perfect.
It was a moment of magic which gave Raith the vital early breakthrough and set them on their path to victory.
With several hundred Raith fans signing their hearts out behind the goal, Rovers were visibly growing in confidence, and the second goal arrived on 35 minutes.
Nathan Flanagan saw his corner kick cleared, but his second attempt saw him deliver a dangerous ball to the back post, where Iain Davidson nodded back across goal for Liam Buchanan to sweep home from three yards out.
Arbroath were far from out of the game, carrying a threat in attack, but the home side were also clocking up the bookings, which was to cost them on the stroke of half-time.
Sawnkie, having already been cautioned for a late tackle, went down too easily under the attentions of Ross Matthews and referee Lloyd Wilson showed him a second yellow for simulation.
It left Dick Campbell’s men with a mountain to climb in the second half, but as you would expect, they gave everything in their attempt to preserve their unbeaten record, even enjoying good spells of possession despite playing with a man down, albeit without breaking down a resolute visiting defence.
Raith could have made life more comfortable by making better use of a number of second half breakways but found Jamieson in good form, twice denying Kevin Nisbet in one-on-ones, and when sub Vaughan did beat him, his clipped effort bounced back off the post.
An Arbroath goal would have given cause for alarm, but Raith’s only real scare came with 20 minutes left when sub Callum Smith rounded Robbie Thomson. Thankfully, the angle was too tight and his effort found the side-netting.
Overall, the better team won on the day, and while Arbroath still have the points advantage, for the first time this season, Raith hold the psychological edge.
Arbroath: Jamieson, Whatley, Little, Thomson, Hamilton, McKenna, Swankie , Gold, Linn (Denholm 71), Wallace (Kader 58), Doris (Smith 58). Not used: McCord, Hill.
Raith Rovers: Thomson, Murray, Davidson, Benedictus, Gillespie, Flanagan (Milne 88), Wedderburn, Matthews, Armstrong (Duggan 82), Buchanan (Vaughan 63), Nisbet. Not used: Crane, McKay, Watson, Wright.
Referee: Lloyd Wilson