Alloa Athletic 1 Raith Rovers 1
A point against the team cast adrift at the bottom of the table might not be what Raith Rovers had hoped for from their trip to Alloa.
But after scoring a 92nd minute equaliser at the end of a tough contest, Rovers left the Indodrill Stadium delighted with the 1-1 draw, particularly when results elsewhere showed it to be a point gained in the race for fourth place.
It looked set to be a frustrating afternoon for Raith who had most of the play but fell behind to Steven Hetherington’s 63rd minute opener, then struggled to find answers to some determined Alloa defending as the hosts desperately tried to hold on for their first home victory of the season.
Despite showing signs of tiredness in their fifth game in a fortnight, Raith refused to accept defeat, and fought all the way to the final whistle for a point that could prove decisive in the run-in.
A delighted Rovers boss Ray McKinnon said: “After all the high-profile games we’ve had recently, I knew this was going to be a tough game.
“A lot of teams have struggled here, and it’s a hard place to come because of the park and the way they play - they are quite solid.
“I was delighted we kept going until the 90th minute. There’s a a great spirit amongst the boys and I think they deserved at least a draw today.
“They are a wee bit down because mentally you think you’re playing the team bottom of the league, but I’ve told them, that’s a point gained.
“We’ve stretched our lead and that’s the positive on the back of five games in two weeks.”
A key factor in Raith’s recovery was the introduction of striker Joel Thomas from the bench who added a physical presence against a previously dominant Alloa backline, while the Frenchman also provided the crucial flick-on that led to Kyle Benedictus equaliser.
“We just threw everything at them,” McKinnon said. “We knew we were going to have to go quite direct but their big centre-halves were winning everything.
“We had to put a presence in there and it’s worked for us in the need.
“It’s not exactly how we want to play football, but sometimes you need to do things you wouldn’t normally do.”
Raith were unchanged in the sense that Craig Barr retained his place in the line-up having replaced Iain Davidson early in the midweek win over Queen of the South.
Davidson, who was taken to hospital following a head knock in that match, missed out due to suffering from concussion. Scott Robertson was also sidelined for a fourth successive match.
Raith made a positive start to the match, although much of the early play took place in midfield, until a burst of action around the 20 minute mark.
Ryan Hardie fashioned the game’s first clear opening as he forced his way into space in the Alloa box but saw his powerful effort blocked near the line.
A minute later, Alloa’s Connor McManus came close with a dipping volley from 25 yards out that had Kevin Cuthbert back-pedalling, but the ball dropped just beyond the bar.
Hardie again posed a threat in Raith’s next attack, and this time his shot was blocked by goalkeeper Scott Gallacher before being cleared by the defence.
On 26 minutes Rory McKeown breathed a sign of relief when his cross field pass was cut out leading to an Alloa break, but Barr raced back to block from Mitch Megginson, who left Stark’s Park to move to the Wasps in January.
On the half hour, billiant play from Aidan Connolly saw the winger turn defence into attack and after James Craigen effort was blocked, he then crossed for Mark Stewart who fired wide, under pressure, from eight yards.
Stewart has made a habit of creating goals for himself by chasing down lost causes this season and he almost did so again a minute before half-time.
The striker charged down Gallacher’s clearance leading to a race for the empty net but another former Raith player, Dougie Hill, managed to get his body in the way in the nick of time.
Raith might have been frustrated not to be ahead at half-time, and they started the second half in determined mood, with Stewart forcing a corner after just eight seconds with a 25-yard volley that was pushed behind by Gallacher.
Connolly also tested the Alloa ‘keeper inside two minutes of the restart with a powerful hit from 20 yards that Gallacher couldn’t hold and the ball spun just wide.
Raith couldn’t keep the tempo up and Alloa started to make inroads. On 57 mintues, a neat move ended with Michael Duffy sending a volley inches wide from the edge of the box.
The hosts drew encouragment from this, and took the lead just after the hour mark as Megginson hit the byline and his cut back was turned home at the back post by Hetherington. The Raith defence, so solid in midweek, was posted missing on this occasion.
On 67 minutes McKinnon changed his approach, replacing Connolly with Thomas to go 4-3-3, but the more bodies Raith pushed forward, the more gaps started to appear for the hosts on the break.
Alloa had two big chances to seal the win with Duffy going clean through only to be denied by a superb diving save from Cuthbert, while Kyle McAusland also looked to have a clear sight of goal only to hesitate and allow Barr to save the day.
Raith launched plenty balls towards the Alloa box but they had to wait until the 87th minute for an opening when Jason Thomson’s cross fell to sub Harry Panayiotou at the back post, only for Alloa defender Jason Marr to appear from nowhere to get a vital block in.
With Alloa holding firm, the game looked over as it headed into injury-time but, not for the first time, the long throw of Rory McKeown proved to be Raith’s life-saver.
The left back swapped wings to launch the ball into the box and when Thomas got the all-important flick-on, Benedictus was first to react to hook the ball over the line.
It was cruel on Alloa, who performed above and beyond their league position, but Raith, while not at their best, put plenty into the game and certainly deserved their point.
Alloa: Gallacher, Finnie, Hill, Marr, Hamilton, Duffy, O’Brien (McAusland 58), McManus, Hetherington, Flannigan, Megginson (Ferns 89). Not used: Caddis, Layne, R.Crawford, Hoggan, D.Crawford.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Barr, Benedictus, McKeown, Connolly (Thomas 67), Toshney, Callachan, Craigen (Longridge 79), Stewart (Panayiotou 86), Hardie. Not used: Anderson, McCord, Matthews, Law.
Referee: George Salmond.