Missed opportunity as Raith Rovers held to derby draw

Raith Rovers players celebrate Brad Spencer's equaliser. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Raith Rovers players celebrate Brad Spencer's equaliser. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 1 East Fife 1

Raith Rovers held onto their position at the top of League One, but this derby draw goes down as a missed opportunity.

Having fought back from a goal down to end a closely fought first half on level terms, Rovers were unable to convert a dominant second half into three points, allowing East Fife to leave Stark's Park with their unbeaten league record intact.

A glaring miss from Jamie Gullan - who had a good game otherwise - was the defining moment, although Rovers had more than enough territory and possession to make it count, and in the end, they needed a stunning late save from David McGurn to extend their own unbeaten run to eight games.

Rovers biggest concern this evening, however, surrounds their worsening injury curse.

Just a few weeks after losing Lewis Vaughan for the season, the equally influential Regan Hendry looks set for a period on the sidelines after injuring his knee in training on Friday.

A scan is required to determine the extent of the damage, but Rovers are fearing the worst.

With several other injuries to contend with, and Brad Spencer also now giving cause for concern after picking up a knee strain during the game, despite completing the 90 minutes, it is little wonder that an emotional John McGlynn looked at the end of his tether as he discussed the latest setback.

With Steven Anderson also suspended, Raith were seven players down before kick-off, which meant the return of Ross Matthews could not have come at a better time, while Tony Dingwall was also handed his first start in seven months.

Anderson's absence put the onus on the same back four that lost four goals at Bayview in August, and they delivered a much improved performance, with Iain Davidson claiming a deserved man of the match award for a solid afternoon's work, particularly after picking up an early booking.

Just a single goal separated the teams in the table before kick-off, and there was little between them in the early exchanges until East Fife drew first blood in the 25th minute.

Kyle Benedictus failed to get distance on a headed clearance, the ball falling into a dangerous area at the edge of the box, where Steven Boyd collected it, brushing Spencer aside before steering a low effort beyond McGurn from 20 yards.

Without several key players, this was now a test of Rovers' character and they responded within 10 minutes as Gullan's corner found Spencer unmarked at close range and the midfielder cushioned a side-foot volley beyond Hart for the equaliser.

The half-time score was an accurate reflection of the first half flow, however, Raith took control after the break.

The tone was set just two minutes after the restart when Dingwall - who had an impressive impact given his lack of recent match action - crossed for Kieron Bowie to glance a header narrowly wide.

With Raith now winning the midfield battle, a number of promising positions were established, particularly down the left with Kieran MacDonald, but on each occasion Rovers failed to get anyone on the end of the cross.

The big chance arrived on 58 minutes when Bowie forced Ross Dunlop into conceding possession in the box, before laying the ball on a plate for Gullan, but with just Hart to beat, the on-loan Hibs striker shot tamely into the hands of the grateful 'keeper, and East Fife were off the hook.

Gullan had another chance inside the box a few minutes later, and this time he put his laces through the ball, but Ross Davidson made a vital block.

Spencer's match then looked to over when he limped to the bench with Dave McKay stripped and ready to come on. However, after a change of heart, the midfielder decided to play on - at what cost remains to be seen.

Rovers' determination was evident as they kept on the front foot and a missed interception from Stewart Murdoch allowed Dingwall a sight at goal - not as gilt-edged as Gullan's chance, but a good opportunity nonetheless - but again the finish lacked power and Hart held.

The home side were almost made to pay when Fife substitute Pat Slattery latched onto a cut-back from Daniel Church to steer a low shot towards goal that McGurn somehow got down to, flicking the ball away with one hand.

By full-time Raith's attacking endeavours had run out of steam, and thanks to Falkirk's failure to capitalise with a surprise defeat at home to Clyde, the status quo was maintained at the top of League One.

After three consecutive draws Rovers will be looking to get back to winning ways at Peterhead next week.