Raith Rovers 2 Falkirk 2
Raith Rovers’ new found strength of character came to the fore again on Saturday as they rescued a point with the last kick of the ball at home to high-flying Falkirk.
Just when it looked as though Rovers’ unbeaten run would end at the seventh hurdle, up popped Ross Callachan with his long-awaited, and richly deserved, first goal in senior football to save the day.
The Raith team of a few months ago may have celebrated this draw like a win, but in spite of the late leveller, there was a real sense of disappointment in the home dressing room after the game.
“The boys aren’t happy,” admitted Callachan when he faced the media after the match.
The bar has been raised by recent performances - the players have stepped up their game and have higher standards for themselves - and they recognised that on this occasion they were capable of better.
That, in itself, is encouraging although Saturday’s performance was certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
While the quality of football came nowhere near the heights of Ibrox the previous week, the levels of competitiveness and fighting spirit among the players was clear for all to see.
It maybe wasn’t a particularly good performance, but it was an honest one - none of the players hid when the going got tough, and no-one shirked their responsibilities.
And this apparent determination not only kept Rovers in the game, it also ensured there was no repeat of the hostile atmosphere that has often burdened the side at home this season.
The mood of the fans has been lifted considerably by the recent good run of results, and the Stark’s Park faithful really stuck by their hard-working team through a mostly frustrating afternoon.
The late equaliser provided a reminder of the rewards that can come when players and fans stick together.
While Raith approached the game with confidence, this was always going to be a difficult game.
Not only would they have to overcome an Ibrox hangover - lethargy can often follow such a high - they were also facing a Falkirk side in great form following a run of only one defeat in 12 games.
Few would argue that the visitors were the better side at Stark’s Park on Saturday, although the game was not quite as one-sided as the away side suggested afterwards.
Rovers were slightly off the pace - there is no question of that - but they were never subjected to total domination, nor did Falkirk have enough chances to win two games, as Peter Houston claimed.
Falkirk shaded it in terms of quality possession and chances, but Raith had their moments and the two goals scored were arguably the two best attacking moves of the day, albeit the Will Vaulks own goal provided a somewhat fortunate conclusion to the first.
Raith probably had the better of the opening 20 minutes with the best early chance falling to Mark Stewart, who took a superb first touch to control Grant Anderson’s flick-on, but Jamie MacDonald made a fine save from his near post effort.
The flow of the first half altered on the 23 minute mark, however, as referee Barry Cook penalised Kevin Moon for a foul on Rory Loy in the box.
Moon was a little slow reacting to a dangerous ball across the box, allowing Loy to nip in so when the Raith midfielder swung his boot to clear, he caught the striker instead of the ball.
Up stepped John Baird, who else, to tuck away the penalty for his third goal against his former club in consecutive games.
From then on Falkirk took charge of the game with Baird almost grabbing an instant second, his superb touch, turn and shot matched by David McGurn’s one-handed save tipping the ball over the bar.
From the corner, Peter Grant headed against the post.
A moment of bizarre goalkeeping from McGurn almost gifted the visitors a second goal on the 36th minute as he threw the ball against Craig Sibbald, leaving Tom Taiwo with the prospect of an unguarded net from 25 yards, but Paul Watson managed to deflect his effort for a corner.
Falkirk continued to show superiority until the half-time whistle, and they started the second half on the front foot as well as Loy ghosted in behind the defence only for his low strike to be stopped by a strong left hand from McGurn.
Rovers slowly regained a foothold in the match and after Grant Anderson sent a powerful looping header onto the roof of the net, the home side equalised with a flowing move on the hour mark.
Callachan was at the heart of it, picking the ball up near the edge of his own box, and after some wonderful one-touch interchange with Stewart and Christian Nade, he was sprinting clear down the left wing.
He looked up and picked out Anderson at the edge of the box. The winger took a touch, and although his shot was heading wide, Vaulks was unable to get out of the way and bundled the ball over his own line.
The goal gave Rovers a huge lift and four minutes later they passed up a glorious chance to take the lead. Nade beat his man to set-up Conroy for a free shot at goal from 12 yards, but the winger’s mishit was scooped up by a grateful MacDonald.
The game was now finely balanced but Raith paid the price for switching off at a set piece on the 68 minute mark as Falkirk regained the lead, David McCracken escaping his marker to head home from a corner.
The concession of such a soft goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of the home side and for much of the last 20 minutes, a Falkirk third seemed more likely than a second Raith equaliser as the visitors looked to kill the game off.
But Rovers maintained their competitive edge, refused to throw in the towel and got their rewards at the death with another quality move as Anderson played a one-two with Stewart, whose cross was controlled on the six-yard line by Nade.
The Frenchman was brought down by McCracken and as the referee weighed up the penalty appeals, the ball broke to Callachan, who ended his frustrating wait for a goal by coolly steering it beyond the reach of MacDonald.
The Rovers youth product has been a revelation in midfield since breaking into the side before Christmas and while Saturday may not have been his best game, hard work ensured he was still able to be effective.
And that pretty much sums up this Rovers performance.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, McKeown, Watson, Hill, Anderson, Moon (Fox 81), Stewart, Callachan, Conroy (McKay 70), Nade.
Subs not used: Scott, Vaughan, Matthews, Barr, Cuthbert.
Falkirk: MacDonald, Duffie, McCracken, Vaulks, Taiwo, Sibbald (Alston 66), Kerr, Grant, Leahy, Loy (Morgan 83), Baird (Smith 86).
Subs not used: Dick, Maybury, Biabi, Bowman.
Referee: Barry Cook