Deflation at Stark's as title slips from Raith grasp

Scott Robertson cuts a frustrated figure as Raith fail to find a breakthrough against Alloa. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Scott Robertson cuts a frustrated figure as Raith fail to find a breakthrough against Alloa. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 0 Alloa Athletic 0

There was utter deflation for Raith Rovers at Stark's Park this afternoon as the League One title slipped from their grasp following a goalless draw with Alloa.

Raith needed to win to guarantee first place and automatic promotion, but the failure to do so allowed Ayr United to pip them at the post thanks to a 2-0 win over Albion Rovers that saw the helicopter carrying the league trophy set a course for Somerset Park instead.

Rovers will now head into a play-off semi-final against Alloa, with the first leg taking place at the Indodrill Stadium this coming Wednesday, and the players will need to scrape themselves off the floor and go again if they are to reach the Championship through the back door.

Almost 4500 Rovers fans - the biggest home end turn-out in a decade - packed into Stark's Park in anticipation of a title party. A terrific support, and the atmosphere was buzzing before kick-off, but as the 90 minutes ticked away, the mood only turned to frustration, and then despair, as the goal they craved failed to arrive.

The players put every ounce of effort into the match, but up against an ultra-defensive Alloa team who sat behind the ball for long spells, the home side were unable to find a cutting edge, or the strategy required to break them down.

Raith did create some chances - and Alloa goalkeeper Neil Parry made a few decent saves - but they didn't put the visiting defence under enough sustained pressure, particularly in the second half, where too many scrappy minutes ticked by without a genuine goal threat.

It wasn't until the cavalry charge was properly sounded in the closing five minutes - during which time Raith had four strikers and a defender up front - that the pressure really ramped up, and an agonising deflection off the post in injury time was the final nail in the coffin.

Raith stuck with the same 11 that produced a convincing 3-0 win in Stranraer the previous week, and after Alloa won the coin toss and forced a change of ends, the team certainly started positively shooting towards the packed South Stand.

Lewis Vaughan tested Parry with an early free-kick which the 'keeper tipped over at full stretch, but there were hearts in mouths at the other end on 15 minutes when Jordan Kirkpatrick's long range strike seemed to catch out Graeme Smith, who managed to touch it onto the inside of the post, before the ball bounced across the goalmouth and out for a corner on the opposite side.

After that enormous let-off, Raith proceeded to set up camp in the Alloa half, and on 23 minutes Jason Thomson's cross was met by Liam Buchanan at the near post but Parry was standing in the right place to turn the effort behind.

Raith were dominating possession - but too far from goal.

They were having difficulty picking out forward passes as Alloa worked hard to shut down space, and the woodwork came to Rovers' rescue again on the stroke of half-time as Kirkpatrick's free-kick struck the bar, with Kevin McHattie clearing off the line.

The pattern of the first half was a worry, but Raith persevered after the break and Buchanan almost found a way through with an excellent effort from the edge of the box, striking a half-volley with the outside of his boot that Parry pushed away at full stretch.

As the match approached the 65 minute mark with still no breakthrough, thoughts started to turn towards the Raith bench, and Willis Furtado was introduced at the expense of Bobby Barr, who had struggled to get in the game.

Within a minute Rovers struck the woodwork as Thomson climbed at the back post to send a looping header over Parry, which bounced back off the bar, and when the ball was returned to the danger area just moments later, Thomson was denied again, this time by the legs of Parry from a point-blank header.

You sensed then that this might not be Rovers' day.

Spence came off the bench with 15 minutes left, then Jonny Court came on with five to go as the clock continued to tick down.

News filtered through that Ayr had gone 2-0 up, so a hero was required.

Furtado flashed a volley over the bar as the clock struck 90, but there was to be one last chance.

Spence launched a ball to the back post, Davidson sent a downward header into the goalmouth, where Vaughan's touch saw the ball ricochet off the post, and bounce straight to an Alloa defender who managed to scramble clear. And with that miss, the title was gone.

The full-time whistle arrived just moments later, and Raith hearts sank.

All hope is not lost, but Raith have missed their best chance for promotion.

They will now need to do it the hard way.

Raith Rovers: Smith, Thomson, McHattie, Murray, Robertson, Buchanan (Spence 75), Vaughan, Barr (Furtado 68), Davidson, Zanatta (Court 86), Hendry. Not used: Brian, Herron, Benedictus, Matthews.

Alloa Athletic: Parry, Taggart, Crane, Graham, Fleming (Meggatt 63), Robertson, Cawley, Smith, Stewart, Kirkpatrick, Renton (Monaghan 86). Not used: Monaghan, Fagan, Fisher, Goodwin, Wilson.

Referee: Gavin Duncan

Attendance: 4496