Forfar Athletic 2, Raith Rovers 1
Familiar failings came back to blight Raith’s hopes of holding on to second place in the League One championship race.
The Lang Toun side created an abundance of opportunities in the first 45 minutes at Station Park and responded well to going a goal down midway through the half – finishing the stronger and then getting back on level terms early in the second period.
But, instead of building on that show of determination, they found themselves behind again with 20 minutes remaining – to the type of goal which was cheap and sloppy if you were a Raith fan but a skilfully and beautifully executed move if you were a Forfar follower.
Raith fashioned a few more chances but none as convincing as their early opportunities, while Forfar might have racked up a bigger score but for some wayward and woeful finishing.
Rovers manager John McGlynn said it could take the summer to find the missing ingredient and add it to the mix, in the hope of stopping Raith from losing matches from a good position.
“If we take our chances, then we walk away from here with a victory,” he summed up ruefully.
“I thought we put a lot into the game. We started well, there was nothing in the game, we were attacking - and they go ahead.
“Then we took over. I counted eight attempts at goal (three from Tony Dingwall, three from Jamie Barjonas, two from Kevin Nisbet) and we haven’t really hit the target. Kevin Nisbet probably came the closest by hitting the post.
“There were possibly two or three attempts for them and one gave them a goal - that is the vital one; of course it is. But it’s not like we didn’t put a lot into the game or create chances.
“In the second half, we scored a very good, well-worked goal - a good strike by Kevin - so we look to kick on. But this is where we have been all season - we do that and then we end up losing, from our point of view, a cheap goal.”
A tractor and a small army of helpers helped clear the Station Park surface as the nation was spattered by snow, sleet and rain. Referee Grant Irvine held a lunchtime inspection and declared the pitch playable an hour prior to kick-off, after some contradictory messages earlier about whether the game was likely to go ahead.
Robbie Thomson produced a brilliant save around the quarter-hour mark from Dale Hilson, tipping over his right-foot shot from the edge of the box.
Soon afterwards, Kevin Nisbet collected a loose ball in midfeild and ran through in plenty of space but fired wide.
Forfar took the lead in 23 minutes with a fine move. The ball was played out to Lewis Moore on the right flank and his cross was turned in from close range by Hilson in the central goalmouth area - which, McGlynn had noted, Rovers failed to mark.
Hilson sliced a right-foot shot wide after a wayward Rovers clearance and had another attempt minutes later after collecting a pass from John Baird. But Thomson made a good one-handed save from his left-foot shot.
After a spell of pressure, Forfar began giving possession away a little too readily for their fans’ liking, with a few opportunities and half-chances for Liam Buchanan, Dingwall, and Nisbet, whose 41st-minute shot hit the post after stopper Marc McCallum got a faint touch.
Nisbet shot wide early in the second half from a low corner kick by Dingwall but made up for it by firing powerfully home for the equaliser in the 51st minute, following a move he started himself.
Raith certainly deserved to be level but the hoped-for domination from then on did not happen. Dylan Easton fired carelessly wide for Forfar after working a slick one-two with Hilson - then a long ball sent Hilson through on an angular one-on-one with Thomson for what should have been their second goal.
But, to Rovers,’ relief, he stumbled over the ball on the wintry surface and the chance was gone.
Hilson’s confidence was not sapped by that embarrassment, however, as he scored his own and Athletic’s second - and winning - goal five minutes later.
Rovers lost possession leading to a throw-in and Ross Meechan steered the ball to Moore, who advanced into the box and left Crane and Barjonas wrong-footed as he glided between them. Hilson was waiting at the far post to meet his cross and score once again from close range.
Nisbet had probably Raith’s last meaningful chance of an equaliser a couple of minutes from time but McCallum made a fine save.
Forfar wasted a great chance for goal number three in the dying seconds when Gillespie was dispossessed and a lovely ball through from Baird was controlled skilfully on the chest by Brad Spencer, as he advanced into the box. He looked pretty certain to score but his shot wide was frightful.
Forfar Athletic - McCallum, Meechan, Eckersley, Whyte, Travis, Irvine, Hilson (Aitken 80), Moore (Bain 75), Baird, Easton (Coupe 80), Spencer. Subs (not used) Reilly, Mackintosh, Malone, Hoban.
Raith Rovers - Thomson, Crane, Davidson, Murray, Gillespie, Buchanan (Gullan 70), Dingwall, Wedderburn (McGuffie 75), Nisbet, McKay, Barjonas (Matthews 75). Subs (not used) Berry, Watson, Bowie, Lyness.
Referee - Grant Irvine.