Raith Rovers 2, Falkirk 2
Danny Armstrong made a dream return to Raith Rovers colours on Saturday by coming on at half-time and essentially transforming the game.
The youngster made a series of penetrating runs down the right flank which helped Rovers find a path back, after they trailed 2-0 against one of their biggest rivals.
Armstrong’s delivery provided Michael Miller with the opportunity to head Rovers back into contention, before Armstrong himself, who only rejoined the club two days before the game, salvaged a point with a beautifully taken free kick.
However, other players such as Jamie Gullan, who came on for the injured Kyle Benedictus, Regan Hendry and Brad Spencer, were also praised by manager John McGlynn for their displays in a second half dominated by the home side.
“The first half wasn’t good for us,” said the manager. “Falkirk were the better team and thoroughly deserved to be two up – probably more. But we changed the shape, which we had to do, and were much better in the second half. I was delighted with the character and spirit we showed from being 2-0 down when everything was against us.
“No damage was done and, from where we were, we’re delighted to come away with a point and maybe a wee bit vexed not to have won.”
Rovers made unsuccessful appeals for a penalty in the opening stages at Stark’s Park, when Grant Anderson went down under pressure from Michael Doyle – before finding themselves a goal down in only two minutes.
A Charlie Telfer shot produced a good save from David McGurn in the Raith goal but, with the defence possible distracted, the ball fell to Louis Longridge, who scored with a fine right-foot shot from just inside the box.
Longridge had another go soon afterwards with a shot from Michael Tidser’s corner kick but, to Rovers’ relief, the ball was deflected away.
However, the Bairns went further ahead after 16 minutes. Falkirk had been enjoying a spell of good play, trying to prevent Rovers from establishing some continuity and good work from Morgaro Gomis saw the ball pushed through to Tidser on the left. He transferred it to the advancing Conor Sammon, who flicked it powerfully over McGurn’s head for 2-0.
In the 19th minute, Kyle Benedictus tried to connect with Hendry’s corner but didn’t quite manage it and the ball spun over the bar. Brad Spencer then made a fine run into the box for Rovers but Falkirk mopped up – and still looked threatening when they advanced.
Raith’s best opportunity arrived in the 35th minute. Good work again on the left by Spencer led a cross which was fired towards goal by David McKay but Cammy Bell saved his left-foot shot well.
Moments later, however, home ‘keeper McGurn kept Raith from falling further back with a fine double block under pressure. Firstly, he palmed away a fine shot from Telfer, then smothered the close-range rebound as David McMillan closed in.
Raith thought they should have had a free kick on 42 minutes after a challenge on Hendry. But referee Scott Lambie played advantage and a flowing Falkirk move ended with a deflected shot from Sammon being safely gathered in the arms of McGurn.
Kyle Benedictus went off injured after this move, replaced for Raith by Jamie Gullan.
David McKay did not reappear for the second half, with Danny Armstrong taking his place, after manager McGlynn sought to consolidate a back four after Benedictus’ departure and make other tactical switches.
Falkirk went close to a third goal in 48 minutes when a clever move involving Telfer and Gomis enabled Longridge to try a searing shot from the edge of the box. It grazed the crossbar as it whistled over, thanks to a fingertip touch by McGurn.
As the rain fell, a chance came Raith’s way in 55 minutes, as Lewis Allan got a shot in past several defenders, but Bell again was down well to push the ball to his left.
The turning point, if there was one, came on the hour, when Falkirk’s Paul Dixon was yellow-carded for a crude challenge on Michael Miller. The victim picked himself up and moved into the box to meet the resulting free kick. The ball came over from Armstrong – and Miller send a looping header into the net, despite Bell seeming in a good position to save.
Falkirk had rather lost their shape by this time and didn’t look quite the commanding force they had earlier in the game. The notion of a Rovers equaliser seemed reasonable, with around 20 minutes still to play.
John Baird received a warm reception from the fans after he replaced Allan in 73 minutes.
Armstrong then made a great run and sent a fine cross into the box, only to meet no blue-shirted takers, and then tested Bell with a tricky, swerving left-foot shot.
In 77 minutes, the 21-year-old stepped up to take another Rovers free kick - and propelled the ball sweetly into the top corner to bring Rovers back on terms.
An exciting last dozen minutes or so ensued, with Rovers looking possibly the more likely but still aware of the quality posed by their adversaries.
Rovers almost snatched what might have been a winning goal in the 86th minute. Another excellent run and cross from the right by Armstrong was met with an excellent header by Grant Anderson, but Doyle was there to clear off the line.
Raith Rovers – McGurn, Miller, MacDonald, Davidson, Benedictus (Gullan 43), Hendry, Allan (Baird 73), Anderson, Spencer, McKay (Armstrong 45), Anderson. Subs (not used): Munro, Watson, Tait, Bowie.
Falkirk – Bell, Doyle, Dixon, Buchanan, Durnan, Gomis (Miller 82), Tidser (McShane 66), Longridge, Sammon, Telfer (Connolly 71), McMillan. Subs (not used): Mutch, McManus, MacLean, Toshney.
Referee – Scott Lambie.