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Raith Rovers Blog: A different team with the gaffer on the park

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Raith-RoverslogoGoing into the double-header against the top two teams in the division, most Rovers fans would have taken 4 points without a second’s hesitation. However, as the second of the two final whistles sounded, it was the Rovers fans who felt frustrated at not leaving with six.

After a positive performance against Morton on Saturday, Grant Murray understandably left the Rovers line-up largely unchanged, other than to replace Dougie Hill in the back line with team coach Laurie Ellis. The unorthodox 3-5-2 formation had worked well on Saturday in allowing the Rovers to retain the ball in wide areas, while starving the dangerous ‘Ton midfield of possession, and in the early stages of Tuesday’s game it looked as though the tactics would work again.

The forward pairing of Graham and Spence were again working hard in pressuring Partick high up the pitch, while Stuart Anderson was putting in his second consecutive outstanding performance in midfield; determined in the tackle, but never losing his discipline or composure. This is more than can be said for the Jags line-up who appeared out of sorts and a half-yard off the pace, with some ugly late challenges somewhat setting the tone for their evening.

An early defensive mix-up allowed Greig Spence to pounce and go through 1v1 versus the Jag’s keeper Scott Fox, however, he was unable to find the target having clipped the ball over the advancing goalie. Laurie Ellis promptly returned the favour by deciding late to leave the ball to McGurn, who did extremely well to recover, having been wrong-footed, and prevent a goal.

Grant Anderson was using his pace to good effect and, with Spence and Graham again dragged deep in search of possession, was effectively playing as a centre forward for much of the first half. On several occasions he was unlucky to be judged offside when a quicker ball from midfield might have put him through.

Joe Hamill was again performing admirably at left-wing-back, showing some deft touches, and a desire to get forward in support of the strike-force. His powerful curling effort from outside the box on 40 minutes was unfortunately deflected just wide. With new acquisition Joe Cardle warming up on the touchline, Hamill will have been as aware as any fan of the competition for his place, and was certainly making a case for his continued inclusion.

The Rovers appeared to be winning the strategic battle as their pressure on the ball and high defensive line, marshalled expertly by Grant Murray at the back, had Partick penned in their own half for much of the first 45. However, the Jags were beginning to find their feet and enjoy some sustained pressure of their own when the referee signalled the intermission.

The opening exchanges of the second half saw the Rovers continuing to move the ball better than they have all season, with Spence and Graham slickly laying the ball off to one another, which, with some smarter finishing could have seen the Raith men take the initiative.

The Rovers continued to crank up the pressure and the Jags looked increasingly frustrated at being unable to escape their own end. A series of late challenges and players dragged down on the turn meant that, when Aaron Muirhead was finally given his marching orders for blowing up Grant Anderson after the Raith winger knocked the ball past him, was that it had taken a full hour for anyone to collect their second booking.

The Jags naturally adopted a more defensive approach, however, minutes later Spence was unlucky not to dispossess the Jags’ keeper as he controlled a back-pass and after some further attacking moves forward, the Rovers smelled blood. Ex-Par Jordan McMillan was lucky to be shown only a yellow for a ridiculous challenge on Grieg Spence, as he ensured that the South Stand

McMillan’s former team-mate Joe Cardle made his Raith debut on 75 minutes and looked eager to cut inside, showing his quality in taking players on and delivering some dangerous balls into the box. Mensing continued to dominate every aerial challenge at both ends of the park and was thoroughly deserving of his man of the match award as his knock-downs looked like Rovers’ likelier routes to goal.

A tense close saw the Rovers exerting sustained pressure but without carving out too many convincing chances. Partick defended resolutely, and were dangerous on the break, showing why they are, in this reporter’s opinion, the division’s strongest side, managing to scrape a point from a game which for other sides would have held nothing.

With the Rovers having turned over a new leaf of late, the home fans will be asking themselves what could have been achieved had this vein of form been discovered earlier in the season. A new confidence seems to have taken hold of every player, especially in midfield, with the Rovers now winning the 50/50s and being first to the second ball in a way which was lacking even in recent
weeks. The new formation is undoubtedly partly the reason for the new-found belief, but the other crucial change is the returning presence of Grant Murray on the field.

It is readily apparent that his players hold him in the highest regard on and off the pitch, which allows him to marshal his troops effectively, while remaining an influential player in his own right.

With a week until the Rovers next game, a chance to avenge their defeat against Dumbarton, the manager will be looking to continue this momentum and consolidate the Rovers season – an objective best achieved, in this fan’s opinion, with the gaffer on the pitch.

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