John Baird rescues point for Raith Rovers against former club Forfar

John Baird celebrates his equaliser for Raith Rovers in the 1-1 draw at Forfar. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
John Baird celebrates his equaliser for Raith Rovers in the 1-1 draw at Forfar. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Forfar Athletic 1 Raith Rovers 1

Station Park lived up to its reputation as a difficult venue for Raith Rovers as John Baird's second half equaliser rescued a point for the Kirkcaldy side.

Rovers made life hard for themselves with a poorly conceded opener during a sloppy start to the match, but a determined fightback ensured they held onto top spot in League One heading into Scottish Cup weekend.

John McGlynn's claim afterwards that his side deserved all three points was a reasonable one based on the number of chances created, but Forfar could have just as easily won the match having passed up a huge opportunity to make it 2-0 just after the break.

Raith were certainly the team on the front foot for the majority, with attacks down the left proving particularly fruitful and it was no surprise that the equaliser came from one of Keiran MacDonald's numerous crosses into the box.

Rovers made one enforced change with Iain Davidson returning from a four-match ban and taking the place of Dave McKay, himself suspended following his red card in the victory over Peterhead last week.

For the first time in several weeks, Raith were able to fill their bench with the return of both Michael Miller and Jack Smith from injury boosting numbers.

A blown tyre mean the Rovers supporters bus didn't arrive in time for kick-off, and that may have proved a blessing in disguise as they missed their team's substandard defending for Forfar's eighth minute opener.

The failure to close down the cross from Ross Meechan, the lack of marking in the box and goalkeeper Ross Munro's weak attempt at punching clear all contributed to Ross Forbes being left with a free header into a gaping net.

Rovers were taking too long to settle and Jordan Kirkpatrick forced Munro to save with a low drive from 25 yards before MacDonald had to make a goal-saving block on the six-yard line after Kyle Benedictus completely fluffed an attempted clearance.

A team pushing for a title should be starting games much better than this, but gradually Rovers began to get a foothold in the game, helped in no small part by the Dylan Tait, who at 18 and starting on his sixth senior match, was his team's most effective player.

Rovers fashioned a gilt-edged chance to equalise on 17 minutes but top scorer Jamie Gullan left his shooting boots in Spain, where he spent the week training with parent club Hibs, firing wide after the ball broke to him in space in the box.

The visitors continued to huff and puff in the lead up to half-time but they were restricted to long-range efforts that Marc McCallum saved comfortably.

A repeat of the first half would not have been good enough to salvage the game, but Rovers, who replaced a toiling Brad Spencer with Ross Matthews, lifted their game after the break.

Not before they had a big let-off though as they were badly caught out at the back just three minutes after the restart, leaving Jamie Watson with the impossible task of defending a three-on-one, but Jordan Kirkpatrick's finish lacked conviction with Munro able to save with his foot.

Grant Anderson touched a MacDonald cross wide in his last involvement before being replaced by Kieron Bowie, who may well be made to work on his heading this week, having failed to make a good connection on a number of headed opportunities.

Tait should've scored to make it three goals in three consecutive games on 58 minutes when he was superbly picked out by MacDonald at the back post but with just McCallum to beat he lofted the ball over the 'keeper and over the bar.

Rovers continued to press - refusing to resort to long ball tactics but continuing to pass through midfield and down the flanks - but when Baird turned his marker in the box to send a shot against the post with 20 minutes left, it was starting to look like the equaliser would never come.

However, just two minutes later, another tremendous cross from MacDonald found Tait at the back post and the youngster, showing awareness beyond his years, headed back across goal for Baird to nod over the line, before celebrating in style against his former employers.

It was only the striker's second goal of his third spell at the Kirkcaldy club, but one he has deserved for busier performances in recent weeks.

With a league title to aim for Rovers thoughts immediately turned from a salvage mission to victory, but it was Munro who had to be called into action on 80 minutes, diving full stretch to push behind a thunderous 20-yard effort from Forbes.

There was more danger for the away side with five minutes left when Davidson made a risky challenge on the edge of his box, resulting in a free-kick to Forfar just half a yard outside the penalty area.

It presented free-kick specialist Forbes with a chance, but the wall stood firm to block the goalbound effort.

Rovers were throwing caution to the wind in pursuit of victory - perhaps a little too much so as they flirted with disaster - but it almost paid off on the 90 minute mark when Iain Davidson stepped up from the back to get his boot on the end of a MacDonald cross only for McCallum to make a stunning one-handed save.

A frantic injury-time period ensued as both sides tried to win it, and in the last action, Rovers were glad to see a Callum Tapping corner kick land harmlessly on the roof of the net before referee Duncan Williams sounded the full-time whistle.

Such is the tightly-packed nature of the title race that Raith were third in the table at half-time, but Baird's equaliser ensures they will retain the psychological edge of remaining leaders ahead of the next round of league fixtures in two weeks time.

By which time, Raith will hope to have added some extra firepower to the squad, which could make all the difference down the stretch in turning draws such as this one into victories.