Rovers Revival ended by McGlynn’s Lions
Raith Rovers’ recent upturn in form was brought to a grinding halt when they were beaten 4-2 by Livingston at Stark’s Park this afternoon.
Those of a Rovers persuasion who had been convinced that four points garnered from the previous two matches against Morton and Dundee pointed to a more positive outlook should look away now – the failings painfully exposed during the previous ten-game winless run returned today, and the remaining seven matches may yet turn out to be more meaningful than Rovers would wish for.
Manager Grant Murray made just one change from the side that secured a creditable draw in Dundee midweek, with Reece Donaldson taking a place in the centre of defence at the expense of Paul Watson. Greig Spence’s brace against Morton last weekend meant he retained his place in the starting eleven.
At the start, drizzle fell but passed quickly, although former Rovers boss John McGlynn’s side passed just as quickly, putting the home side on the back foot during the opening exchanges. In fact, Rovers’ propensity to fall behind was to the fore yet again, when the Lions assumed the lead with a mere five minutes played.
A harmless-looking free-kick was floated into the Rovers box, but a header across the face of goal evaded everyone allowing Craig Sives the simplest of tasks in bundling the ball over the line from a yard out.
Perhaps stung by the early opener, Rovers toiled to get into the match, and before long Livingston should have doubled their advantage, although Mark McNulty sliced a shot wide of the target from a good position.
The visitors continued to boss the game although on the quarter hour mark Rovers striker John Baird slipped a delightful ball through to his striker partner, with Spence perhaps unfortunate to be flagged for offside as he prepared to pull the trigger.
As the first half continued, Livingston looked dangerous breaking forward, as the Rovers midfield struggled to contain the passing and movement of their opponents. By contrast, McGlynn’s men coped comfortably with the Rovers tactic of long passes from defence towards Grant Anderson wide on the right.
With nearly half an hour played, Rovers finally began to assert themselves on the game, placing pressure on the away defence. Following a scramble in the box, Kevin Moon fired a shot narrowly wide of the target.
John Baird then brought a confident parried save from Daren Jamieson, although the little striker wasted a good opportunity two minutes later when he blasted high over the bar from just outside the box.
The game assumed a more physical edge for a while as the sides battled for supremacy, and Livi’s Nejc Mevelja could count himself very fortunate to escape a yellow card for a crude challenge on Rovers winger Grant Anderson as he broke forward.
As half-time approached, Rovers almost fashioned an equaliser, when a scramble in the box left Moon with a clear shot at goal from all of six yards, although his effort was somehow smothered to safety. How the ball failed to trouble the net remains a mystery, although Jamieson required treatment for his trouble. Shortly afterwards, Livingston’s Danny Denholm earned the first caution of the game for a late challenge on Rovers winger Joe Cardle.
As the players trudged off at the interval, the feeling persisted that, for all Livingston had played the better football, Rovers could count themselves unfortunate to be in arrears as they had created more goal-scoring opportunities.
During the interval, Grant Murray replaced Moon with Ross Callachan.
The opening period of the second half offered much drama, and ultimately settled the outcome of the contest. As the fans fought off the cold air with the leftovers of their half-time Bovril’s, Rovers pulled themselves level. Tenacious play when all looked lost by Greig Spence on the edge of the box led to the striker feeding Grant Anderson out on the right. The winger’s floated cross was met by John Baird, whose firm header found the top corner of the net with the minimum of fuss from eight yards.
However, the home fans had barely time to enjoy parity before Livingston regained their lead. A penetrating – and unchallenged – run deep in to the Rovers box by Mark McNulty was brought to and end by a sliding tackle by Cardle, which earned the Rovers winger a yellow card, and the visitors a penalty. McNulty recovered quickly enough to send his spot kick beyond the despairing dive of Lee Robinson into the corner of the net.
Five minutes later, as Rovers tried to come to terms with relinquishing their leveller; Livingston extended their lead further still. It could hardly have been simpler – a corner kick was nodded on and Sives had all the time in the world to turn the ball into the gaping goal from six yards out, notching his second goal of the game in the process.
The two-goal deficit seemed to spur Rovers forward, and with only ten minutes played of the second period, they were provided with a wonderful opportunity to reduce the deficit. Joe Cardle was impeded as he made a darting run into the box, and for the second time in five minutes the referee pointed to the spot. However, for all Grieg Spence’s shot was well directed, it lacked power and the keeper was able to push the shot away with relative ease with a low dive to his right. The Rovers striker’s reaction was poignant – head in hands, knowing that a gilt-edged opportunity to pull Rovers into the game had been lost in that moment.
Midway through the half, Murray made a double change, with Calum Elliot and Lewis Vaughan replacing Spence and Anderson respectively.
Rovers appeared energised by the changes, and went at their opponents, forcing a series of corner kicks. From one corner, the ball fell invitingly for Elliot, although the forward’s effort sailed high of the bar from a promising position.
Reece Donaldson was cautioned for a late tackle, before flashing headers by Baird and Hill failed to trouble the Lions keeper.
Then, in the final minute of regulation time, Rovers reduced the deficit. Vaughan’s clever pass from the by-line was stroked into the far corner of the net with aplomb by Thomson. Rovers then pressed forward in a valiant attempt to secure a point, although in truth it didn’t look likely.
That said, man of the match Baird came close with a shot which rocketed off the bar deep into injury time. As is if to add insult to injury, Livingston then took advantage of hesitation within the Rovers defence to score a scrappy winner as the home fans headed for the exit.
The final whistle served to remind the Rovers fans that their side, for all the optimism generated by the last two results, had reverted to type in terms of the recent poor run. Decent football has been undermined by the loss of soft goals, a trait that must be addressed if Rovers are to avoid a nervous final few league games of the season.
Report: Donald Ramsay / Pictures: Tony Fimister
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014
Rovers Manager Grant Murray talked to Davie after the defeat to Livi
Davie caught up with Livi gaffer John McGlynn after the match