Rovers sign off with a win
Raith Rovers all but secured first division football next season with a hard-fought and deserved 3-1 victory over Queen of the South at Stark’s Park this afternoon. It was also a result which relegated the Dumfries side to the Second Division.
If the match itself wasn’t one for the purist, it could nevertheless be described as one which characterised Rovers’ endeavours during the final quarter of this rather arduous season – dogged resilience in the face of adversity, with sufficient goalscoring threat to deliver a fourth consecutive season in this most competitive of leagues.
A healthier than normal home crowd enjoyed the spring sunshine, although it was the visitors who made the brighter start, and former Hearts star Allan Johnston registered the match’s first shot at goal after five minutes, although his effort drifted harmlessly wide of the target.
Rovers’ Jamie Walker was looking lively for the home side, and the youngster’s trickery ensured the visitors’ defence was kept on their toes. Walker, in fact, was instrumental in the move that led to Rovers opening the scoring after 15 minutes. Following a neat exchange of passes with Jason Thomson wide on the right, a deep cross found John Baird lurking in a dangerous position inside the Queens box. A quick pass found strike partner Brian Graham, who showed commendable composure to turn and sweep a shot into the far corner of the net from ten yards out.
It was the effortless finish of a striker clearly bristling with confidence following his hat-trick at Falkirk the week before.
The visitors, desperately needing to take something from the match to keep their faint survival hopes intact, pushed forward, and on 25 minutes a corner kick found the head of Sam Parkin. However, the big striker’s header sailed over the bar. Parkin was looking dangerous, and Queens sent a succession of crosses into the Rovers box. However, home keeper David McGurn defied the visitors time and again with impressive handling. The keeper had to look particularly alert, however, when Queens broke down the left wing, and Parkin’s header from a Johnston cross was tipped over the bar to safety by McGurn.
During the interval, a hearty cheer emanated from both ends of the ground when it was announced that Ayr United were trailing 1-0 against Dundee. Perhaps this was a factor in the lively start to the second half, and within one minute John Baird tried his luck with a shot that flew just wide.
A shot by Jamie Walker was blocked by the Queens keeper, before, on the 55-minute mark, Rovers doubled their advantage.
A misplaced pass from Johnston at the halfway line was pounced upon by the home side, and Jamie Walker carried the ball down the right wing at pace. His inviting low cross into the box was met by the on-rushing Graham and Baird, John’s first-time shot found the bottom corner of the net, giving the keeper no chance.
If Rovers thought the match was as good as won at that point, Gus MacPherson’s side had other ideas, and they had reduced the deficit to a single goal once more within five minutes. With an hour on the clock, a deep cross into the Rovers box was headed down, and Carmichael had the simplest of tasks in lifting a shot over the diving McGurn into the net.
Rovers immediately went on the offensive once more. A corner led to a stramash in the Queens box, before a Baird header and shot by Graham brought smart saves from Lee Robinson. Steven Black then replaced former Rovers striker Kevin Smith, as the visitors tried to haul themselves level. Allan Walker tried his luck with a free-kick from 30 yards out which failed to trouble the keeper, before, at the other end, his namesake Jamie made a superb blocking tackle inside the box to deny Queens an equaliser.
John McGlynn replaced the tiring Graham with Pat Clarke with 15 minutes remaining, before a shot from outside the box by Jamie Walker was deflected narrowly past the post with Robinson beaten. Baird then went on a mazy run which carried him past three defenders, although his shot was well saved by Robinson – the spoilsport! It would have been long remembered if John had hit the net.
As the minutes ticked away, the increasingly desperate Queens pushed for an equaliser, and McGurn had to make a fine point-blank diving save to keep them at bay. With five minutes remaining, Baird, who had produced yet another high-energy performance throughout, went down with cramp on the left touchline, forcing John McGlynn to make another change. Damien Casalunuovo replaced Baird, before Jamie Walker made way for Iain Williamson.
Although the visitors pushed for a second goal towards the end, it was Rovers who had the last word with a match-clinching third goal. Deep into injury time, Pat Clarke left Alan Reid for dead wide on the left wing, and carried the ball into the box, before finding the far corner of the net with a low shot.
As the Rovers players celebrated Clarke’s strike, a palpable sense of relief and joy swept through the Rovers faithful, in the knowledge that the play-off dates could be erased from the diaries after all. For those with sufficient reserves of fortitude for the final league match, the trip to Morton next Saturday was suddenly – and mercifully – a match of no real importance, and thank goodness for that. The sun shone brightly as the Rovers fans spilled out on to Pratt Street at the final whistle.
Raith: McGurn, Thomson, Murray, Hill, Dyer, Jamie Walker (Williamson 89), Allan Walker, Davidson, Hamill, Baird (Casalinuovo 84), Graham (Clarke 74).
Subs Not Used: Laidlaw, Stewart.
Queen of South: Robinson, Alan Reid (Black 81), McGuffie, Potter, Holt, Johnston (Orsi 77), McLaughlin, McKenna, Carmichael, Parkin, Smith (Reilly 64).
Subs Not Used: Atkinson, McShane.
Report Donald Ramsay, Pictures Tony Fimister
Photographs copyright Tony Fimister