Saturday 6 May 2017, 15.00, Starks Park
Raith Rovers v Ayr United in the Scottish Championship.
The last game of the scheduled league season, with Raith hoping that it would be their last and Ayr hoping that it wasn’t. With the hosts sitting second bottom in the play off spot, they had to win and hope that champions Hibs won at home to third bottom St Mirren to survive. Ayr sat bottom and needed to beat Raith by five goals to edge into the play off spot and prevent it being just one season in the Championship since promotion the year before.
Raith needed to bounce back from a 5-0 trouncing at St Mirren the week before. They’ve been unbeaten at Starks Park in their last five games, but their confidence took a battering in that defeat. It’s our fourth sighting of Raith this season
Ayr have gone six games without a win, but looked to have a bit of fight about them when we saw them draw 0-0 with Dundee United on 15 April. They lost 4-0 at Hibs in their previous game. Ayr are missing Michael Rose through suspension and Robbie Crawford through injury.
In the three previous meetings of the season, they had one win each and a draw, with Ayr’s win notable for Raith playing the game without a recognised goalkeeper.
Kudos to Rovers for slashing admission prices, with admission only £5. A crowd of 3,064 turned up.
The Ayr fans seemed to have rearranged themselves in the away end as if they were trying to spell something out, although I’m not sure what it was.
A quickly taken free kick by Ayr after Raith had been caught offside in the second minute saw Moore running through on goal with Barr chasing after him. Penska raced from his line and caught Moore full in the face with his knees. The referee showed the keeper a red card.
There was a lengthy delay as Moore got treatment and it was good to see him on his feet, but he wasn’t fit to continue and was replaced. The unlucky Skacel was also substituted to make way for Raith’s substitute goalkeeper.
Although it looked far from certain that Moore would score, it was a very poor challenge.
The Ayr fans had very much travelled in hope rather than expectation, but the early sending off had raised their morale.
In 6 minutes the ball was played back to Ayr keeper Fleming and he somehow managed to slice the ball behind himself to give away a corner.
Handling went down in the Ayr box in 12 minutes when it looked like he had been shoved in the back. The home fans were getting very angry when no penalty was given and Handling was booked for diving.
A Rovers corner in 17 minutes saw Handling’s delivery met by the head of M’voto, but he glanced it wide.
M’voto featured again in 21 minutes when Benedictus’ cross from the left saw him rise well in the box with two defenders challenging, but he headed over.
Some nice passing by Ayr ended with a spectacular effort from Harkins at the edge of the Raith box in 23 minutes curled just wide of goal.
In 28 minutes, M’Voto headed an Ayr cross away to the edge of the box where McDaid ran onto it, but his first time effort was well off target.
Benedictus made a fine interception in 36 minutes, anticipating an Ayr pass and he played the ball in behind Balatoni for Court to run onto. With the Ayr defender chasing, he drew Fleming and slotted the ball past him into the corner to give Rovers the lead.
Court chased down what looked like a lost cause in 40 minutes and passed the ball to McManus who played in Handling who lashed the ball into the net, but the flag was up.
With 44 minutes gone, McGuffie tried a shot from distance, but it was over the Raith bar.
Rovers still held the lead at half time.
With the second half just two minutes old, the home stands began to celebrate as news of a Hibs goal came through.
A high ball into the Ayr box by Thomson in 53 minutes saw M’Voto challenge Fleming in the air and the ball bounced back for M’Voto, but his header was cleared off the line. Fleming had landed awkwardly and didn’t seem to be moving. He received lengthy treatment before being stretchered off and we saw our fourth keeper of the day take to the field.
The Ayr fans began to celebrate as St Mirren had equalised at Easter Road. I can only imagine it was to just wind up the Raith fans.
A Rovers free kick in 63 minutes was headed on by M’Voto for McManus whose shot was deflected wide.
Ayr were beginning to make use of the extra man and were having more possession as the match developed.
A period of good ball retention by Ayr in the Raith half in 68 minutes ended with the ball being played into Docherty’s path on the edge of the box and he drilled a low shot into the corner to tie the score.
With 74 minutes gone, Ayr’s Forrest made some space for himself but shot over the bar from around 22 yards.
In 76 minutes, McDaid got to the Raith by-line and looked to cross into the box. The ball hit the arm of Benedictus and the referee awarded Ayr a penalty. It seemed very harsh as he could never have got out of the way of the ball which was hit at him from very close range. Davidson was booked for his protests.
The Raith fans had been checking intently hoping for good news from Easter Road, but it didn’t look like they were going to win themselves.
Forrest stepped up and put the ball to the keeper’s left, but sub keeper Brennan got down to save in front of the ecstatic home support.
A Rovers free kick in 81 minutes was curled into the box, but Hart was there to push the ball away.
Meggatt took a free kick for Ayr about 20 yards from goal in 84 minutes. It took a deflection off one of his team mates and completely wrongfooted Brennan but went wide of the post.
McDaid received the ball from Gilmour in 85 minutes and cut inside before firing at the Raith goal. Brennan did well to push the ball away.
In 89 minutes Matthews took a Rovers free kick on the half way line and fired it into the Ayr box. M’Voto got a flick on it and it came off the head of Ayr defender Devlin and ran across the box to the feet of McManus who fired high into the net from about 6 yards to put Raith back in front.
Ayr pressed forward looking for a second equaliser and McDaid’s overhead kick in 93 minutes from a corner hit the top of the net before Gilmour crossed into the box a minute later and put it over the head of M’Voto for El Alagui, but his header was weak.
Raith hung on, but the news wasn’t good for them as St Mirren had managed to get the draw they needed.
A battling performance from Raith who showed great reserves to win the game when they needed to, although it wasn’t enough in the end. They fell into the play-offs. Ayr seemed to take a while to realise how to play against 10 men and struggled in the first half, but had a lot more of the ball in the second.
Raith’s Court looks a promising prospect and his tireless running epitomised what Rovers needed on the day. Docherty was Ayr’s best player and he was unlucky to end up on the losing side.
It was a relief to find out later that Ayr keeper Fleming was ok.
Full Time: Raith Rovers 2 Ayr United 1
Raith Rovers: 36 Pavol Penksa, 2 Jason Thomson (Hardie 75), 55 Craig Barr, 5 Jean-Yves M’voto, 6 Kyle Benedictus, 12 Ross Matthews, 14 Iain Davidson, 22 Danny Handling, 19 Rudi Skacel (Brennan 4), 26 Jonny Court, 20 Declan McManus. Subs: 3 Kevin McHattie, 7 Chris Johnston, 9 Mark Stewart, 11 Bobby Barr, 21 Jordan Thompson, 23 Conor Brennan, 52 Ryan Hardie.
Ayr United: 1 Greg Fleming (Hart 57), 2 Nicky Devlin, 22 Conrad Balatoni, 18 Daryll Meggatt, 3 Paddy Boyle, 21 Craig McGuffie (El Alagui 45), 23 Ross Docherty, 4 Brian Gilmour, 10 Alan Forrest, 12 Gary Harkins, 9 Craig Moore (McDaid 6). Subs: 6 Peter Murphy, 11 Declan McDaid, 14 Paul Cairney, 15 Farid El Alagui, 16 Jamie Adams, 19 Jordan Hart.
Referee: Steven McLean