Striker Nikolay Todorov on target for Raith Rovers’ new bogey boys to deliver cup KO and take Airdrie to final
Airdrieonians made it three wins out of four so far against the Kirkcaldy club this season, having drawn the other game, by knocking them out of the SPFL Trust Trophy on home turf at Stark’s Park on Friday to book a place in next month’s final.
It was a case of same old same old for Raith manager Ian Murray’s former club as they recorded a 1-0 scoreline identical to those they won by at home at the Excelsior Stadium in the Scottish Championship in January and September.
Bulgarian striker Nikolay Todorov scoring the match-winner – a sixth-minute shot past home goalkeeper Kevin Dabrowski from a Charlie Telfer assist – was also more of the same following the 27-year-old’s goal in North Lanarkshire a momth ago and equaliser during November’s 1-1 draw in Fife.
It’s now over four years since Raith beat Airdrie, a 1-0 away win in Scottish League 1 in February 2020, and over six years since a meeting between the two teams yielded anything other than a 1-0 or 1-1 scoreline, the last not to being a 2-0 home league win for Raith back in December 2018.
The emergence of a new bogey team for Rovers follows them finally lifting what fans dubbed their Caley curse at home in September after almost 22 years without a league victory versus the Highlanders, only to see their new-found winning ways, having gone on to beat them away in December too, ended at Stark’s Park six days prior to Friday’s challenge cup exit.
The return of the curse of Caley might sound like the title of a lesser-known Vincent Price film, but if it’s only part of a double bill also featuring the anathema of Airdrie, that would be even more of a horror-show for Raith fans.
Murray’s men have two more chances this season to nip such a nightmare scenario in the bud, however, as they’re at home to Airdrie again on Saturday, March 23, and play Thistle away on Saturday, April 20.
Todorov’s goal, his fifth in his last six games, was one of three shots on target for Airdrie to Raith’s two, and the visitors also dominated possession, registering 57% to their hosts’ 43, yielding seven corners, five more than Raith.
A more concerning statistic still for Rovers will be that their semi-final defeat was their fifth loss on the bounce in all competitions, their 2-1 Fife derby victory away to Dunfermline Athletic at the start of last month being their only win of 2024 to date. It’s also their only win in their last eight matches.
Friday’s cup knockout wasn’t all bad news for Rovers, though, as it saw the return of centre-half Keith Watson after over four months out with a knee injury, allowing captain Scott Brown to move back into midfield, and the 34-year-old lasted the whole 90 minutes-plus.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said of loan striker Zak Rudden, making his first start since arriving from Dundee last month, as he was forced off by injury ten minutes ahead of half-time, with Jack Hamilton replacing him.
Murray was unhappy with the goal conceded by his side, handing the initiative to their visitors with just over five minutes on the clock and leaving his side huffing and puffing, but coming up short, in an effort to find an equaliser over the next hour and a half.
“We started fairly poorly obviously, conceding a really, really poor goal for us to let in,” the 42-year-old told Raith TV afterwards.
“After that, I actually felt we recovered okay after 15 to 20 minutes and started to control the game, but we didn’t create anything, and if you don’t create chances in games, you’re not going to score goals.
“In the second half, we huffed and puffed a little bit, but we have to acknowledge as well that Airdrie showed a bit more quality in the final third and had a couple of really, really big opportunities to extend their lead, and that would have made it harder still for us.
“It was hard enough at 1-0 and it would have made it really, really difficult if it were any more than that, so I don’t really have any qualms with the scoreline.
“I don’t think we did enough in the game to win it, especially with it being at home and in a semi-final, so we have to take it on the chin.”
Reflecting on Nikolay Todorov’s match-winning goal, Murray added: “He was all on his own and his team-mate did well to see that and play him in, but we had to win it, that’s the bottom line.
“We have to be able to do that dirty side of football because, at the end of the day, that was the only goal of the game, and we’re out of the cup now.”