Dundee defeat was harsh, says Raith boss

Calum Elliot heads the ball towards goal - Raith Rovers against Dundee at Stark's Park, January 2, 2014. Pic: Neil Doig
Calum Elliot heads the ball towards goal - Raith Rovers against Dundee at Stark's Park, January 2, 2014. Pic: Neil Doig

There were plenty mistakes made in yesterday’s New Year fixture at Stark’s Park but unfortunately for Raith Rovers ‘keeper Ross Laidlaw there is only one that the game will be remembered for.

Nobody will look back at the countless misplaced passes or slack touches that littered a scrappy encounter, but the goalkeepers’ curse is that any misjudgement will probably cost your team a goal, or in yesterday’s case, a point.

Laidlaw made an outstanding save in the first half to prevent his side from falling behind, and he dealt well with some severe Dundee pressure after Rovers lost captain Jason Thomson to a 67th minute red card.

But when the young ‘keeper dropped a catch in the last minute it allowed Dundee winger Jim McAllister to score the first of his late brace that saw the league leaders claim the three points, and left Rovers manager Grant Murray to rue another self-inflicted defeat.

“It’s hard to take,” Murray said. “I thought we matched Dundee in every department.

“Going down to 10 men made it hard for us, but we gave everything and 2-0 in the end is a harsh reflection on our guys.

“We were disappointed to lose the first goal the way we did.

“We’ve made a few individual errors that have cost us in the last couple of weeks and that will go down as another one.

“Ross is a young goalkeeper and we think he’s got massive potential here. He’s got to bounce back from that.

“Even after that we could have had the ball in the net at a corner kick when it breaks to one of our guys and gets deflected over the bar.

“If we scored there it would have been thoroughly deserved, but when you’re top of league, things go for you and that’s what happened for Dundee.

“The way the game went, they were doubling up on Joe Cardle and getting bodies behind the ball quickly. That’s a bit of respect to our players.

“It’s only the second game we’ve lost at home this season and we have to take credit for that, but it’s another defeat that we’ve got to bounce back from.”

Murray had little complaints with referee Don Robertson’s decision to show Thomson a second yellow card, but questioned whether the numbers should have been evened up.

“I felt a couple of their players were border line whether they should have stayed on the park,” he said. “The referee’s got decisions to make, you just want it to be fair.”

The match attracted Rovers’ biggest crowd of the season - the 4039 turn-out beating the previous best of 3668 set against Hearts in the League Cup tie in August.

Raith recalled Reece Donaldson early from his loan at Peterhead ahead of the fixture and the 19-year-old started in the centre of defence alongside Dougie Hill.

The return of Joe Cardle from suspension also allowed Murray to return to his preferred 4-4-2 formation with Lewis Vaughan and Laurie Ellis dropping to the bench.

It was a nervy start from the Kirkcaldy men - perhaps due to last week’s debacle in Livingston - and Laidlaw was called to make an outstanding finger-tip save in the 17th minute, changing direction superbly to push Martin Boyle’s close range header past the post.

There was another good stop from Laidlaw in the 25th minute as he dived to his left to hold a low 16-yard strike from Ryan Conroy.

Raith eventually settled into the match and started finding their men, and Kyle Letheren was called to make his first save in the 35th minute.

Joe Cardle nudged a defender off the ball, and Gordon Smith’s first-time shot on the turn from 18 yards forced the Dundee stopper into a diving save.

Rovers made a positive start to the second half with a couple of dangerous balls into the box, and a Ross Callachan shot that was deflected narrowly over the bar.

The game was held up for several minutes when Dundee ‘keeper Letheren was knocked unconcious in a collision with Donaldson at a corner-kick, and he had to be replaced by sub ‘keeper John Gibson.

The game was finely balanced when Raith’s fifth red card of the season left them with another uphill task.

Thomson, who had been booked for challenge 10 minutes earlier, clipped the heels of Boyle as he raced into the box, and a second caution was inevitable.

It is nothing to be proud of, but this Raith side has developed a hard skin through experience of playing with 10 men, and for a spell the dismissal seemed to galvanise the home side.

In the 70th minute, Rovers were inches away from opening the scoring as Moon’s heel flick from Callachan’s low cross saw the ball trundle across goal and just wide.

However, Dundee soon seized control and it took a remarkable goal-line clearance to prevent the visitors taking the lead with 10 minutes left.

Calum Booth’s poor touch inside the box gifted the ball to McAllister, and after Laidlaw saved his powerful volley, Booth redeemed himself with amazing block on the line to deny Peter MacDonald as he pounced on the loose ball.

Rovers were within touching distance of a hard-earned point when disaster struck.

Dundee defender Declan Gallacher launched a high ball into the box from the halfway line that tempted Laidlaw off his line.

With several bodies impeding his ability to make a clean catch, the big ‘keeper spilled the ball at the feet of McAllister, who managed to shoot through the crowd into the net to send the 2000 Dundee fans behind the goal into raptures.

Rovers’ 10 men had shown a terrific attitude and they picked themselves off the floor to almost snatch an injury-time equaliser as a Cardle corner-kick fell to Donaldson on the six-yard line but his goal-bound shot was somehow deflected over the bar by a combination of goalkeeper and defender on the line.

From the next corner, Dundee managed to scramble the ball clear, and with Raith having committed everyone to attack, McAllister was able to sprint clear, round Laidlaw, and slide home his second goal to seal Dundee’s win.

The result leaves Rovers 10 points behind the league leaders, although Alloa’s surprise home defeat to Cowdenbeath ensures, for now, Rovers hold onto their top four place.

It will take a quick end to the individual errors for them to stay there.

Raith Rovers: Laidlaw, Thomson, Booth, Donaldson, Hill, Fox, Cardle, Moon, Elliot, Smith (Ellis 68), Callachan (Anderson 89). Not used: Vaughan, Matthews, Stewart (GK).

Dundee: Letheren (Gibson 58), Irvine, Lockwood, McBride, MacDonald, Rae, Conroy, Benedictus, Gallagher, McAlister, Boyle (Wighton 85). Not used: O’Donell, Dyer, Monti, McIntosh, Kerr.

Referee: Don Robertson

Attendance: 4039