Raith Rovers 0 Dundee United 0
As the dust settled on Raith’s latest no-scoring draw, their third in their last five Championship fixtures, it was difficult to ascertain if it should be considered a point gained or two squandered, against a Dundee United side who were forced to play with ten men for the majority of the second-half.
Perhaps it all depends on whether or not you generally view your tumbler as half-full, or half-empty.
Looking at it positively, Gary Locke’s men matched the Championship title chasers for large periods of the match, looking far more positive in the process, than they have of late.
If you wished to be more negative in your analysis, you could point to the fact that Raith were on the back foot for much of the time they had numerical superiority, just as they did in the home match with Hibernian back in October. They were also reliant on an exceptional penalty stop from Kevin Cuthbert, who expertly denied former Hamilton team-mate Tony Andreu in the 75th minute, as Ray McKinnon’s side pushed for a winner in the closing stages.
Locke was certainly in the former camp after the match, as he accentuated the positives of his side’s performance,
“It certainly wasn’t a dull 0-0,” he reflected. “It was end-to-end, and both teams had chances, but we’re really pleased with the way we played.
“We looked dangerous against a really good side. I thought we were disappointing last week, but we’ve responded in the right way today.
“It can be hard against ten men, but they’ve got quality, and you need to give them credit.
“They got men behind the ball and had pace on the counter attack as well. We created a lot of chances, but we just need that bit more composure in front of goal.”
The manager made three changes from last weekend’s chastening loss to St. Mirren.
Mark Stewart returned to the bench, with Rudi Skacel tasked with supporting Declan McManus up-front.
Captain Kyle Benedictus returned from suspension to take his place in the centre of defence, with Iain Davidson shuffled to the right-back roll, whilst Bobby Barr made his first start after returning from injury, at the expense of Scott Roberts.
The early part of the match was a reasonably even affair, although there were as many meaty challenges as goal-scoring opportunities, as both teams sized each other up.
Mark Durnan left Skacel hobbling after just a few moments, while Lewis Toshney picked up a booking for a wild and unnecessary lunge on Benedictus on the byeline.
It was a foul which would have more serious ramifications in the second half.
The pace of Tope Obadeyi was causing some consternation to the Rovers defence, but the home team created the game’s first good chance after 13 minutes, when Chris Johnston’s cross to the back post found Barr in a surprisingly large amount of space, but he could only guide his shot into Cammy Bell’s arms.
United should have taken the lead after 23 minutes. Obadeyi’s run into the area wasn’t matched, and although his shot from an angle was repelled from Kevin Cuthbert, it rebounded into a clutch of players, one of whom was Blair Spittal. His first time effort was on target, but Davidson was in the right place to hack the ball off the line.
The game was harum-scarum, 100-mile-an-hour stuff, and whilst it was full-blooded and well contested, neither goalkeeper was being particularly well worked.
Rovers forward forays were at times being hamstrung by a lack of support for McManus, with Skacel’s tendency to drop deep, leaving his partner isolated. Indeed, for periods of the first half, Ross Callachan was in a more advanced position than the Czech, as Rovers toiled to create, despite enjoying a reasonable amount of possession.
United carved out another good chance after 30 minutes, when Spittal picked up a loose ball and made a bee-line for the Rovers penalty area, hitting the line and cutting back for Scott Fraser, who’d made his way to the edge of the penalty area. However, he got his effort all wrong, as the ball made its way to join the punters at the rear of the Penman Stand.
Rovers were getting forward when they could, but it was in fits and starts rather than anything sustained, although Benedictus probably should have done better than nod a Barr corner past the post, when given the opportunity after 37 minutes.
However, they almost opened the scoring with the half’s final passage of play. Johnston did well once more, swinging in an inviting cross from the right, which Skacel directed goal-wards with his chest, looping it over Bell and onto the top of the crossbar, in what was an encouraging climax to the first-period.
Rovers started the second half in the same vein, with Johnston drifting inside before firing over, while a Callachan cross caused some grief for William Edjenguele, who sliced his clearance over the bar.
Then, in 54 minutes, Toshney, who’d been receiving a fair amount of ire from the home supporters, was dismissed for his second booking of the afternoon, after pulling back Barr on the half way line as the winger looked to break.
It appeared a fairly straightforward decision for referee Steven Kirkland, but Mark Durnan was booked for his protestations, while the United bench reacted with incandescence towards the official, leading to coach Darren Taylor being ordered from the dugout.
The question now was whether or not Rovers could take advantage of their numerical superiority, and they almost did so immediately, when Skacel’s deflected effort was pushed round the post at full stretch by Bell.
Ray McKinnon moved to shore up his back-four by bringing on Sean Dillon for Obadeyi, but Rovers continued to press, with Skacel making headway down the left, before sending in a cross which McManus glanced just wide of Bell’s left-hand post.
As he did during his time as Raith boss, McKinnon employed a bold swap with 25 minutes remaining, sacrificing a midfielder in Charlie Telfer for forward Simon Murray, as his team went on the offensive for the game’s last quarter.
It was a move which seemed to take Rovers unawares, and for the first time in the match, they found themselves under continued pressure.
With 15 minutes remaining, it looked like it would pay off, as substitute Murray tumbled inside the penalty area under duress from Benedictus, prompting Kirkland to point to the spot.
However, despite Andreu arrowing a fine penalty into Cuthbert’s bottom right corner, the custodian pulled off an wonderful stop, diving full length to tip the ball wide, and earn Rovers a point their exertions deserved.
Afterwards, the Rovers boss questioned the need for his ‘keeper to make it.
“It was a fantastic save, and Cat’s done really well for us,” Locke said. “He’s different class, a really good experienced goalkeeper, but I didn’t think it was a penalty.
“We didn’t get one last week, then got a soft one against us this week, so I’m hoping that’ll change in the New Year.
“I thought we deserved that wee break though, as the boys gave us everything.”
The performance was certainly a step in the right direction, but with Hibernian up next at Easter Road on Christmas Eve, Raith will need to dig out their scoring boots, if they’re to derail the league leaders.