Raith rescue a point to salvage McGlynn homecoming

Kevin Nisbet fires home the Raith Rovers equaliser. Pic: George McLuskieKevin Nisbet fires home the Raith Rovers equaliser. Pic: George McLuskie
Kevin Nisbet fires home the Raith Rovers equaliser. Pic: George McLuskie
Raith Rovers 1 Arbroath 1

Losing a 19-month unbeaten league record at Stark's Park would not have been in the script for John McGlynn's homecoming match.

That unthinkable scenario looked on the cards when dangerman Bobby Linn gave Arbroath the lead with just 11 minutes remaining in this afternoon's top of the table clash.

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But a late Kevin Nisbet equaliser saved the day, and ensured Rovers head into the international break still four points behind the league leaders, and no worse off than the position McGlynn inherited when he took charge a fortnight ago.

Unsurprisingly, the returning manager stuck with the same starting XI that claimed an impressive 5-1 win in his first match back at Dumbarton the previous week, which meant fit-again Ross Matthews had to settle for a place on the bench.

Arbroath's team line-up contained a notable returnee, with former Rovers captain Jason Thomson returning to Stark's Park for the first time since his summer switch to Gayfield, while Mark Whatley and Ryan McCord were also facing their former club.

The McGlynn factor, coupled with a Kids for a Quid promotion, helped boost the attendance with a healthy 1900 home fans among a total crowd of 2137, however, the match did not quite play out as the hosts would have hoped.

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There was plenty of frustration on display as Rovers failed to make the most of the possession they enjoyed with promising moves too often breaking down either due to hesitancy in the final third, or a poor delivery into the box from wide areas.

What Arbroath gave up in possession, they more than made up for with a threat in attack, and Raith had goalkeeper Robbie Thomson to thank for two superb saves in either half, with the back four worked hard throughout, particularly Euan Murray, who had his work cut out against livewire Linn.

The positives for Raith were periods of controlled possession, albeit too far back the park, as well as the individual performance of Regan Hendry, who looks to have added an extra layer of confidence to his game from his loan spell last term, with a wonderful assist on the equalising goal capping off a man of the match display.

The early signs were encouraging for the hosts, with an energetic start putting them on the front foot, but it was from an Arbroath attack that the game's first talking point took place, with Thomson tumbling under a challenge from home debutant Callum Crane as he sped in the box.

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Referee Craig Napier could not have been better positioned, and pointed for a free-kick to Raith, booking the former Rovers man for diving, something Thomson strongly denied during the post-match press briefings, insisting he fell under contact.

Rovers were patiently passing and probing, but the visitors took a direct route to goal on 18 minutes and it almost paid off.

With home defenders committed upfield, a long kick-out from Darren Jamieson left Raith to defend a one-on-one and Ryan Wallace got the better of Crane to break into the box, but Thomson made a superb point-blank block.

The ball broke to Danny Denholm who looked to have an empty goal to shoot for, until Nat Wedderburn raced across, throwing his big body in the way to prevent a certain goal - a great piece of defending.

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Raith's more cultured approach fashioned a chance on 22 minutes with Hendry producing the pass of the game, splitting the defence to put Nathan Flanagan clear down the left, and his first-time cross found Nisbet in a great position, but a heavy touch allowed the defender to make a block.

Dick Campbell has built a strong, physical Arbroath side, and referee Napier allowed a few hefty challenges to go unpunished, particularly on Lewis Vaughan, who was limping heavily by the midway stage of the half after twice feeling the force of tackles that claimed ball and man.

Vaughan's rough treatment took an edge from his game, and did not help Raith's sluggishness in the final third, while Arbroath went close again as half-time approached, with Linn allowed to cut inside onto his right foot and his shot from the edge of the box was no more than a hair's breadth wide.

Vaughan lasted only 10 minutes after the break, and was replaced by Liam Buchanan, but the second half was following a similar pattern. If anything it got more difficult for Raith as the league leaders starting knocking on the door with increasing regularity.

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Linn hit the crossbar with a cross-come-shot, while at the other end, Lewis Milne failed to control the ball when Nisbet found him in space in the box.

Arbroath were looking more likely, but Rovers created their best chance of the game against the run of play on 72 minutes when Buchanan did well to turn and play in Flanagan, who had just the 'keeper to beat, but with the South Stand braced for the net to bulge, the winger took too many touches as he tried to set himself up for a left foot finish, and defender Ricky Little raced back to made a superb last ditch block.

Thomson heroics prevented Raith from falling behind with 13 minutes left as the defence was caught flat-footed, allowing Gavin Swankie to stride into the box unchallenged but the keeper was off his line sharply to narrow the angle and make a superb save.

That save, however, was in vain as just 90 seconds later, Linn got the better of Murray and rolled an effort into the far corner of the net to give the Red Licthies the lead they deserved on the balance of chances created.

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Given Raith had still not forced Jamieson into a save of note, the long home record was now under serious threat, but a hallmark of McGlynn's first spell in charge was the refusal to accept defeat, and digging deep to find late equalisers and winners.

The Rovers response was certainly an encouraging one as, with the clock approaching 87 minutes, Hendry took matters into his own hands, pouncing to win the ball from Colin Hamilton as he attempted to usher it over the touchline, before cutting inside and forcing Jamieson into a save.

The ball spilled to the feet of Nisbet, who had barely had a sniff all game, but the striker showed why he is the league's top scorer, being in the right place, at the right time, and making the right connection to slam the ball towards goal, and although Jamieson made the block again, he was clearly beyond the goal line.

The celebrations had barely died down and Raith were on the attack again, with thoughts now turning to a possible victory.

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However, visiting boss Dick Campbell then took centre stage by being sent to the stand for words said to the official, who then had to chase the 64-year-old down the tunnel after he took up position halfway down the trackside.

The theatrics took some of the momentum from Raith, and Arbroath went close to regaining the lead in the 90th minute when sub McCord aimed for the far corner from 18 yards, and only missed by inches.

There was one final chance for the home side in injury time, but Milne's failure to shoot when presented with a clear opening at the edge of the area, when the whole South Stand was screaming for him to do so, summed up Raith's failure to make the right choices in the final third.

In the circumstances, this was a good point for the Kirkcaldy side, who now have no doubts over the considerable challenge they face from Arbroath this season.

With a fortnight now to work on the team before the visit of Stranraer, and three-quarters of the season to overturn a four-point deficit, McGlynn will hope to make his mark.