Ramshackle Raith Slip To Ninth
For Raith Rovers to get anything from an in-form St. Mirren this afternoon, it was going to take a fair amount of quality, allied with solidity and a dash of derring-do. With that in mind, it was a poor moment for the side to turn in its most toothless and vacuous performance of the season.
An exceptional showing from Steve Mallan, which included a hat-trick, was added to by goals from Lewis Morgan and Rory Loy, as Rovers failed to lay a finger on a St. Mirren team which leapfrogged their visitors, who slumped to second from bottom.
John Hughes had made two changes from the side which went down to the last gasp defeat at Easter Road.
Danny Handling returned to the starting eleven in place of Mark Stewart who dropped to the bench, while Ross Matthews missed out through suspension, with his place taken by Rudi Skacel.
There was a slow and tetchy start to this one, with little occurring in the opening stages, as both sides sized each other up, although the hosts were enjoying far more possession than John Hughes’ side
The opening quarter of the match was punctuated by corners and free-kicks, the bulk of which were for Jack Ross’ team, and whilst they were dealt with effectively, it was a cause for concern, considering Raith’s predilection of conceding from just those kinds of scenario this term.
It took 20 minutes for either side to register a shot on target, with a Rory Loy effort from distance easily gathered by Pavol Peknsa, but it wouldn’t be too much longer until the game registered its first goal, as the Buddies took the lead in the 27th minute, from a goal that was entirely preventable.
Jean Yves M’Voto misjudged a header, then failed to get much purchase on his second effort, allowing Cameron Smith to gain possession by Rovers left corner flag.
With the retreating Raith defence unable to get back quick enough, Smith had oodles of time to look up, and pick out Steve Mallan who was all on his own in the middle of the penalty area, giving him the relatively straightforward task of placing a low, first-time effort past Penksa from close range.
Rovers have struggled all season when conceding first, and there was no signs of life in the immediate aftermath of this concession, as St. Mirren continued to look comfortable in possession.
Penksa had to look alive to tip away Lewis Morgan’s ambitious effort after half-an-hour, but St. Mirren got the second goal they deserved in the 39th minute, and as it has been so often this term, it came direct from a free-kick.
From 25-yards out, and to the right of Penksa’s goal, Morgan initially dummied an effort, before Mallan struck his shot past the ‘keeper, albeit via a large deflection which wrong-footed the Slovakian.
The game was now starting to become something of a procession for the home side, and Smith was unlucky not to make it three just before the interval, but his fierce drive from 30-yards flew just over.
Josh Magennis then tried his luck from distance a moment later, which similarly whistled wide, as Rovers went down the tunnel fortunate to still have a chance of taking something from the match, even if it seemed remote.
If Rovers were going to get back into it, then they had to start the second period strongly, but instead, they conceded again almost immediately after the restart.
It was yet another set-piece, this time a corner from Mallan was the source, and as Rovers failed to provide any kind of defence, a flick on from Gary MacKenzie in the middle of the area, allowed Rory Loy to bundle home from close range.
Hughes had seen enough by that stage, and made a triple substitution, with Bobby Barr, Skacel and Chris Johnston being replaced by Mark Stewart, Jonny Court and Ryan Hardie.
It was a bold move, with Hardie and Court leading the line, flanked by Hardie and Stewart, but within a moment of the reshuffle, St. Mirren almost went further ahead.
A clearance from just inside the Rovers penalty area rebounded off referee, Kevin Clancy and headed straight to Mallan, allowing him to pivot and fire in a first-time effort which Penksa was forced to tip over.
The game had essentially been defence v attack since the first goal, and play continued to gravitate towards the Rovers penalty area, with Morgan the next to endanger Rovers goal difference, with two efforts in a minute.
Firstly, his long range effort whipped just over, while his next, from just inside the area was straight at Penksa.
If it wasn’t already, then the match was threatening to become embarrassing, and Mallan made it four in the 59th minute, with an exquisite strike.
Weaving a neat, passing move with Morgan and Loy, he picked up possession around 25-yards from goal, before crashing a swerving effort past Penksa to complete his hat-trick.
The concern now was that a huge Rovers collapse could hand Ayr a chance at overtaking Rovers on goal difference on the final day, and there was relief when Morgan’s ‘goal’ was ruled out for offside, immediately after Mallan’s effort.
The news from Somerset Park, that Ayr were going through a similar capitulation did bring some relief on that front though.
The game seemed to peter out for the closing half hour, as St. Mirren thankfully took their foot off the gas, although it still took until the 86th minute for Rovers to have their first strike at goal, when McManus’s free-kick was struck straight at Billy O’Brien in the Saints goal.
There was enough time for one more goal however, when St. Mirren broke straight upfield from O’Brien’s clearance, allowing Mallan to play a pass across the box for Morgan, who got the goal his bravura performance deserved, and gave the game a scoreline which refelcted the disparity between the protagonists.
Rovers now need to defeat Ayr on the last day, and hope Champions Hibernian can defeat St. Mirren, otherwise it’ll be the relegation playoffs, at best.
© Eddie Doig 2017
RaithTV spoke with John after the defeat to St Mirren