Dumbarton 2 Raith Rovers 2
Raith Rovers caretaker manager Laurie Ellis had every reason to be pleased with both his own and the team’s performance in Saturday’s season-ending draw in Dumbarton.
Ellis faced a difficult task, not only to lift himself following the sacking of his close friend, Grant Murray, but also to lift the players following the woeful 4-0 home loss to Livingston the week before.
The 35-year-old embraced the challenge, representing the club with the same dignity he has throughout his 13 years at Stark’s Park by overseeing a committed and focused team effort, with the help of director of football Maurice Malpas in the dugout.
Ellis - a Hall of Fame inductee - is already established as a fans favourite but he endeared himself further to the supporters with a popular team selection - bringing David McGurn back into the side, recalling Lewis Vaughan and Grant Anderson, and giving youngster Ross Matthews his first senior start.
The changes certainly had an impact as Raith improved tenfold from the previous week, with Vaughan scoring a long range stunner and setting up another in the 2-2 draw, while 19-year-old Matthews impressed hugely in the holding midfield position, rarely, if ever, wasting possession – one to watch next season.
The result also halted Rovers’ five-game losing run, although they were disappointed not to win match having turned a half-time deficit into a deserved 2-1 lead only to concede a soft equaliser with 12 minutes left.
A strong wind made for difficult playing conditions at a cold Bet Butler Stadium but, despite having no league position to play for, the teams served up an entertaining and hard fought encounter.
Dumbarton had the wind at their backs in the first half, and after a scrappy start, they took the lead in the 20th minute.
Garry Fleming was afforded too much space at the edge of the box and when his shot came back off the post, Jordan Fitzpatrick was quickest to react to tuck home the rebound.
19-year-old Matthews impressed hugely in the holding midfield position, rarely, if ever, wasting possession – one to watch next season.
Raith defenders were having difficulty judging bouncing balls, while at the other end, some promising attacks were being held up by the force of the wind.
Rovers showed the best way to goal in the 36th minute with a neat passing move along the deck that ended with Ryan Conroy drawing a point-blank save from Danny Rogers, with his follow-up effort cleared off the line.
A minute later, Vaughan had the ball in the net for Raith but was flagged offside as he pounced on the rebound after Rogers had spilled Ross Callachan’s 20-yard drive.
It had been a tough first half for Raith playing into the wind, but apart from losing the goal, they had coped with the conditions reasonably well.
The visitors took control after the turnaround and equalised on 53 minutes when Vaughan’s superb turn and pass put Mark Stewart through on goal, and the striker toe-poked home his 10th goal of the season.
Rovers took the lead in spectacular style on the hour mark when Rogers miscued a goal-kick straight to the feet of Vaughan, who took a good touch then struck a superb Charlie Adam-esque lob over the retreating ‘keeper from around 45 yards.
Vaughan missed a glorious chance to seal the points from much closer range, sending a header wide of a gaping goal from six yards, and Dumbarton made the most of the let-off in the 78th minute, as Scott Agnew pounced on a poor headed clearance from Rory McKeown to send a swerving shot past McGurn from 16 yards.
Both sides looked eager to finish the season with a win, committing plenty bodies to attack in the latter stages, but it was Rovers came closest to claiming the three points when, in the 90th minute, Ross Callachan’s deflected 25 yard effort looped over Rogers and fell inches wide of the post.
The draw meant Rovers finished the season on 43 points - one more point than last season - which in a more difficult league, could be viewed as an improvement, although there is no doubting the sense of disappointment at the team’s failure to maintain a push for fourth place.
That will be the challenge for Raith’s next manager, whoever that may be. Whether or not Ellis is considered for the position, his impressive handling of a difficult week can only have improved his credentials.
Dumbarton: Rogers, Linton, Graham, Turner (Megginson 68), Gilhaney, Agnew, Kirkpatrick (McCallum 76), Taggart, Fleming, Findlay, Campbell. Not used: Petrie, Wilson, Whitefield, Clark, Ewings.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, McKeown, Watson, Barr, Anderson (McKay 76), Callachan, Matthews (Scott 84), Conroy, Vaughan, Stewart (Robertson 90). Not used: Hill, Nade, Ford, Cuthbert.
Referee: Mat Northcroft