Raith Rovers find satisfaction in first 1-0 win of the season

Raith Rovers 1 Airdrie 0

Saturday, 9th March 2019, 7:50 pm
Updated Saturday, 9th March 2019, 10:57 pm
Grant Gillespie celebrates after scoring the Raith winner. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

In a season where Raith Rovers have often required two goals just to get a draw, there was a degree of satisfaction after this narrow victory over Airdrie.

The performance was not particularly memorable, nor was the match itself, but there is encouragement to be taken from a first 1-0 win of the campaign.

The ability to grind out such a result requires a certain mentality that has too often been missing from the side, with a failure to keep enough clean sheets.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

This was only Rovers' fourth shut-out in the league, and the second to feature youngster Dave McKay at centre-half, who is now getting his overdue chance under John McGlynn.

HThe 20-year-old barely put a foot wrong alongside Iain Davidson, who was outstanding throughout, making a vital goal-line clearance when the game was still goalless.

Aside from that scare, Rovers looked much more secure at the back then they have lately, with mistakes kept to a minimum, albeit Airdrie were largely powderpuff in attack.

The same could be said for the home side, who struggled to turn dominance into a final product until Grant Gillespie popped up with the winning goal 16 minutes from time.

McGlynn made three changes from the side that drew 2-2 with Stranraer with Craig McGuffie, Ross Matthews and Jamie Gullan all dropping to the bench.

In their place came Davidson, Nat Wedderburn and Liam Buchanan, adding a bit more experience to what had been a youthful starting line-up the previous week.

There was also a return to midfield for Gillespie - his preferred and more natural position - allowing Euan Murray to return to right back, while the goalkeeper rotation of recent weeks also came to an end with Robbie Thomson keeping his place.

Rovers set up in a midfield diamond, with full backs expected to provide the width, and the team made a positive start almost taking the lead inside two minutes when Gillespie burst into the box, exchanged passes with Buchanan, before sending a toe-poke towards goal which rebounded off the post.

The home side were clearly keen to get off the mark early and won a succession of corners, one of which almost produced the opener when both Wedderburn and McKay attacked Tony Dingwall's delivery, but neither could force it over the line from close range.

When their early efforts failed to produce an opener Rovers appeared to lose focus and Airdrie came into the game, culminating in them almost grabbing the opener on 27 minutes.

Daryll Duffy was left unmarked in the box and his header has beaten Thomson and was heading in until Davidson raced across to meet the ball on the line and boot it to safety to complete a brilliant clearance.

By half-time Rovers promising start had long since fizzled out, but they picked up the tempo again after the break with more concerted pressure on the Airdrie defence.

Glimpses of goal were proving hard to come by with Rovers best effort on goal coming from Kevin Nesbit with an audacious attempt from the left side of the box which wasn't far away from dipping inside the far post.

Frustration was building and Rovers looked to the bench with Nathan Flanagan and Jamie Gullan replacing Dingwall and Buchanan.

On-loan Rangers midfielder Jamie Barjonas was becoming more influential the longer the match wore on with several surging runs through midfield, and he was to provide the answer to unlocking the Airdrie defence on 74 minutes.

He latched onto Nisbet's knock-on and drove to the by-line, cutting the ball back brilliantly for Gillespie to volley home his third goal of the season from six yards.

Gullan impressed in his late cameo with unselfish running winning possession high up the park, while he also forced Hutton into a save at his near post.

It helped ensure Rovers made it safely to full-time with only one slight scare when Airdrie launched a long throw into the box and Davidson had to make a desperate block with the visitors claiming a penalty for handball.

Raith are now four games unbeaten, with two home wins either side of two away draws. In a season where consistency has been absent, it's a start.

The frustration is that Rovers have left themselves too much to do in the title race, with Arbroath's recent wobble continuing with a second defeat in a row - surprisingly at home to bottom of the table Stenhousemuir - only narrowing the gap at the top to 12 points

With eight games remaining, the aim for Rovers should be to finish the campaign unbeaten with as many wins as possible, and then carry that momentum into the play-offs.