Wednesday 24 May 2023

Ground #384 - Stark's Park

Date: 5th May 2023
Ground: Stark's Park
Location: Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland

My ninth new ground of 2023 was on Friday 5th May at Stark's Park in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. The game was Raith Rovers vs. Partick Thistle in the Scottish Championship.

Stark's Park is located in the south of Kirkcaldy, towards its western edge. The ground is bordered by housing to the north and south and a railway line running directly west of the ground in between the stadium and a school. The eastern side is hemmed in by a road which gives the ground its unusual shape. It is one mile south of Kirkcaldy railway station and has been home to the club since 1891.

The ground is an odd mix of structures with the Main Stand in particular being rather unusual. This stand, built in 1925 starts from the south-east corner and works its way round to the halfway line where it has to stop due to the harsh encroachment from a road running alongside the ground. The two dugouts sit in this unused area so are not actually in front of any structures. The Main Stand is classic old design which had wooden seating and benching up until 1999 when plastic seats were put in. It has 5 supporting beams holding up the old roof and still houses the dressing rooms, ticket office and club shop.

Nowadays the ground is dominated by two large single tier stands at either end of the field. These identical structures hold 3,370 fans apiece thereby accounting for most than three-quarters of the current capacity. On my visit I was with the away fans in the northern end and with the wind protectors on either side the stand was very effective at keeping in the noise from the good travelling contingent to enable a great atmosphere. The western side of the ground is not currently in use - this thin stand is constrained by the railway line running behind and has concrete terracing for its southern half and bucket seating for its northern half. This stand is used to position the main TV gantry and would be brought back into use should Raith return to the Premiership.

The game was the final one of the Championship season. Raith had nothing but pride to play for after a very poor end to the season, with just one point from their previous six games, saw them marooned in 7th place nowhere near teams above or below. Partick entered the tie in 3rd place in the play-off places but there were a number of permutations which could see them topping the play-offs in a best case scenario and falling out of them entirely in a worst case scenario. What they did know was defeat would leave them relying on other results. With this in mind the away side leapt out of the traps almost scoring after eight seconds when Kyle Turner let fly with a curling 20 yard effort. This necessitated a good tip over by Raith keeper Jamie MacDonald. He was nearly beaten again with a long-range shot in the 18th minute - a cheeky quick free-kick by Ross Docherty tried to lob the home keeper from 40 yards but MacDonald was just able to backpeddle and tip over. It was little surprise then when the away side opened the scoring in the 21st minute, a Steven Lawless shot from the left was saved by MacDonald but he only pushed it as far as Darren Brownlie who knocked home. The game changed in the 34th minute when the home side were given a penalty for a Ross Docherty handful. Lewis Vaughan struck the penalty well sending David Mitchell in the Partick goal the wrong way. It was Raith's sole shot on target in the first half and Partick were unlucky to go in level going close just before the interval as Scott Tiffoney drove a low free-kick just wide of the post. 

The second half saw the teams trade attacks with a Raith shot blocked on the line before a minute later Partick had an effort blocked at close quarters. Another key moment came in the 59th minute - the visitors should have had a penalty but the referee failed to see a clear handball. Raith then went up the other end and a deflected Scott McGill shot ended up in the bottom corner to put the hosts 2-1 up. Ten minutes later the pendulum swung again when a ball was zipped across the Raith goal over to Aidan Fitzpatrick. The Partick midfielder squared the ball for Scott Tiffony who dispatched to level the game up at 2-2. The closing stages saw Raith's William Akio force a great save out of Mitchell with a curling effort and Aidan Fitzpatrick go on a mazy run before MacDonald saved his shot. The game finished 2-2 and the equaliser proved crucial for Partick in securing the final play-off spot at the expense of Greenock Morton. A great end-to-end encounter in front of passionate fans, the evening was a good advert for Scottish football.

Result: Raith Rovers 2-2 Partick Thistle
Division: Scottish Championship
Attendance: 2,899

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