Raith Rovers lift play-off semi-final curse with victory over 10-man Forfar Athletic

Forfar Athletic 1 (2) Raith Rovers 1 (3)

The play-off curse, the hopeless record in Angus, the questionable mentality, the goals against column.

Raith players celebrate Kevin Nisbet's penalty kick with the travelling fans. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith players celebrate Kevin Nisbet's penalty kick with the travelling fans. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

It was easier to rattle off the issues that would cost Raith Rovers the tie, rather than find reasons to be confident ahead of this play-off semi-final with Forfar Athletic.

However, John McGlynn and his players overcame all of the doubts to secure a hard-fought aggregate victory following today's 1-1 draw at Station Park.

Leading 2-1 from the first leg at Stark's Park, the Kirkcaldy outfit took a large travelling support to Angus in the hope of finally breaking their play-off hoodoo at the sixth attempt, but those fans must have feared the worst when their former striker John Baird put Forfar ahead, and levelled the tie, shortly after half-time.

However, an immediate response - top scorer Kevin Nibset converting from the penalty spot as well as a red card for Forfar defender Michael Travis - ensured it was the visiting side celebrating progression to their first ever play-off final at full-time.

Queen of the South - and their talismanic striker Stephen Dobbie - now stand between Rovers and promotion to the Championship after the Dumfries outfit overturned a one-goal deficit to thrash Montrose 5-0 in their second leg, with all five goals - including a Dobbie hat-trick - coming in the first half.

That will be a tough hurdle to overcome, but one Rovers need not fear after finding solutions to a number of their problems over this two-legged triumph.

Having finished a largely disappointing league campaign three points behind Forfar in third place, as well as losing both games at Station Park, it would have been fair to view Raith as the weaker of two sides going into the tie, despite their full-time status.

But the Rovers side that turned up for this play-off semi-final was a different proposition from the one previously beaten by Jim Weir's men, both in terms of tactical approach and strength of character.

McGlynn's bold decision to try something different, changing to a 3-5-2, raised eyebrows but it has proven to be a commendable piece of decision-making from the manager, whose preparation was evident in the way the team carried out the game-plan.

The players also took it upon themselves to raise their game, showing qualities only seen occasionally throughout the league campaign in terms of the grittiness and team work required to stand up to the physical challenge and get the job done.

Leading the way in that respect was young midfielder Ross Matthews, who produced a coming-of-age performance in the middle of the park over the two legs, both in terms of his use of the ball, and his tigerish work-rate off it. The fact he was able to wind up the opposition was an added bonus.

Dave McKay, aged just 20, also deserves special mention for getting through both legs in an unfamiliar wing back position, but everyone played their part.

The first half went completely according to plan as Raith dominated possession while comfortably containing the Forfar threat.

There was no penetration on display from either side, but that suited Rovers perfectly and after a goalless opening 45, they were halfway there.

However, with their season on the line, Forfar had no option but to push forward more after the break, and a spell of pressure resulted in a poorly defended opener.

A near post corner-kick from Jamie Bain was glanced on by Baird, completely unmarked, and the ball deflected over the line to spark jubilation among the home fans.

With four towering defenders in the line-up, five if including Nat Wedderburn, it was ridiculous that one of the smallest men on the park should score from a corner kick.

These lapses have been the bane of Rovers season, but over the play-offs, they have been much more few and far between.

Still, they had been punished and now found themselves in an awkward position - level in the tie but with momentum against them on a ground where they have struggled.

The response was instant.

A fortunate ricochet presented Nisbet with the ball deep in Forfar's half and his perfectly weighted pass to substitute Nathan Flanagan, who had replaced Jamie Barjonas only minutes earlier, gave the winger a clear run through on goal.

As Flanagan closed in on goalkeeper Marc McCallum and prepared to pull the trigger, defender Travis made the ill-judged decision to pull him to the ground, leaving referee Euan Anderson with no choice but to award a penalty kick, and show a red card.

Nisbet confidently sent McCallum the wrong way from the spot to score his 35th goal of the season, and put Rovers firmly in the driving seat against 10-men.

With half an hour still to play, Rovers still had work to do, but they completed a professional job in the remaining time with Dean Lyness rarely called in action.

Rovers haven't achieved anything yet, but in getting through this tie they have answered a few questions.

Those questions will be harder next week, but we now have more reasons to believe it can be done.