Raith Rovers moved up into second place in the Championship table with a hard-fought 4-2 win against a spirited Alloa Athletic side at Stark’s Park this afternoon.
While the two-goal margin of victory would suggest this was a relatively comfortable win for Rovers, the three points weren’t sealed until Joe Cardle’s strike in the final minute of what was a sprightly and entertaining encounter.
Alloa, under the guidance of former Rover Paul Hartley, have settled quickly into life in Scottish football’s second tier and came into the match with an impressive seven points from their opening five fixtures, a solitary point behind their hosts.
They certainly weren’t overawed and matched Rovers during the opening exchanges. However, it was the home side who produced the first shot at goal after five minutes. Cardle’s corner kick was cleared to the edge of the box and Liam Fox’s first time shot flew narrowly over the bar.
Five minutes later, Alloa midfielder Stephen Simmons didn’t endear himself to his former employers with a bad foul on Kevin Moon as the midfielder burst forward with intent. However, Cardle’s wickedly curling free-kick into the box was confidently punched clear by Wasps’ keeper Scott Bain.
As Rovers slowly began to dominate possession, it was the visitors who opened the scoring with twenty minutes played. A long ball out of defence appeared to catch the Rovers defence cold and Kevin Cawley found himself with acres of space, just twenty yards from goal. The forward’s first time shot flew low into the corner of the net, giving David McGurn no chance.
For the next ten minutes, Alloa, buoyed by the goal, enjoyed the lion’s share of possession as the home side struggled to find any coherence to their play. However, as the home fans began to get restless, Rovers fashioned an equaliser.
Cardle gathered the ball out wide on the left and his low cross into the box evaded everyone, including Bain, as the ball squeezed in to the far corner of the net.
A minute later, Ben Gordon earned the first caution of the match thanks to a crude challenge on Calum Elliot. Alloa then pressed forward and, taking advantage of a misplaced pass from Rovers left back Callum Booth, the ball was quickly fed to the lurking Andy Kirk whose low shot was parried to safety by the diving McGurn.
For the remainder of the opening half, Rovers continued to press forward although Alloa frequently looked dangerous as they exploited space between the Rovers midfield and defence. Cardle was booked for a lunging tackle five minutes from the interval although Kevin Moon almost put Rovers ahead with the final effort of the first half when his low shot from Elliot’s headed knock-down flashed wide of the target with Bain beaten.
Whatever manager Grant Murray said to his troops during the break clearly worked as Rovers started the second half on the front foot, driving at the visitors with purpose. Therefore, it came as no surprise when, within two minutes of the restart, Rovers went ahead for the first time.
Grant Anderson picked the ball up on the right wing and, cutting inside, quickly exchanged passes with Elliot before coolly driving his shot beyond Bain into the net.
Galvanised by the second goal, Rovers continued to press forward and Jason Thomson tried his luck with a shot, which had Bain scrambling across his line as the ball went wide of the target.
However, despite Rovers looking to extend their lead, it was the Wasps who restored parity with an hour on the clock. Despite there being little apparent danger, a clumsy challenge in the box by Anderson gifted Alloa the opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot. Ryan McCord gratefully tucked the shot away with aplomb.
Simmons then found his name in referee Calum Murray’s book for dissent before an injury to Rovers midfielder Kevin Moon resulted in play being stopped, as Alloa charged upfield, much to the obvious chagrin of Hartley on the touchline.
Then, with twenty minutes remaining, the visitors squandered a glorious chance to regain the lead. Rovers failed to clear their lines and, as the ball was squared across goal, Kirk looked to have the simplest of tasks from six yards out. However, the former Pars striker somehow miscued his shot wide with the goal at his mercy.
Moon, clearly suffering the effects of his injury, was then replaced by Ross Callachan as the home fans willed their side forward in search of a winning goal.
With just over ten minutes remaining, Rovers managed to get their noses in front once more. Joe Cardle, not for the first time in the game, darted down the left flank and his low cross into the box was firmly buried past Bain, courtesy of Elliot’s diving header.
Man of the Match, Grant Anderson, was then replaced by Lewis Vaughan and goalscorer Elliot was withdrawn into a deeper role as Rovers looked to consolidate their lead in the closing stages. The tiring Greig Spence also made way for Gordon Smith as Alloa desperately tried to salvage a point.
As the home fans nervously checked their watches, Rovers, from deep inside their own half, quickly moved the ball forward on the right hand side. The visitors were caught high up the pitch and Vaughan’s intelligent pass found Cardle ummarked with a clear run on goal. The winger showed typical composure and curled his shot into the far corner of the net from the edge of the box.
The celebrations, within the home stand, were a mixture of joy and relief, with the three points finally secured. There was just sufficient time left for Ryan McCord to be cautioned and manager Hartley to be given a lecture by the referee.
Rovers could consider themselves content with a satisfying afternoon’s work. The consensus among the faithful has it that this Rovers side has yet to find its top gear this season. On that basis, considering the team’s current lofty league position, the fans can surely look forward with no little optimism to the months ahead.
Report: Donald Ramsay
Photographs Copyright Tony Fimister 2013
Davie spoke to Grant after the victory over Alloa
Davie spoke to Calum Elliot after the striker scored his first league goal of the season