Smith sent to the stand as Raith drop two points for second week running

Willis Furtado puts Raith 2-1 up. Pic: Walter Neilson
Willis Furtado puts Raith 2-1 up. Pic: Walter Neilson

Raith Rovers 2 Arbroath 2

A questionable penalty, a last minute equaliser, and two big points dropped in the League One title race.

It was a horrible case of déjà vu for Raith Rovers at Stark's Park yesterday as they failed to see the game out for a second week running.

While the previous match at Albion Rovers was effectively decided by the dubious late penalty award, this week Raith only had themselves to blame.

They took a 1-0 lead into half-time thanks to a Jason Thomson header, only to be pegged back early in the second half when referee Mat Northcroft pointed to the spot after Aaron Lennox came to collect an Arbroath corner.

With no immediately obvious foul, and no real appeals from the away side, the decision both incensed and bemused the Rovers ranks, with manager Barry Smith sent to the stand after confronting the assistant referee.

Ryan Wallace expertly dispatched the penalty, but unlike last week, there was still plenty time for Raith to recover, which they did, with Willis Furtado firing them back into a 2-1 lead with 15 minutes left.

That should have been three points in the bag, however, Rovers were unable to put the game to bed and when they failed to properly defend a last minute corner, the ball ended up in the back of their net, and victory was once again turned into a draw, although it felt like a defeat.

Afterwards an irate Smith hit out at both the referee, and his own players.

"I'm angry today because we're in a winning position twice and we should see the game out," he said.

"We didn't defend a set piece properly, but the first goal, having watched it back, it happens every week in the game.

"The referee has chosen to give a penalty, so we hope all the rest of them are given.

"I don't know (why I was sent to the stand), I've asked, but they said it will be in the report.

"That's two points dropped because we're in a winning position and we've got to defend our area better.

"The boys have been left in no uncertain terms that we won't accept that.

"However, when it comes down to it, these boys have done excellent up til now, and we've got ourselves in a good position.

"We want to maintain that position and it's going to take a lot of hard work, but the boys are more than able to do that.

"We've had two draws but that's a good team in there that will fight for every three points between now and the end of the season."

In the first half, all the indications were that Raith were heading for another three points at a stadium that has been a fortress for them this season.

For the majority of the opening 45 the Kirkcaldy men were in complete control, creating chances and were more than deserving of their half-time lead.

It was in the second half where things started to unravel as Arbroath, albeit helped by the penalty decision, took a firm grip on the game, so much so that after their late equaliser, it was the away side who were pushing for a winner.

Quite frankly, this was nowhere near good enough for a team with aspirations of winning the title, and Raith will need to be whole lot better, both in terms of their concentration and composure when leading a game, and in killing teams off by staying on the front foot and pushing for more goals.

With midfield veteran Scott Robertson returning after injury, and top scorer Lewis Vaughan starting a match up front for the first time since the early weeks of the season, it meant no place in the starting XI for Liam Buchanan who dropped to the bench, alongside Greig Spence.

John Herron missed out with a groin strain which also saw Ross Matthews return to the starting line-up in a revamped midfield.

The early signs were encouraging with Vaughan's pace and movement causing problems for the Arbroath defence, however, Robertson lasted just 13 minutes before hobbling off, which meant Vaughan was shifted back into midfield, with Buchanan brought off the bench.

Robertson is a key player for Raith, and his fitness problems are not helping, but there is enough experience in this side to be able to cope.

Raith's first big chance came courtesy of an indirect free-kick in the box after keeper David Hutton picked up a pass back under severe pressure from Willis Furtado.

The responsibility, as ever, fell to Vaughan, but his attempt was blocked by the maroon wall on the line, and although Thomson appeared to be tripped in the aftermath, there was no penalty award forthcoming from the referee.

A brilliant run from Dario Zanatta on 24 minutes took him past three defenders, only to produce a tame effort when the goal opened up for him and Hutton was able to save with his foot.

Raith lost some impetus around the half hour mark but while Arbroath enjoyed a spell of possession they were unable to seriously threaten Lennox's goal.

Rovers came back to life in the 39th minute when a pacy counter attack ended with Buchanan meeting Furtado's cross six yards out, but Hutton somehow got a touch to take the effort onto the crossbar.

All four goals came from corner kicks, and the opener arrived three minutes before the break, with an assist going to manager Smith as he roared for Thomson to stand on top of the 'keeper, and watched as the right back towered over Hutton to head home from a few yards out.

Things were going well for the home side, and perhaps they lulled themselves into a false sense of security because they were second to everything in the opening stages of the second half with Arbroath, protecting an eight-game unbeaten run in the division, showing more eagerness to get back in the game.

Two back-to-back goal-saving blocks from Thomson and Kyle Benedictus on the hour mark were required, but from the resulting corner, the visitors were awarded a penalty, with Northcroft indicating he saw a two-handed push in the box.

The kick was delayed as the referee headed over to the Raith dug-out to order Smith from the touchline, and the Raith boss watched from the top of the tunnel as Wallace fired his penalty into the bottom corner.

Raith were wobbling, and Lennox was required to make good saves as Brian Yule and Gavin Swankie both had attempts from the edge of the area.

The home side should have got their noses back in front on 73 minutes when Furtado and Buchanan both broke the offside trap, but they seemed to get in each other's way before Furtado blasted the ball high and wide from close range.

The Frenchman made up for the miss just 90 seconds later as he superbly trapped a Vaughan corner in the heart of the box, before drilling an effort high into the roof of the net.

The relief was palpable, but this street-wise Arbroath side were far from finished, and helped by Raith's inability to retain possession, the visitors pushed forward with substitute Leighton McIntosh passing up a glorious chance by knocking a cross past the near post from six yards.

Despite a midweek game in Stranraer, the part-timers were finishing the game by far the strongest and they got their reward in the 89th minute as a corner kick fell to McIntosh in space in his shot trundled into the net via a deflection off Benedictus.

It was an awful, sloppy goal to concede but you couldn't begrudge Arbroath their point, and they almost got all three as Raith conceded another corner in injury-time, which they only just survived after a desperate scramble in the box.

With Ayr winning 3-0 at home to Airdrie, the gap at the top was reduced again to four points, with a trip to Somerset Park in a fortnight's time looming large on the horizon. By that time, if Ayr win their game in hand, the gap could be a single point.

Just like Ayr did before them, Raith have blown their chance to open up some breathing space, with both sides seemingly determined to find the difficult path to the title. Who claims it come May will be the ones who show the most nerve in this final quarter.

Based on what we've seen so far, it could go either way.

Raith Rovers: Lennox, Thomson, Murray, Benedictus, Robertson (Buchanan 13), Vaughan, Barr, Matthews, Davidson, Zanatta, Furtado. Not used: Smith, Spence, Court, McKay, Hendry, Watson.

Arbroath: Hutton, Little, Hamilton, O'Brien, Martin, Yule, Denholm (Kadir 76), McKenna, Wallace (McIntosh 76), Swankie, Linn (Gold 67). Not used: Whatley, McCord, Skelly, Gomez.

Referee: Mat Northcroft

Attendance: 1707