Raith knocked off top after stalemate in Alloa

Alloa Athletic 0 Raith Rovers 0

Monday, 29th January 2018, 3:13 pm
Updated Monday, 29th January 2018, 3:25 pm
Willis Furtado takes on Alloa full back Scott Taggart. Pic: Walter Neilson, Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers have been knocked off the top of League One after failing to hit the net for the second match running in a goalless draw in Alloa.

The result was the right outcome - neither side created enough chances to merit victory - but it was not what Raith wanted or needed after their defeat to Stranraer the previous week.

A draw at the one of the division's toughest venues is far from a disaster, but in the context of dropping seven points in the last three fixtures, it is a little more disappointing.

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Raith played some neat football at times amid tricky conditions on a difficult surface, and their clean sheet was rarely under threat, but a lack of creativity in the final third meant there was little for the travelling support to get excited about.

Things picked up slightly in the second half after Lewis Vaughan was moved into the final third, having spent most of the match struggling to make an impact in the middle of the park.

His switch to centre midfield was the right move at the right time, but for Raith to get back on the boil, perhaps their most creative player and top goalscorer needs the freedom to play in a more advanced role.

After the below-par effort in Stranraer, Barry Smith took the opportunity to freshen up the starting XI, which had been virtually unchanged since mid-December.

The only enforced of the three changes saw the injured Scott Robertson replaced by Willis Furtado, making his first start since moving from Airdrie on the left wing, which allowed Ross Matthews back into his more customary centre midfield position.

There was also a welcome return for two long-term injury absentees, with goalkeeper Aaron Lennox making his first start since August in place of veteran Graeme Smith, while Kevin McHattie also made his latest comeback, knocking youngster Dave McKay to the bench.

It was also a boost to see captain Kyle Benedictus on the bench, making his first appearance in the squad since breaking his leg in September.

For McHattie, however, the day was to turn sour as he lasted just 25 minutes. The left back appeared to catch his studs in the turf making a challenge, twisting his knee, and his screams of pain could be heard from the stand.

The stretcher was called for, and the desperately unfortunate 24-year-old left the pitch to warm applause from both sets of fans, with McKay replacing him in the back four.

Before then Alloa had made the better start with Lennox required to make two saves in the 12th minute, first grabbing a header from Ross Stewart under his crossbar before diving full stretch to his right to turn a powerful long range effort from Jordan Kirkpatrick past the post.

Raith were getting into some decent positions without producing the final ball but a 22nd minute corner kick almost provided the breakthrough when Euan Murray met Vaughan's delivery flush on the forehead but Neil Parry was equal to it with a reflex save.

Rovers got stronger towards half-time and had Alloa camped in, but they couldn't find a breakthrough, and the hosts almost made them pay at the start of the second half when Steven Hetherington swept a free-kick into the box which Kris Renton glanced inches wide.

At the other end, Raith's front players were having little impact on the game, but Furtado did get a glimpse of goal on the hour mark, drifting in from the wing and latching onto Liam Buchanan's flick at the edge of the box, before firing in a low effort which Perry did well to hold.

Four minutes later, Bobby Barr sent a teasing low ball between the defence and goalkeeper and only a last-ditch clearance from defender Andrew Graham denied Buchanan a tap-in at the back post. It was the kind of delivery Raith had been crying out for.

With 20 minutes left manager Smith decided it was time to try something different, and a clearly frustrated Buchanan was replaced by John Herron, who moved into midfield with Vaughan pushed up front.

The change had some impact with Raith putting Alloa under some concerted pressure, but despite winning several corners, and putting several balls into the box, the home defence held firm leaving Rovers frustrated and exasperated.

Jonny Court was also brought on with five minutes left, replacing Greig Spence, as Raith looked for someone, anyone, to unlock the Alloa rearguard.

The opening the Kirkcaldy men craved arrived as the clock hit 90, with Herron racing through the heart of the Alloa defence from midfield, his run from deep brilliantly picked out by Barr, but Parry managed to turn his effort wide.

The last chance was gone, and Raith almost lost it in injury-time when a free-kick fell to sub Kevin Cawley at the back post, who headed over a gaping goal.

Rovers have allowed momentum to slip but, crucially, with 14 games left, the destination of the title is still firmly in their own hands.

To keep it that way, Raith need to figure out why they have stopped scoring goals, and rectify it for the trip to Hampden next week, where three points are a must ahead of the game in hand against Albion Rovers at Stark's Park a week on Tuesday.

Alloa Athletic: Parry, Taggart, Crane, Graham, McCart, Fleming, Stewart, Hetherington, Renton (Cawley 65), Kirkpatrick (Robertson 79), Flannigan. Not used: Malcolm, McKeown, Monaghan, Wilson.

Raith Rovers: Lennox, Thomson, McHattie (McKay 25), Davidson, Murray, Matthews, Barr, Vaughan, Buchanan (Herron 71), Spence (Court 84), Furtado. Not used: Benedictus, Hendry, Watson, Smith.

Referee: Alan Muir

Attendance: 904