Disappointing Defeat for Rovers
Those of a Raith Rovers persuasion will almost certainly seek to banish thoughts of this afternoon’s first division clash against Livingston as quickly as possible, as the home side went down by two goals to nil at Stark’s Park today in a surprisingly one-sided encounter.
Despite heavy rainfall earlier in the morning, the playing surface looked in remarkably good condition at kick-off, although it was Rovers who made heavy weather of the opening exchanges, as Livingston dominated proceedings in terms of possession and scoring chances. Rovers, who named an unchanged starting eleven from the midweek draw at Falkirk, struggled as their opponents pinned their hosts back deep inside their own half for lengthy passages of play.
Despite this, it was Rovers who, against the run of play, created a chance to take the lead after ten minutes. Brian Graham latched on to slack play by the Livingston defence, although the big forward hesitated at the vital moment and the chance was lost.
The Lions quickly responded by exerting pressure on the Rovers defence, forcing a series of corner kicks. The feeling persisted that a goal was inevitable and, sure enough, with eighteen minutes played, the visitors took the lead.
From a corner kick, Allan Walker deflected a shot against the arm of team-mate Brian Graham, and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, to the chagrin of the home support. If Rovers’ sense of injustice at the award was perhaps understandable, Livingston striker Iain Russell was unmoved, and he drove his penalty kick low into the corner of the net, evading a valiant attempt by David McGurn.
Walker picked up a yellow card prior to the restart for dissent, and he was quickly followed into the referee’s notebook by Eddie Malone as Rovers’ frustrations threatened to boil over.
The pattern of the opening twenty minutes continued, as Livingston swarmed all over the hosts, spraying passes across the pitch at will. By contrast, Rovers struggled to retain possession, and forays in the direction of the McDermid stand were few and far between. David McGurn produced a couple of blocking saves to ensure that the deficit was not increased further.
However, the Rovers keeper could do nothing to prevent the visitors doubling their advantage with ten minutes of the opening period remaining. The home defence failed to clear their lines following a Livingston corner kick, and the ball fell invitingly for Stefan Scougall. The Lions striker’s shot looked harmless enough, but a deflection off Laurie Ellis resulted in the ball bouncing agonisingly beyond the grasp of McGurn into the net.
Brian Graham then tried his luck with a free-kick, although his shot from 30 yards sailed harmlessly over the crossbar. Rovers’ insipid first half performance could have gone from bad to worse shortly afterwards, but for a brave block from Eddie Malone, although this did little to lift the spirits of the Rovers faithful as the teams headed for the relative comfort of the dressing room at the interval.
In truth, any rational assessment of the opening 45 minutes would have concluded that Rovers could count themselves fortunate to be only two goals in arrears, such was the paucity of their performance.
Grant Anderson was replaced by Greig Spence at the start of the second half, as Rovers sought to find a way back into the match. Pat Clarke dropped back into midfield, and, for a while at least, the move appeared to pay dividends as Rovers finally put pressure on the Livingston defence. Graham headed an inviting Jason Thompson cross narrowly wide of the target, before Spence forced a save from Andy McNeill with a low shot from ten yards. Another header from Graham flew narrowly over the bar with McNeill in no-man’s land, before a shot from Stuart Anderson was deflected wide of the post with the keeper beaten.
Pat Clarke then fired in a low shot from a free-kick which caused panic in the Livingston box, although the ball stubbornly refused to cross the goal line as the home support prepared to celebrate. Perhaps this was the point when the Rovers fans sensed this would not be their day.
Not that Rovers had the time to feel sorry for themselves. Although the home side enjoyed better possession than the first half, Livingston continued to look dangerous on the break, and frequently carved open a static-looking Rovers midfield as they went in search of a match-clinching third goal.
Clarke then made way for new signing Josh Watt as Rovers stepped up their offensive efforts, although the pattern of the match changed little.
Man of the Match Jason Thomson and Graham both went close before Grant Murray made way for Dougie Hill, as the match drifted towards its inevitable conclusion.
In the end, Rovers can have few complaints about the outcome, and this must go down as a bad day at the office for the home side. Despite an improved performance in the second period, the damage was done during an utterly dominant opening 45 minutes from the West Lothian men, who displayed an attacking verve and pace which Rovers simply could not contain, far less match.
It will be of little consolation to Rovers that Livingston, despite their recent managerial travails, cut a dash more impressive than has been witnessed at Stark’s Park this season so far.
More often than not, the better side prevails, and even the most blinkered of Rovers fans would concede that Livingston were worthy winners on this occasion.
Report – Donald Ramsay
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Photographs copyright Tony Fimister and Ian Martin
Grant spoke to Davie about a disappointing 90 minutes