Point at league champions is two dropped for Raith Rovers

Kevin Nisbet challenges Ricky Little (stock image). Credit: Graham BlackKevin Nisbet challenges Ricky Little (stock image). Credit: Graham Black
Kevin Nisbet challenges Ricky Little (stock image). Credit: Graham Black
A draw at the home of the league champions with more than half a team missing wouldn’t normally come with a sense of disappointment.

But after failing to properly defend the lead on two occasions, and missing out on reclaiming second place in League One, this was a case of two dropped points for Raith Rovers.

The Kirkcaldy side travelled to Arbroath without seven players, six of whom were injured while defender Euan Murray missed out with a sickness bug, and, in the circumstances, there were positives to be taken from the performance.

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But the loss of two woefully defended equalisers cancelled out a superb Kevin Nisbet double, summing up a Raith team that simply cannot get it right at both ends of the park.

Scoring 71 league goals should have been enough to shoot for the title, but the failure to address repetitive defensive frailties remain a concern with just two games until the play-offs.

Club captain Kyle Benedictus handed the team a much-needed fitness boost by completing the full 90 minutes in his first game in two months, while Chris Duggan got the last 20.

Having both players available and match fit will be key to any promotion hopes.

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In total there were three changes to the line-up that started the 3-2 home defeat to Stranraer with Craig McGuffie and Jamie Gullan also restored to the starting line-up.

In order to accommodate the return of Benedictus, centre-half Dave McKay was pushed out to right back.

Arbroath started brightly, and it took Raith some time to get a settle into the game, but by the 20-minute mark they were starting to win the battles, and were the team on the front foot.

Liam Buchanan tested Darren Jamieson at his near post with a volley that the ‘keeper held, but there was no stopping Raith’s opener on the 27-minute mark.

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Gullan won a soft free-kick for obstruction 22 yards out and Nisbet stepped up to curl an exquisite effort over the wall and beyond the reach of Jamieson.

It was a fitting way to mark his 30th goal of the season, quite an achievement for the 22-year-old considering he is the first Rovers striker to reach that tally since Gordon Dalziel in the 1990s.

Rather than consolidate and build, Rovers completely switched off and almost gifted Arbroath an equaliser within 60 seconds as a mix-up between Iain Davidson and Callum Crane allowed Steven Doris a clear run on goal, but Dean Lyness raced from his line to make the block, before Crane completed the clearance off the line.

Despite being given this warning, Raith’s defence disengaged again just a minute later as, from a throw-in on the right, Doris was allowed to run completely unchallenged into the box.

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His cut-back was fresh-aired by Gavin Swankie in front of goal - which should have been a let-off for Raith - but they still failed to take the chance to clear their lines, and Swankie made no mistake with his second effort.

Having thrown away their advantage, Raith did the hard part again by restoring their lead six minutes into the second half, Iain Davidson nodding a free-kick across goal for Nisbet to smash a volley into the net.

The initial response this time was much better as Raith kept the hosts at arms length, with Arbroath starting to look like a side who had already sewn up the title and were content in second gear.

But even when things appear comfortable, this Raith team has a knack of shooting themselves in the foot and so it proved with 13 minutes left.

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If Arbroath’s first goal was a candidate for the worst piece of defending in the match, then their second was close competition as Rovers left not one, but two players unmarked from a corner.

Substitute Ryan Wallace wasn’t picked up at any point - either before, during or after the kick was taken - a shocking loss of concentration, and an abdication of responsibility.

The striker was free to volley Ricky Little’s knockdown past Lyness from six yards, with his team mate, Danny Denholm, standing right beside him.

Neither side did enough in the closing stages to merit the victory, but for Raith, this goes down as another fixture that they would have won had they defended properly.