Saturday’s game at Stark’s was potentially crucial for the battles at each end of the table.
While Morton came into the game chasing three points to maintain their title challenge, a win would be just as important for the Rovers who, after a difficult period and a more difficult week, coughing up a 2-0 lead to lose to Dumbarton, could really do with getting a win under their belt.
It was the home side who showed the greater desire in the early stages, with the forward partnership of Greig Spence and Brian Graham working exceptionally hard to pressurise the opposition.
The remodelled Raith lineup was proving effective, with Dougie Hill, Simon Mensing and Gaffer Grant Murray playing at the rear of a bold 3-5-2 wing-back formation, with Joe Hamill and Jason Thomson overlapping on the flanks. An unfortunate injury to Hill on 20 minutes threatened to disrupt this, but coach Laurie Ellis stepped in to bolster the defensive triumvirate.
Particular credit was due to Stuart Anderson who, after some anonymous performances in the middle of the park, was showing determination and composure in disrupting the usually dominant Morton midfield and linking up better with the forward partnership than has been the case of late.
Unfortunately Allan Walker was not following his example and was guilty of several wayward passes, before finally receiving a booking for expressing his displeasure at the referee’s decision-making, and having to be calmed by his teammates.
Several flowing moves and much improved communication between the Raith players saw them carve out the better chances of the first half, which, along with the revised formation suggests the gaffer and his players have been busy in training.
The home side’s efforts were rewarded on 12 minutes when Brian Graham scored the obligatory goal against his old side stabbing home from Allan Walker’s corner. The Rovers fans took no small delight in reminding the disappointingly small band of ‘ton fans that Brian Graham scores when he wants.
Graham’s goal saw Morton heads drop further still, and the pace and movement of the Rovers attack saw the home side enjoying the majority of possession and chances, with good distribution from midfield and Jason Thomson ever-eager on the overlap supporting the flood forward.
Morton were beginning to get into the game at the half hour mark, with Tidser and Bachirou able to string a number of passes together. However, typical of his bad day at the office, it was midfield general Tidser who, minutes later, redirected Jason Thomson’s cross into his own net to send the home side in 2 goals to the good at the half way point.
The second half started slowly with neither side able to take control of the game. The Rovers weren’t clicking as they were in the early stages of the game, and Grant Anderson on the left-wing looked reluctant to take players on and cut in to shoot on his favoured right foot. Fatigue may have been partly to blame and the Raith legs only got heavier as the game ran on.
Morton were now enjoying more success going forward, but a lack of cutting edge in the final third left them ultimately toothless. Peter MacDonald looked typically keen to go down under minimal contact, but a couple of free kicks and speculative long-range shots around the Rovers’ box were as good as the ‘ton could muster.
Showing their hand, Morton made 3 substitutions around the hour mark, bringing on the pacey Archie Campbell and clutch-goal-scorer Peter Weatherston. However, both were dealt with admirably by the Rovers back 3, who were able to use their experience and good positional sense to largely contain the fresh-legged substitutes’
However, it was substitute Kyle Wilkie who got the visitors back in the game with 20 left to play. An innocuous cross was cleared only as far as the edge of the Rovers’ box where Wilkie showed composure and technique to side-foot-volley the ball into the corner of McGurn’s goal.
Game on again.
The closing stages saw a tired Raith side largely pinned in their own end as the west-coasters searched for an equaliser.
A spent Spence and a Grant Anderson who had been through the wars, were both swapped in the last ten minutes for youngsters Lewis Vaughan and Ross Callachan, both of whom did their best to move the ball north and relieve the pressure on an exhausted Rovers defence.
Happily, the Rovers held fast and never looked in much danger of surrendering an equaliser. Murrays’ men enthusiastically celebrated at the full-time whistle, showing their desire, will to win and no small amount of relief. Hopefully this will be the catalyst for a strong run-in to the end of the
Ultimately, the game was won less by individual brilliance, and more by intelligent team play and by Grant Murray out-smarting Allan Moore in the strategic battle. If the gaffer can replicate the feat on Tuesday, there is no reason the Rovers can’t claim another top-of-the-table scalp against Partick, especially with a midfield potentially bolstered with new-signing Joe Cardle.
Prediction vs Partick: 1-0