Huge win as Raith come from behind to go eight points clear

Willis Furtado celebrates his equaliser against Airdrie. Pic: George McLuskieWillis Furtado celebrates his equaliser against Airdrie. Pic: George McLuskie
Willis Furtado celebrates his equaliser against Airdrie. Pic: George McLuskie
Raith Rovers 2 Airdrieonians 1

The huge roar from the South Stand at full-time said everything about the enormity of this victory as Raith Rovers came from behind to defeat Airdrieonians and move eight points clear at the top of League One.

Rovers unbeaten home record was under serious threat as the visitors, having been the better side for the majority of the first half, took a deserved one-goal lead through a Dale Carrick header on the stroke of half-time.

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Not for the first time this season, Raith were struggling to come to grips with this well-drilled Airdrie side, but a tactical change early in the second half made all the difference, with the introduction of Scott Robertson from the bench, and moving Lewis Vaughan up front, proving a match-winning decision.

Vaughan showed he had lost none of his goal-scoring prowess following an extended spell in midfield as he grabbed the winner with 15 minutes left, shortly after Willis Furtado, impressive once again, had struck against his former side with a deflected equaliser.

Raith have now collected 12 points from a losing position this season and this strong team character, on top of having some of the best players in the league, has allowed them to open up some breathing space at the top of the standings.

With the worst of the injuries now behind them, and the squad as strong as it has been all season, the Kirkcaldy men should now be looking to maintain their stranglehold on top spot for the remainder of the season.

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For Barry Smith that will mean continuing to take it one game at a time.

"It's a great win, but there's a long way to go," he said.

"The fans saw in the second half the resilience and character that this team has got, and I think that's why they got clapped off the park, because they saw so much effort after three games in a week, and how much the players were wanting to win.

"We now look to get three points in the next game, and that's it."

Smith described his decision to hand Kyle Benedictus his first start since breaking his leg in September as a "calculated risk", and there was certainly an element of that as the centre-half looked some way short of match fitness.

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However, the 90 minutes will do him the world of good, and while teenager Dave McKay has performed admirably in his absence, it was a boost to see the club captain back on the pitch wearing the armband.

That was the only change from the midweek win over Albion Rovers, but it became apparent throughout the first half that the balance in midfield wasn't quite right, and things only clicked into place once Robertson came off the bench.

Bobby Barr had the first effort of the game but Rohan Ferguson was equal to his low angled drive, but Airdrie were soon taking advantage of the sizeable space between Raith's defence and midfield to create a number of openings.

There was a particular flurry of chances for the away side around the 15 minute mark with Lennox required to make two saves in quick succession, first from, Joshua Edward's 18-yard drive, before diving to his left to parry Kieran MacDonald's 25-yard free-kick.

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For all Raith were not at their best in the first half, they still had chances of their own, the best of which fell to Liam Buchanan, who controlled a Vaughan cross on the six yard line, but with a defender at his back, he could only direct his shot-on-the-turn inches wide.

The better chances were falling to the visitors though with Carrick racing into the box and shooting low towards the near post, which Lennox did well to hold. The big Australian 'keeper did well again to prevent MacDonald from a near exact replica of his earlier free-kick after Raith got into a fankle at the edge of their box.

Ferguson almost gifted Raith an opener on 38 minutes with a crazy punch straight to the feet of Vaughan, who could only trundle a shot towards goal that was cleared off the line, and when the ball was returned to the box, Furtado's low effort was parried away by the 'keeper.

The deadlock was broken in the 44th minute as a free-kick to the back post saw David Brownlie outjump Benedictus to nod back across goal for an unmarked Carrick to bullet a header past Lennox.

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A rethink was certainly required, and while there was no changes at the interval, Smith waited just eight minutes to make the crucial switch, withdrawing Buchanan for Robertson, and pushing Vaughan up front alongside Furtado.

Almost instantly, Raith had a better balance, with Robertson anchoring the midfield, and preventing Airdrie from enjoying the possession they had previously had in Rovers' half, while Vaughan's pace and movement brought the team to life in the final third.

The reward was an equalising goal in the 63rd minute as Iain Davidson stayed forward after a free-kick was cleared, and when Jason Thomson returned the ball to the back post, the defender laid off to Furtado whose 16-yard effort took a wicked deflection to loop past Ferguson.

John Herron went close to putting Raith 2-1 up with a snapshot after winning a 50-50 at the edge of the box, but Ferguson pushed it aside before Zanatta followed up to fire the rebound into the side net.

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Rovers now had their bit between their teeth, with the Vaughan-Furtado strike partnership showing a lot of promise, and they made their dominance count with a second goal 14 minutes from time.

Dario Zanatta had got little change out of the full back all game, but the on-loan Hearts winger kept at it, and a darting run took him past his man, with a low ball across the face of goal falling to Vaughan, all alone in the six yard box, who had the simple task of rolling it into the net.

Raith could have got a third with Furtado's 30-yard effort looping high into the air off a defender and forcing a back-pedalling Ferguson to tip over, while Vaughan also went on a mesmerising run past three defenders before seeing his shot blocked at close range.

Airdrie had all but disappeared as an attacking force, thanks mainly to a more solid second half from Raith, but they did throw bodies forward in injury-time, and hearts were in mouths as the ball fizzed across the box in injury-time only for Davidson to coolly chest it back to his goalkeeper in a superb piece of defending.

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The full-time roar from the 1500 home fans was as loud as it's been all season in recognition of a major hurdle overcome.

From a position of eight points behind before Christmas, Raith are now eight points clear - a 16-point swing in the space of six weeks. That should be enough of a warning of how much things can still change. How much is very much in Raith's hands.

Raith Rovers: Lennox, Thomson, Herron, Murray, Benedictus, Buchanan (Robertson 53), Vaughan, Barr, (Matthews 85) Davidson, Zanatta, Furtado. Not used: Smith, Spence, Court, McKay, Hendry.

Airdrieonians: Ferguson, O''Neill, Edwards (McGregor 72), MacDonald, Brownlie, Cairns, Stewart, Brown, Duffy (Russell 84), Carrick, Fry (Hastie 78). Not used: Muir, Watt, McIntosh, Brown.

Referee: Craig Charleston.

Attendance: 1685.