Raith Grab Vital Three Points
Raith Rovers all but mathematically guaranteed themselves Championship football next season, after a dramatic 3-2 win over Queen of the South.
Grant Murray made several changes from the disappointing weekend loss to Dumbarton. Out went Fraser Mullen and Greig Spence who were on the bench, while Dougie Hill and Grant Anderson missed out through suspension and injury respectively.
It meant a return to the side for Reece Donaldson at centre-half, while the midfield featured the regular names of Joe Cardle, Liam Fox and Kevin Moon, while Gordon Smith slotted-in on the right-hand-side. Callum Elliot and John Baird started up-front.
Due to huge traffic delays on the Forth Road Bridge, the match was held up by half-an-hour, and if either side seemed affected by this disruption then it appeared to be Queen of the South, as Raith swept into the lead after just 3 minutes.
Callum Elliot won the ball in the air, flicking it on it to John Baird, who kept the ball moving by feeding it to Joe Cardle, wide on the left. The winger cut inside his man, before driving it low past Zander Clark and into the bottom right-hand-corner of the net
The Rovers fans had barely taken their seats, when they had reason to jump out them again. Liam Fox’s deflected free-kick had gone out for a corner, which Cardle had swung into the back post. After a poor attempt at a clearance, Paul Watson smashed the ball on the half-volley, through a flurry of legs and into the net. Two goals to the good, and just over 6 minutes played, it was an extraordinary start to the game.
The opening period continued to see Raith dominate, with the attacking triumvirate of Baird, Cardle and Elliot all to the fore. Several players seemed to be playing with a brio and confidence that has been missing at times over the last few months in the league. Thomson and Booth were both making themselves available down the wings, while the movement and passing was very much reminiscent of how the team was playing at the start of the campaign.
The impressive opening was almost reflected by a third goal after 18 minutes. Queens centre-half Durnan managed to find himself in a tangle with John Baird, which the Raith attacker managed to come out on top of. With options to his left and right, the striker unsurprisingly went for goal himself, but his well struck shot from 20 yards thumped the left-hand post and bounced to safety.
By this stage, Queen of the South had rarely been seen in an attacking sense, although Iain Russell was constantly an outlet for them, and he was proving a handful for Jason Thomson, and makeshift right-midfielder Gordon Smith. Any crosses that were coming into the box were being dealt with effectively by Paul Watson and Reece Donaldson, but there seemed a feeling of nervousness in the stadium, any time ball was swung in.
Gavin Reilly had the away sides first attempt at goal with just under half-an-hour played. His clever flick towards the Raith net, appeared to be dipping under Lee Robinson’s crossbar, and although the keeper clutched it above his head, his backpedaling caused a momentary cause for concern as he stopped on the line.
A few minutes later, Iain Russell was allowed to drift inside, past three challenges, before sending in a shot that was going wide. His attempt was gathered up by Reilly, but his turn-and-shot was well gathered by Robinson.
There seemed a definite shift in the dynamic of the game, with the Queens midfield starting to get-to-grips with the game, winning their own individual battles, resulting in the play all heading towards the South Stand. That said, the next chance fell to Raith, after Zander Clark’s poor kick-out, allowed Cardle another sight at goal. Despite getting hold of his shot, Clark made amends by tipping his drive past the post.
Liam Fox was then booked after 35 minutes for a sliding foul on Russell, and from the resultant set-piece, Queens were back in it. Chris Mitchell’s delivery was good, but Mark Durnan was given too much time to send his header downwards and into the Raith net.
The confidence that seemed to be oozing from the home team seemed to have evaporated, as Queen took the proceedings by the scruff of the neck. Ian McShane almost sneaked in to equalise, after a moment of indecision between Watson and Robinson, then the same man sent a 22-yard drive just past the post.
The equaliser wasn’t long in coming however, and when it did, it arrived, somewhat predictably, via a set-piece. Mitchell’s corner was swung in, and despite several Raith players in the box, all remained passive, while Durnan ran a few yards past them to send his header into the net.
It was the final piece of action in an enthralling half, which, by ending all-square, probably reflected both sides respective spells on top.
While the opening period featured a gung-ho opening, and a blistering fightback, the second-half, perhaps predictably, was a tighter, edgier affair. The tepid opening to the half, seemed to suggest that both sides, but especially Jim McIntyre’s team, seemed focussed more on not losing, rather than pushing for the win.
Other than a John Baird shot which was deflected wide, and a Reece Donaldson header which was comfortably hoofed off the line by Mitchell, the half was flat, and free from the good play that characterised the early part of the match.
Donaldson was booked for a challenge with half-an-hour remaining, while Ross Callachan was introduced to the fray 5 minutes later.
It was the substitute who almost sculpted the third goal, sending in a great cross after being teed up by Cardle, but from 6 yards, Smith got his header all wrong, sending it well wide of the Clark’s right post. Elliot then had a chance from an acute angle that slithered wide.
At this point, Raith seemed the likelier to snatch a late lead, and they did just that on 81 minutes, after great work down the right from Callachan.
His run and jink into the box, allowed him time to look up, and pick out John Baird in the penalty area, who swung a boot at the pass, sweeping it past Clark to put Raith in front again.
Any thoughts that Rovers could build on that lead, were dispelled 2 minutes later, when Donaldson was given his second yellow card for a foul on the half-way line, which at first glance, seemed innocuous. This led to John Baird making way for Fraser Mullen, with the defender going to right-back, with Thomson moving to the centre.
While the closing moments were tense, Queens seemed devoid of ideas on how to break down the Rovers defence, and Raith held on for a vital 3 points.
The win makes things extremely interesting in the battle for the promotion play-offs, with Dumbarton and Queen of the South now level with just 3 games remaining.
More importantly for Raith fans however, with 9 points now separating Rovers from Cowdenbeath, and a far superior goal-difference, barring a mathematical and footballing improbability, Rovers will be playing in Scotland’s second-tier next season.
Rovers now occupy seventh place in the league, 2 points clear of Alloa, and 1 behind sixth placed Livingston. With prize-money there to be won, Raith will hope to leapfrog Livingston this Saturday, as they look to bring back all 3 points from Falkirk.
Report: Shaughan McGuigan Pictures: Tony Fimister
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014