Perseverance rewarded as Raith beat 10-man Forfar

Greig Spence celebrates scoring Raith's third against Forfar. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Greig Spence celebrates scoring Raith's third against Forfar. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 3 Forfar Athletic 1

Raith Rovers made it three home wins and nine goals in the space of a week as they came from behind to defeat 10-man Forfar Athletic.

Rovers had a man advantage for the entire second half but had to wait until the closing stages for the breakthrough, with goals in 83 and 86 minutes from Liam Buchanan and Greig Spence earning three points.

Before the break, Lewis Vaughan struck for the seventh match running to cancel out Mark Millar's free-kick opener for the visitors, then Jamie Bain received his marching orders for a last man foul on Liam Buchanan.

While the crowd become more anxious as the second half wore on, the team got the rewards their perseverance deserved, with manager Barry Smith always confident that the breakthrough would eventually come.

"We knew playing against 10 men it was going to be difficult to break them down, but we've also got the belief and confidence in our players that they can go and win these games," he said. "

Rovers were forced to hand teenage goalkeeper Rory Brian his competitive debut after number one Aaron Lennox failed to recover from a groin injury sustained in the midweek win over Brora Rangers and attempts to bring in another experienced 'keeper fell through.

Brian may have been thrown in at the deep end, but the 18-year-old Australian impressed with a number of good saves in the first half, as well as assured handling and kicking throughout. He also had no chance of preventing the goal so can certainly be pleased with his first senior appearance.

After being rested in midweek, experienced duo Liam Buchanan and Scott Robertson returned to the starting XI, while Kyle Benedictus was restored to the heart of defence, where Iain Davidson kept his place meaning Euan Murray was benched for the first time.

Raith started on the front foot with Spence denied by a last-ditch block inside 30 seconds before Bobby Barr forced goalkeeper Marc McCallum to palm the ball over the bar as his cross threatened to drift into the net.

The home side were pushing forward, however, a period of slack passing allowed Forfar to hit on the break, with Brian required to show his shot-stopping ability.

His first save, on six minutes, was fairly routine as he dived low to push away a 20 yard drive from Mark Millar, but his next stop on 10 minutes was impressive as he scurried across his line to block Dylan Easton's powerful volley at the back post.

The chances helped the visitors gain a foothold in the game, and ex-Raith man Scott McBride was inches away with a deft chip from the edge of the area.

The visitors were rewarded for their bright start on 17 minutes when Davidson clipped David Cox on the edge of the area, and Millar stepped up to crash an unstoppable free-kick past Brian.

If anything, losing the goal seemed to sharpen Rovers' focus as the team got back on the front foot and passes started to hit their target.

They should have been level inside 60 seconds as Buchanan was presented with the ball six yards out but the striker took an extra touch that allowed McCallum to narrow the space and make a point-blank save.

Another good chance followed shortly afterwards as Kevin McHattie picked out Spence but the striker's chest control let him down as the ball ran through to the 'keeper.

Raith were level on the half hour mark and, once again, it was Vaughan who produced a moment of inspiration.

There appeared little danger as the in-form striker picked up possession inside the Forfar half, but after jinking his way past one tackle, he drove towards the Forfar box before firing a low effort past McCallum from the edge of the area.

Bobby Barr, who popped up here, there and everywhere in another energetic performance, tried his luck from similar distance but McCallum was equal to it.

Raith were now firmly on top and their cause was helped in the 38th minute when Ross Callachan's defence-splitting pass sent Buchanan through on goal, only for defender Bain to halt his progress and referee Alan Newlands brandished a red card.

The Loons avoided a double punishment as Vaughan sent his 20-yard free-kick narrowly wide.

From then on, it turned into a game of attack versus defence as Forfar set up camp in their own half, and Raith found it harder to create chances than they had against 11.

Spence had an opening 10 minutes into the second half but was denied from six yards by a combination of defender and goalkeeper.

Forfar threatened on a couple of breakaways, with Callachan called into a piece of last-ditch defending, but for most of the second half, Brian was a spectator.

The match took a poignant turn in the 57th minute as Raith fans stood to applaud long-serving groundsman George Sutherland, who sadly passed away yesterday aged 57.

For all Raith's dominance, clear chances were hard to come by. The team were doing all the right things - passing, probing, extending the pitch - up until the final pass or shot, which lacked a cutting edge.

The best the home side offered was a long range effort from Callachan that forced McCallum into a diving save.

Raith were crying out for a quality ball into the box and that man Vaughan provided it on 83 minutes with a low cross from the left that was just begging to be converted, and Buchanan duly obliged with a cute touch to take it past McCallum - a sublime finish to match the cross.

With relief all around the ground, Raith put the game completely to bed three minutes later as Spence pressurised Mensing into a mistake, then pounced on his tame header back to 'keeper McCalllum, winning the race to poke home the third.

Raith will face a number of tests like this during the season and it's encouraging that the team, and the crowd, stuck together to get through this one.

Next week in Methil may be the biggest one yet ...

Raith Rovers: Brian, Thomson, McHattie, Callachan, Benedictus, Spence, Robertson (Court 79), Buchanan (Matthews 85), Vaughan, Barr, Davidson. Not used: Osei, Murray, McKay, Berry.

Forfar Athletic: McCallum, Bain, Kennedy, Malone, Nanitelemio, Mensing, Cox (Cregg 75), Millar, Lister (See 83), Easton (Travis 39), McBride. Not used: Munro, Aitken, Quigley, King.

Referee: Alan Newlands

Attendance: 1589