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Raith Rovers 0-1 Airdrie: Match report, star man and player ratings as Ian Murray’s men see SPFL Trust Trophy dreams dashed with 5th straight loss

The Stark's Park side suffered a third defeat in four matches against Airdrie this season.

Raith Rovers striker Callum Smith stoops bravely to head the ball against Airdrie.
Raith Rovers faced 'bogey team' Airdrie in the SPFL Trust Trophy semi-final. Image: Ross Parker / SNS Group.

Raith Rovers’ hopes of reaching a fourth successive SPFL Trust Trophy final were extinguished with another defeat against bogey team Airdrie.

Worryingly with Dundee United next up in a top-of-the-table Championship clash, it was also a fifth straight loss for the Stark’s Park men.

Nikolay Todorov blasted Airdrie into the lead after just five minutes with his third goal in as many games against the hosts.

It was the former Dunfermline striker’s fifth goal from his last six outings in a prolific streak for the 27-year-old, who was the match-winner the last time the sides met.

Airdrie striker Nikolay Todorov.
Airdrie’s Nikolay Todorov was the match winner again against Raith Rovers. Image: Ross Parker / SNS Group.

Rovers have now failed to find a win against the Diamonds – and have lost three times – in four meetings this season.

A welcome return

Given the defensive issues that have seen them leak 14 goals in their last five home games, Keith Watson’s comeback was undoubtedly a boost for Rovers.

The former Dundee United and Ross County centre-half last featured over four months ago after sustaining a knee injury that required surgery.

It mean a return to a more recognisable back four and the one that kicked off the campaign in successful fashion last summer.

Keith Watson gets on the ball with Airdrie goal-scorer Nikolay Todorov challenging.
Keith Watson (right) with Airdrie goal-scorer Nikolay Todorov. Image: Ross Parker / SNS Group.

Watson’s return also allowed skipper Scott Brown to return to his favoured midfield beat, although the absence of Shaun Byrne from the starting line-up was perhaps a surprise.

In attack, Zak Rudden was handed his first start after a 45-minute debut in last Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Inverness Caley Thistle.

Unfortunately, he was to last less time this week before trudging off with an injury in the 36th minute.

Nightmare opening

When a team is on the kind of run Raith faced at kick-off, a sequence of four straight losses, a bright opening is imperative.

Rudden perhaps took that enthusiasm too far when he was booked inside two minutes for a poor challenge on Dean McMaster.

And, just four minutes later, before they had settled in the swirling wind, the home side were behind.

On-loan Dundee striker Zak Rudden looks dejected as he is guided off the pitch by manager Ian Murray after picking up an injury.
On-loan Dundee striker Zak Rudden lasted just 35 minutes before limping off injured. Image: Ross Parker / SNS Group.

As the ball bounced around the box without a decisive touch from the home side, Charlie Telfer brought some order to proceedings with a clever flick to his right to find the unmarked Todorov.

The Bulgarian swung his right boot clinically at the pass and unleashed an unstoppable drive into the roof of the net.

A Raith riposte?

Rovers were stunned by the early goal and took a while to recover.

The conditions were no assistance as attempts to find players in space fell short as they were held up in the wind.

Eventually, the Kirkcaldy men found some sort of rhythm and strung some neat passing moves together.

Raith Rovers' Dylan Easton battles for the ball against Airdrie.
Dylan Easton fired a shot over in the second-half as Raith Rovers sought an equaliser. Image: Ross Parker / SNS Group.

But they were too far from goal and rarely did they get near enough to Josh Rae’s goal two trouble the Airdrie keeper.

After the break, they had the benefit of the breeze but Dylan Easton rasped a shot over when he might have done better in the 57th minute.

Seconds later, Lewis McGregor outpaced Watson at the other end but Kevin Dabrowski produced an excellent stop at his near post shot.

Comeback chances fade

Raith became ever more desperate in their search for an equaliser as time ticked away.

Substitute Aidan Connolly saw a low effort held by Rae before he aimed another over the bar four minutes later.

Just as the clocked reached the 90 minutes, Vaughan had a late chance with a header but nodded straight at Rae as Rovers crashed out of the tournament at the penultimate stage.

Boos rang out from a frustrated home support as they were left with just one win from their last eight matches.

Star Man: Nikolay Todorov (Airdrie)

Skipper Scott Brown was persistent in his attempts to inspire Raith to a comeback and Lewis Vaughan was bright before fading as the game slipped away.

But it is hard to look beyond Todorov as the game’s pivotal player.

A winner yet again against Rovers for the ex-Dunfermline striker.

Player Ratings

Raith Rovers (4-1-3-2): Dabrowsk 6i; Millen 6, Watson 5, Murray 6, Dick 6; Brown 6; Turner 5 (Mullin 58 4), Vaughan 6, Easton 5 (Byrne 74 3); Smith 5 (Connolly 58 4), Rudden 4 (Hamilton 36 5). Subs not used: McNeil, Matthews, Corr, Hamilton, Byrne, McGill, Hannah. Booked: Rudden, Easton.

Referee: Colin Steven.

Attendance: 2,640.