All eyes on play-offs as Raith Rovers finish league campaign with draw at Montrose

Jamie Gullan fires a shot towards the Montrose goal. Pic: Phoenix Photography
Jamie Gullan fires a shot towards the Montrose goal. Pic: Phoenix Photography

Montrose 1 Raith Rovers 1

A third-place finish was hardly what Raith Rovers expected heading into their second successive season in League One.

However, all focus is now on winning promotion via the play-offs after a disappointing league campaign ended with today's 1-1 draw at Montrose.

Rovers still had an outside chance to claim runners-up spot in the table - and an extra £20,000 in prize money - but manager John McGlynn chose to rest key players.

With the squad already affected by injury, it was a sensible ploy, and the decision was further justified as play-off opponents, Forfar Athletic, ensured that they would not be caught with a 3-2 away win at East Fife.

Centre-halves Kyle Benedictus and Iain Davidson, midfielder Jamie Barjonas, striker Liam Buchanan and the division's top scorer, Kevin Nisbet, were all left out from the previous week's starting line-up.

In came right back Jamie Watson, Grant Gillespie, Nat Wedderburn, Euan Murray and, making his first senior start, 16-year-old striker Kieron Bowie.

Montrose themselves had one eye on the promotion play-offs, with their opponents now confirmed as Queen of the South, as they too rested a number of players, having secured fourth place the previous week.

Despite the much-changed line-ups, the match was a decent spectacle, with Rovers undoubtedly the more frustrated side having failed to convert dominant possession and better chances into victory, as has been the case for a large portions of the season.

Montrose only real had one threatening attempt on goal in the entire game, and it ended up in the back of Rovers net as the defence was slow to react to a long goal-kick, allowing Graham Webster a free run down the right, before he cut inside Callum Crane and curled beyond Dean Lyness.

It was a brilliant finish, but it was just too easy for the winger to get into the box and into the shooting position.

The opener came on the 10-minute mark, but Rovers were level by minute 20 thanks to an excellent move.

It started via a throw-out from the goalkeeper, worked from defence, through midfield to Jamie Gullan, who did exceptionally well on the right to beat his man and deliver a cross that Wedderburn back-heeled to the far post where Ayr United loanee Craig McGuffie met it with a sweet strike back across goal and into the net.

Rovers almost led five minutes later as short corner routine allowed McGuffie to run into the box, and although his effort was blocked, the ensuing stramash saw a number of players attempt to force the ball over the line, before Ross Matthews toe-poke was eventually grabbed on the line by a diving Allan Fleming.

The away side continued to do most of the pressing, with Gullan, Matthews and McGuffie particularly influential, but it took until 69 minutes for a gilt-edged opening, and it was spurned by schoolboy Bowie.

The teenager timed his run brilliantly to sneak in behind the Mo' defence onto Matthews' cleverly dinked through ball, but after taking a touch to steady himself, the young striker lost his nerve as he blazed his effort wide of the target with just Fleming to beat.

It will be a learning experience for Bowie who has shown enough promise in his first team appearances to suggest he could have a future in the game.

In fact, he almost made up for that miss with a self-made chance a few minutes later as he robbed defender Sean Dillon to sprint towards the box before curling a left-foot effort narrowly over the bar from 20 yards.

Nathan Flanagan made a surprise appearance from the bench - the winger had been expected to miss the first leg of the play-offs - and he almost provided the winner with a lob that grazed the outside of Fleming's post.

Another youngster, 17-year-old Dylan Tait, was brought on for the final few minutes, with Nisbet not risked at all, despite needing just one goal to claim the Tartan Boot award for the overall SPFL top scorer, as he finished the season tied with Edinburgh City's Blair Henderson on 30 league goals each.

Rovers finished the match with 16 goal attempts to Montrose's four, but they had to settle for a share of the points.

"I thought we should have won it," McGlynn said afterwards. "We had the better chances and we played the better football.

"Young Kieron Bowie goes through one-on-one and it's a great chance.

"He might sleep tonight because he's tired but he'll wake up thinking about the one he missed because what a starting debut that would have been.

"But he acquitted himself really well through the game, so we're really pleased with that."

Attention now turns to the challenge of Forfar in the play-off semi-finals, starting with the home leg at Stark's Park on Tuesday before the second leg at Station Park next Saturday.

This Raith side is far from the finished article, but they have shown, at times, that they are capable of rising to the occasion.

After too many disappointments in recent years, it's time for the club to deliver.