Brechin City 1 Raith Rovers 1
Brechin City produced a spirited performance to claim a 1-1 draw with Raith Rovers in last night’s play-off semi-final first leg.
It took a spectacular Declan McManus free-kick 20 minutes from time to rescue the Championship side after the hosts led through a Ross Caldwell penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Despite missing key players through injury, Brechin proved to be no pushovers on a tight and bobbly pitch as they defended strongly, and battled bravely against the full-timers, who finished ninth in the division above.
Raith, who finished stronger than they started, will be hoping that home advantage will swing the tie in their favour in Saturday’s second leg, but for Brechin boss Darren Dods, the tie is still very much alive.
After a frantic start, Raith had the ball in net on 16 minutes as defender Jean-Yves M’voto beat goalkeeper Graeme Smith for a high ball, but referee Don Robertson whistled for a foul and the away fans celebrations were cut short.
Rovers continued to press for an opener, with M’voto a constant threat at set pieces, but the visitors lacked a creative touch in open play against a well-drilled Brechin back four.
It took the Championship side until the 39th minute to register a first attempt on target as McManus fired a volley from 20 yards that forced Smith into a diving save.
City had contained the visitors brilliantly but had been unable to threaten themselves, until landing a sucker punch on the stroke of half-time.
A neat move was brought to an end when M’voto lunged into a challenge on Andy Jackson in the box, and referee Don Robertson pointed to the spot. Caldwell sent Connor Brennan the wrong way to open the scoring.
Rovers thought they’d levelled instantly when Jason Thomson’s cross was flicked home at the near post by Rudi Skacel but the linesman’s flag was up, and the away side headed into the half-time break feeling aggrieved.
Raith signalled their intent at the start of the second half as McManus saw a goal-bound effort blocked for a corner, and manager John Hughes made his move with top scorer Ryan Hardie coming off the bench to replace Skacel.
However, the home side were defending strongly and it took a piece of magic from McManus on 71 minutes to draw the visitors level.
A determined run from Ross Matthews resulted in him earning a free-kick 25 yards out, and the on loan Fleetwood striker hit a glorious side-foot effort into the corner of the net leaving Smith rooted to his line.
The goal seemed to sap energy from a tiring Brechin side, who appeared to have no fit substitutes, and Rovers started to launch waves of attacks.
The Fifers went close when a cross from sub Chris Johnston just needed a touch in front of goal but McManus and Hardie appeared to get in each other’s way.
With two minutes left a Johnston corner fell to Kyle Benedictus at the back post and a fierce volley brought out a reflex save from Smith.
Brechin would have preferred to take a lead to Stark’s Park, but if they show the same character in Kirkcaldy, progression is not beyond them.
Brechin City: Smith, McLean, Dyer, Fusco, Lynas, Dale, Ford, Graham, Jackson, Caldwell, Watt. Not used: S.O’Neil, Love, Dods, Costello, P.O’Neil.
Raith Rovers: Brennan, Thomson, Benedictus, C.Barr, M’voto, Matthews, Davidson, Skacel (Hardie 57), Handling, McManus, Court (Johnston 68). Not used: Brian, Stewart, B.Barr, Roberts, Robertson.
Referee: Don Robertson.