Match abandoned in Stranraer - but it should never have started

Greig Spence splashes his way into a challenge with two Stranraer players. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Greig Spence splashes his way into a challenge with two Stranraer players. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Stranraer 1 Raith Rovers 1 (match abandoned)

A seven and a half hour round trip in some of the most hazardous road conditions for 37 minutes of farcical football.

That is the situation all who travelled with Raith Rovers experienced today as the League One match at Stranraer was abandoned due to a water-logged pitch.

Heavy and persistent rain, the remnants of Storm Brian, battered Stair Park both in the lead up to, and after kick-off, and with the game level at 1-1, and the pitch long beyond playable, referee Gavin Ross had no option but to call a halt to proceedings.

But it should never have got to that stage.

Despite the best efforts of the home groundsman the pitch was clearly unplayable at kick-off.

The referee, aware of the distances travelled, understandably wanted to give the game a chance, but it shouldn't have started.

With the ball constantly holding up, and players slipping and colliding all over the place, underfoot conditions were not only ludicrous, they were dangerous, and it is just fortunate that nobody was badly hurt.

However, the ref should not shoulder the blame - the whole system of postponements needs a complete overhaul.

The weather forecast was no secret. Alerts were issued for torrential rain and flooding, and so it proved as the roads in and around Stranraer resembled rapids as rivers of water poured down from surrounding fields, leaving cars half submerged, and roads closed.

On the way home, with light fading, driving conditions were utterly treacherous.

Forget pitch inspections, it's time for the SPFL and host clubs to work with the Met Office to make a call on games early in the morning, based on forecasts, particularly when longer distances are involved.

By all accounts the pitch was playable when the referee turned up, but how many times have we heard that? It's certainly not the first time Raith have experienced such a situation in recent years, and it will continue to impact clubs and fans until something is done.

Ignoring the forecast, and asking teams, fans and media to travel to a venue where weather warnings are in place should no longer be an option. Safety should be paramount, but you also have to factor in the waste of time, money and effort, particularly for the fans involved.

Both sets of players deserve the utmost respect for attempting to produce a spectacle in such horrendous conditions.

Passing football was virtually impossible due to swathes of surface water, some of which were near ankle deep by the time it was called off, so both sides went back to front and tried to feed off mistakes.

Remarkably, it was a goal of genuine quality that opened the scoring, but with the form Lewis Vaughan is in, he could've swapped boots for flippers and still got on the scoresheet.

John Herron was fouled 25 yards out and Vaughan stepped up to whip in a stunning Beckham-esque free-kick that deceived goalkeeper Cameron Belford as it flew over his head into the top corner.

Despite the abnormal circumstances, Raith were very much the team on top, with Liam Buchanan and Greig Spence sniffing out opportunities as the Stranraer defence struggled to cope with the worsening conditions.

The hosts were only starting to impose themselves a bit more when the equaliser arrived on 36 minutes.

A corner kick wasn't dealt with and the ball fell to Scott Agnew - who ALWAYS scores against Raith - and he toe-poked the ball into the net off the underside of the bar.

Thoughts of an abandonment had been on everyone's mind and with the teams now level, the decision was made easier for referee Ross.

And straight from kick-off he picked up the ball and signalled for the players to leave the park.

After initially asking for five minutes to assess the situation, the referee quickly decided, correctly, that the game could not continue.

Raith players, who could not have been wetter had they stepped into a swimming pool in their kit, made their way over to the band of 120 travelling fans to show their appreciation.

Afterwards, Raith boss Barry Smith accepted that the correct decision was reached, but questioned the timing.

"It was the right decision, but the wrong time," he said.

"The referee has got a difficult job and he's got to make a decision at some point.

"But for me, from the first minute the ball was holding up.

"It's frustrating because I thought we were bang at it today.

"The boys were right at it from the first minute and we handled the conditions and everything up until they scored from a set piece."

A date for the rearranged fixture has yet to be arranged.

A Raith statement read: "The players, coaches and directors of Raith Rovers would like to thank the fans who made the long journey to Stranraer today in dreadful weather conditions.

"We are disappointed that the match had to be abandoned in the 37th minute.

"The Rovers board are talking with their counterparts at Stranraer FC with regards admission details when the rearranged match is scheduled and will advise of this in due course."

Stranraer: Belford, Robertson, Neill, Woods, Bell, Wallace, Agnew, Anderson, Turner, Hamill, Thomson. Not used: Currie, Barron, Lang, McGowan, Okoh, Elliot, Stoney.

Raith Rovers: Smith, Thomson, Herron, Murray, Watson, Spence, Robertson, Buchanan, Vaughan, Barr, Davidson. Not used: Brian, McHattie, Matthews, Osei, Court, McKay, Berry.

Referee: Gavin Ross