Spence strike steals three points
An early goal from Greig Spence was the difference as Raith held on against a spirited Queen of the South at a sunny Palmerston. Despite Queens creating several good chances and attacking briskly on their home plastic pitch, Raith took all three points to move joint-second in the Championship following an entertaining and open 90 minutes.
Raith worked hard for their victory, created their own chances, defended in numbers, and enjoyed two excellent performances from front-men Spence and Elliot. Although Queens will regret missing a number of opportunities when enjoying a second-half ascendancy, they were let down by defender Durnan, dismissed for a petulant boot at Elliot at a time when his team were on top in the second half.
With the season still young and the table still crowded, today’s game was a key test of Grant Murray’s early-season mettle – Dougie Hill returned after suspension, and Spence was restored following his winner as substitute in last week’s Ramsden’s Cup win over Falkirk. Joe Cardle started, playing against the manager with whom he won the First Division title with Dunfermline in 2010/11, and on the other flank Grant Anderson continued his good run of form.
Queens were looking to start a busy three weeks with a positive home performance. The next two weeks see Cup fixtures against Rangers and Hearts. Having scored six goals in their opening two games, Queens were looking to break a two-game scoreless run and energise the Palmerston crowd after a dour 0-0 draw against Alloa previously.
Both sides started brightly, with Queens’ more direct passing on the bouncy surface proving more effective early on. McGurn punched away a good cross from Queens’ full-back Mitchell, and front-runner Lyle looked troublesome, catching Hill and Watson on their heels in the first ten minutes. A Mitchell flick let former Livingston front-man Russell through the inside-left channel, but having over-run possession the result was only a meek cross thumped clear by Watson, much to the delight of a vocal travelling support.
On 17 minutes, Raith led. Fox looked up from central midfield, and offered a beautiful cross-field invitation perfectly into Grant Anderson’s stride. With Queens’ full-back Higgins caught flat-footed, Anderson placed a weighted centre into Spence’s path. With five goals this season already, Spence couldn’t believe his luck.
The goal sent a degree of confidence through the Raith midfield. Fox and Moon swept up several loose passes in midfield, and wide-men Cardle and Anderson tricked and twisted their opposite numbers. Anderson embarrassed Higgins again with a cheeky nutmeg on half-way; the Doomhamers’ full-back grumpily barging his man to the floor.
Notwithstanding Raith’s better possession, Queens were a force under the high ball. Lyle forced a reflex save from McGurn with a powerful header from the first of a number of first-half corners; Durnan drawing an even better save moments later.
With Queens enjoying greater and better-quality possession as the first-half wore on, Spence and Elliot worked hard, running channels to give options for longer passes, or dropping short to add numbers to the midfield. Elliot particularly contributed to Raith’s defensive security, holding the ball to allow breathing space for colleagues, and using his 6’0” frame to provide a target for defensive clearances. After a slow start in pre-season, Raith look now have a settled strike partnership.
On the half-hour, following a busy spell around the Raith penalty area, Elliot appeared three times in a Raith move which started with a prompt McGurn thow-out. Cardle’s rising drive just cleared Antel’s cross-bar.
The final acts of the first half were played out largely in Raith territory. Queens pushed and probed, and were unlucky not to equalise. Young was allowed time to fire a shot over McGurn’s goal, and Carmichael’s deflected drive looped over for a corner. The clearest opportunity fell to centre-half Durnan – his thumping header hoofed off his own line by Anderson with McGurn beaten.
While Murray must have been pleased at his team’s resilience, he must also take credit for instilling a fast-attacking mentality in his players when the opportunity arises – following a Queens’ corner, Anderson raced 50 yards and crossed. A two-goal deficit would have been unfair on the home side, however Spence will think of his weak header as a chance missed.
With the slight breeze at their back in the second period, after the interval Raith began on the front foot. Cardle surged down the left, exchanging a wall-pass with Elliot before firing across goal; left-back Booth burst beyond the midfield after Cardle scrapped for possession in midfield; and a devilish in-swinging Cardle cross just evaded Spence at Antel’s far post.
Queens took some time after the interval to re-gain a foot-hold in the game, but entered their best spell as the match approached the hour mark. Lyle’s quick feet allowed McKenna to cross, troubling Watson into a hurried clearance. Home substitute Reilly rushed a header wide after Carmichael had returned Mitchell‘s over-hit centre. In the 61st minute, Carmichael lashed a shot goalwards after being released by McKenna, McGurn producing his best save of the match.Another Durnan header from a high cross prompted an unseemly scramble in the Raith box; and moments later, Reilly drove inside Thomson to shoot over. Although the withdrawal of former Livingston striker Russell prompted disquiet amongst the home support, Reilly gave additional buzz and vigour to the Queens attack. With Watson and Hill defending their 18-yard line, Queens were able to
pick their passes in the final third, Raith unable to stem the attacking surges at source.
Home manager Jim McIntyre shuffled his strike-force again with twenty minutes to go – late sub Paton and Carmichael were pinned to either flank, and Reilly and Lyle bound closely together at the head of a 4-2-4. Midfield substitute Dzierzawski rasped a drive toward McGurn as the home side continued to press but failed to breach a stout Raith rearguard.
Unfortunately for Queens’ enterprising front quartet, the match fell further out of reach in the 78th minute with Durnan’s straight red-card. Elliot barged his way past the defender’s first challenge, and with the referee first playing advantage and then whistling for a foul on the Raith striker, Durnan’s frustrated hack drew a straight red-card. Referee Robertson deserves credit for quickly dealing with a potential flash-point – first calming onrushing Raith midfielders before giving Durnan his marching orders.
The final moments saw half-chances at both ends – late cameo Lewis Vaughan chipped weakly with Elliot in space to the young striker’s right, whilst McKenna and Carmichael combined well for Reilly to head a difficult chance straight at a grateful McGurn.
Queens will consider themselves unlucky to take nothing from the game. However, with the nights closing in and the long winter campaign ahead, Raith will look back on today’s endeavours as an excellent three points. Against a side who scored freely in their opening two games, and with the vagaries of the plastic pitch, today’s victory will look better and better as the season progresses.
Match photos: Eddie Doig Match report: Andrew Fairlie
Special thanks to Malcolm Johnson at QoS TV for generously filming, editing and sharing the highlights video with Raith TV:
Thanks again to QoS TV, who filmed and shared their post match interviews:
Photographs copyright Eddie Doig