Raith Rovers 1 v 1 Ayr United
A thrilling top of the table clash ended in a share of the spoils as Ayr United and Raith Rovers served up an enthralling 1-1 draw at Starks Park with Greg Spences’ goal just after halftime cancelling out a sublime opening goal from United’s Lawrence Shankland.
With a bumper crowd inside Starks Park, this game was set up to be a captivating affair and it proved to be just that. With both teams going for it early doors, there was a frantic start to a game which through-out resembled a cup tie.
Although early chances weren’t clear-cut, Michael Rose did well to show his pace to get back and clear after former Ayr striker Liam Buchanan had run behind the United defence. Shortly after, Lawrence Shankland pounced on a loose header from Raith’s Iain Davidson and went close.
On 18 mins Ayr could, and should, have taken the lead after a wonderfully constructed forward move. 18 yards inside his own half, Alan Forrest controlled the ball on his chest before turning and slipping the ball to captain Paddy Boyle who, with a ground pass, again found Forrest who had moved into the Raith half. Forrest this time picked out Michael Moffat who played the ball to Shankland whose deft header from the edge of the box found Jamie Adams 8 yards out. Inconceivably, the big midfielder appeared to mistime his header and put the ball over the bar.
As both teams pressed forward, the next 15 mins saw chances for both sides. Rover’s Lewis Vaughan went agonisingly close to giving his side the lead when his shot from 18 yards curled just wide of debutant keeper Jack Ruddy’s goal. Right back, Iain Davidson’s cross come shot flashed inches over the bar, while Buchanan only just failed to make contact with Vaughan’s driven cross along the 6-yard line. Ayr also saw efforts from Moffat, Steven Bell, and Forrest block and slammed away as the Raith defence threw bodies at the ball in their own box.
On 34 minutes, Ayr took the lead. Adams flicked the ball to Shankland at the halfway line and the striker nodded it to Moffat on the right before sprinting forward. Moffat played an exquisite pass over the Raith defence and back to Shankland who moved into the box. With the ball at an awkward height and keeper Graeme Smith almost on top of him, the United hitman stretched to lift the ball over the keeper’s head and into the net.
Just 4 mins later and Ayr were denied a stonewall penalty. Moffat turned the ball over his shoulder to Shankland at the edge of the box who controlled on his chest, turned and went past central defender Iain Davidson who stretched and caught the striker’s leg bringing him down. To the amazement of the Ayr players and fans, referee Barry Cook pointed for a goal kick.
United went into the break a goal to the good, but this only lasted for two second-half minutes as Rovers found a way back into the game.
The home side was awarded a dubious free kick on the right-hand side of the box which allowed Vaughan the opportunity to deliver a dangerous set piece. He played the ball low across the face of goal, which was met by a deft flick from Spence and the ball nestled in the back of the net via the back post.
Ayr tried to hit back straight from the re-start with a Moffat overhead flick finding Shankland at the edge of the box. With Shankland being dragged back by defender David McKay, the United man still managed to get to the ball and strike it hard but just over the bar.
With the game locked at 1-1 tensions started to build and Ayr were awarded an indirect free kick, six yards from goal after Raith defender Davidson held the ball between his legs to stop Ayr from tapping in at the back post. Tempers started to flare at this point with defender Thomson starting the fracas by shoving a startled Craig Reid. Reid was moved away by his own players but was then approached at pace by centre-back Euan Murray. Reid and Murray were booked while Thomson took himself away from the conflict and avoided action.
Just as referee Cook contented himself that he had dealt with the situation, Jamie Adams crashed to the ground on the goal line surrounded by Raith players and handbags were again appearing from kit bags all over the 6-yard box.
When the freekick was eventually able to be taken, with the whole Rovers team on the line, it was no real surprise that Shankland’s fierce Drive was blocked and cleared.
The game continued to be played at frightening pace and with both defences having to throw everything at the ball to stop chances being turned into counters. The introduction of Bobby Barr on the wing at halftime for Raith had given them a more direct attitude but the Ayr rear-guard stuck to their task manfully.
Raith were having their best period and Ruddy did well to save at the near post from Buchanan, Spence almost connected to a flashing cross from Barr, and Buchanan turned the ball over the bar with a drive. Vaughan watched his free-kick flash just over the bar as Raith searched for a winner and Barr was blocked by a mass of United players as he sought to find space to shoot after a darting run.
Ayr weathered this Raith dominated period and came back with a rousing final 15 mins that saw Moffat and Shankland strikes going close as this time Raith called on hands on deck. On 80 mins Steven Bell, at full stretch, directed Forrest’s corner from the left, wide of the right-hand post.
Shortly afterward Ayr had another shout for a penalty as the ball hit midfielder Ross Matthews on the arm and gave him control as he cleared in the 6-yard box.
It was to be United who had the last chance as McDaid danced past the defence but his shot from close range grazed the bar and that was just about that.
A captivating and enthralling affair at Starks Park, contested by two well-matched teams. Rovers remain a point clear at the top with two games in hand, but if this game is anything to go by, we’re in for a rollercoaster end to the season.
Next game for the Honest Men is the Scottish Cup Fourth Round home match against Arbroath on Saturday.
Smith, Thomson, McKay, Davidson, Murray, Matthews, Robertson, Vaughan, Herron, Buchanan Spence Subs: Watson, Berry, Barr, Osei, Court, Lennox, Hendry
Ruddy, Ferguson, Reid, Rose, Boyle, McDaid, Adams, Bell, Forrest, Shankland, Moffat Subs: Hart (GK), Moore, McGuffie, Hilton, Faulds, Murphy, McCowan
Referee: Barry Cook