Raith Come Up Trumps Against Queens
Raith Rovers secured their second league win in four days with a comprehensive 3-0 win against play-off hopefuls Queen of the South at Stark’s Park last night.
Rovers boss Grant Murray retained the same starting eleven which beat Alloa at the weekend, and he was rewarded with a performance which was high in tempo, confidence and creativity throughout an entertaining ninety minutes.
Queens had taken maimum points against Rovers in the previous three Championship fixtures this season, and prior to kick-off would have been determined to retain the four-point advantage they held over Falkirk in their quest to secure a play-off berth at the end of the season.
However, if any home fans feared they were in for a difficult evening, Rovers attempted to overcome any anxiety as they took the initiative from kick-off, stroking the ball around confidently and crisply, and looking to create chances for in-form strikers Lewis Vaughan and Mark Stewart.
The first opening was created with only two minutes on the clock, although Stewart rushed his shot follwing a neat through ball by Ross Callachan, and his shot flew wide of the target.
Vaughan was looking particuarly lively during the opening exchanges and he was crudely fouled by Queens defender Mark Durnan as he looked to break forward from midfield. The defender was booked for his trouble.
Shortly afterwards, a neat exchange of passes between Vaughan and Liam Fox sent Grant Amnderson scampering down the right wing, but the winger’s cross sailed harmlessly over the bar from a promising position.
Rovers continued to largely dominate possession, and if was twenty minutes before the visitoers registered their first meaningful shot at goal, although Mark Millar’s shot drifted well wide of David McGurn’s goal.
Five minutes later, Rovers had more luck, when they claimed the opening goal of the game. Good work diown the right flank resulted in Vaughan dashing into the box, and his cut back was took a couolle of deflections before arriving at Stewart, who thumped the ball into the net via the underside of the bar from eight years out.
Rovers continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, and their opponents appeared to find Anderson and Ryan Conroy, who regularly swapped flanks, difficult to handle. Vaughan also linked up well with the midfield, bringing the wide men into play and setting up forays deep intio the Queens half.
That said, it was the visitors who drove forward in a bid to secure parity before the interval, and Millar’s shot from outside the box whistled inches over the bar with McGurn eyeing the ball anxiously, and moments later Millar turned provider, his pass finding Ian McShane but this time the shot drifted well wide.
Queen of the South emerged from the interval intent on getting back into what was a crucial match for them, and Millar had a free-kick which flew over the bar into the small bamd of away fans housed in the north stand. Two minutes later, Rovers’s Callachan had the audacity to try a speculative shot from fully forty yards, but it failed to trouble the keeper.
As Queens continued to push men forward in search of an equaliser, they left gaps at the back, and Rovers took advantage of the space afforded them with breaks at pace up the park, althougn clear-cut chances were at a premium. The game ebbed and flowed and it seemed inevitable that more goals would come before the final whistle as the sides traded attacks. Andy Dowie had a firm header at the far post blocked by McGurn, and Grant Murray made his first substitution with 65 minutes on the clock, replacing Callachan with Martin Scott.
Queens were finding it increasingly difficult to create clear openings. A number of crosses rained down on the Rovers box, but they were dealt with by the central defensive pairing of Paul Watson and Craig Barr, even if, on occasion, the clearances were rather frantic and less than aesthetic.
With twenty minutes remaining, Mark Stewart found himself in a promising position on the left hand side of the Queens box on two occasdions, but twice the sdtriker failed to deliver a telling cross to the waiting Rovers players.
However, Stewart then made up for his errors when he doubled Rovers’ lead with fifteen minutes remaining. Martin Scott burst through from midfield, and found Conroy lurking with intent on the left flank. The winger’s cross was judged to perfection, and Stewart rose to glance a header into the net with aplomb.
Queens’ Kevin Holt was then booked for a late tackle, before Lewis Vaughan sealed the points for the home side with a goal of genuine quality. The little forward picked the ball up and ran directly at the Queens defenders, who back-pedalled towards the edge of the box. Vaughan twisted and turned his opponents this way and that before sweeping a shot low into the corner of the net. The home fans acclaimed a piece of sublime skill, and rewarded the striker with a richly-deserved applause when he was replaced by Calum Elliot as the match drew to a close.
Barrie McKay also replaced Anderson, and there was time for Queens’ Paton to enter the referee’s book for wrestling Scott to the ground as the Rovers midfielder cut inside from the right touchline.
In the final minute, Rovers almost scored a fourth, although Watson blazed his shot high over the bar with the goal gaping.
Few would have predicted a three-goal haul from Rovers against one of the Championship’s top sides, but the scoreline did not flatter the hosts, and indeed to they could have added to their tally in the latter stages of a match in which Queens appeared to lose their shape and heart.
Whether Rovers, who have now closed the gap on Queens to eight points, feel this maintains an outside chance of reaching the play-offs remains to be seen, but whatever the case Murray’s men should go into this weekend’s home clash against Hibernian with some confidence.
Raith Rovers and Queen of the South will lock-horns for the second time in ten days this Tuesday, with the Dumfries side hoping to preserve their cushion over Falkirk in the play-off spaces.
Both teams go into the match on the back of wins. Raith were worthy winners over Alloa Athletic on Saturday evening, when goals from Mark Stewart and Lewis Vaughan saw off an Alloa Athletic side who were attempting to put distance between themselves and Cowdenbeath near the foot of the table.
The Blue Brazil were the Doonhamers opponents at the weekend, and Queens proved too strong for Jimmy Nicholl’s men, after goals from Iain Russell, Michael Paton, Mark Durnan and Derek Lyle helped Queen of the South run up a 4-1 victory.
Cowdenbeath had been something of a bogey team to James Fowler’s men, indeed, outwith the top three, Cowdenbeath are the only team to defeat Queens in the league this season.
With the pressure growing at the top of the table as the season draws to a close, Queen of the South face a difficult fixture list, as they seek to hold off Falkirk’s challenge. After Stark’s Park, they have two daunting looking trips to Tynecastle to face the champions Hearts, then another away fixture against Hibernian at Easter Road. That’s then followed by a home match against Rangers, before what could be a dramatic match at Palmerston Park on the 12th of April, when Falkirk are the visitors.
Queen of the South’s three consecutive victories in this fixture, mean they now lead the recent head-to-head record, with six wins to Rovers four from the last ten league meetings. However, historically, Rovers have a good record on this date, unbeaten on the last eight occasions they’ve played on the 24th of March.
Tuesday evening’s referee will be Craig Charleston.
Head-to-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 25 | Queen of the South Wins: 16 | Draws: 8
Raith Rovers Goals: 92 | Queen of the South Goals: 56
Raith Rovers: L-W-L-L-L-W
Queen of the South: L-D-L-D-W-W
Biggest Home Win: 30/10/1926 Division Two Raith Rovers 7 Queen of the South 2
29/04/1967 Division Two Raith Rovers 7 Queen of the South 2
Biggest Away Win: 19/08/1967 League Cup Raith Rovers 2 Queen of the South 5
Top Goalscorers In All Competitions:
Raith Rovers: Ryan Conroy 9 | Christian Nadé 7 | Mark Stewart 5
Queen of the South: Derek Lyle 16 | Gavin Reilly 14 | Iain Russell 13
Raith Rovers: 14/5 | Queen of the South: 37/40 | Draw: 11/4