Commanding Raith display concludes pre-season diary

Lewis Vaughan on the ball for Raith Rovers (picture by Walter Neilson)
Lewis Vaughan on the ball for Raith Rovers (picture by Walter Neilson)

Raith Rovers 3, Dunfermline 0

Only the most foolhardy of football fan would lend too much credence to the result of a pre-season ‘kick-about’, whether good or bad.

But, after taking in Raith’s 3-0 win over Dunfermline, it was difficult not to think Barry Smith and his squad may be on to something for the season that lies ahead.

Yes, it was a meaningless friendly, and yes, Dunfermline’s performance wasn’t good, but Raith’s dominant, slick performance, allied with three goals – and fine ones at that – from Liam Buchanan, Lewis Vaughan and Ross Mathews, made for a satisfying conclusion to the pre-season programme.

Manager Smith remained grounded in Monday’s post-match comments but while the term “a lot of positives to take” is generally banded around in these moments, in this situation, they’d be 100 per cent accurate.

“The boys have put into practice what we’ve worked on in training and, while sometimes we don’t get it right, a lot of times we did. If you look at the two halves – in the first, we passed the ball well and got the two goals.

Then, in the second half, we had to be resilient, because Dunfermline are a good team.

“We rode the storm a bit and they got their reward at the end for all that hard work they put in by getting that third goal.”

“We want to progress and build on performances, and not all of them will be pretty; they’ll all be different. But there were definitely encouraging signs there, and we’re moving in the right direction.

“Dundee United will be a formidable team on Saturday. They’ve brought in new players and we’ve got to be ready for it. Dunfermline had a very good season last season, but we were ready for them. We won’t get carried away but we will build on it.”

Smith made two alterations from the weekend victory over Clyde, with Aaron Lennox dropping to the bench to make way for 18-year-old, Rory Brian, who was officially listed as a trialist, while James Berry stepped aside for Scott Robertson in the middle of the park.

It wasn’t the only switch in midfield, although the other was positional, with Lewis Vaughan swapping from the left flank to the right, with Bobby Barr moving in the opposite direction.

Despite being on the receiving end for much of the match, the Pars did start the game on the front foot. Joe Cardle delivered a low cross into the area which should really have been food and drink for the Raith defence, although a miscue allowed Ryan Williamson a clear view at goal. However, he could only shank his effort into the side netting.

Despite the ‘friendly’ nature of the match, some in the Raith support made it clear they hadn’t wished Jean Yves M’Voto a fond adieu after his Dunfermline switch over the summer, with some lusty booing delivered in his direction whenever he was near the ball.

Dunfermline had another good chance after 10 minutes, when Kallum Higginbotham’s cross from the right seemed ideal for M’Voto’s aerial ability, but he misjudged the timing of his leap and headed over the bar, albeit under pressure from Kyle Benedictus.

It was difficult to say whether it was because it was a Fife derby, or because the competitive stuff is so close, or maybe certain individuals just don’t like each other – but, for a challenge match, it was a fairly physical and full-bodied affair. Certainly, there were a few challenges that would have generated more admonitiont from the officials, had they occurred in a competitive environment.

Rovers were starting to look neat in possession, though, with Robertson dropping deep to take the ball and keep things ticking over. While it was impressive from back-to-middle, it tended to break down frustratingly in the final third. That tendency wouldn’t last long, however.

Rovers chiselled their first chance after 20 minutes, when Jason Thomson had time to launch a deep cross to the back post, allowing Barr’s to cause some consternation for Pars ‘keeper, Sean Murdoch, with a knock-down across goal, although Buchanan was just unable to turn it in at the opposite upright.

That was just a precursor to what was to follow, and Rovers took the lead in the 23rd minute, after some dreadful hesitancy in the Dunfermline defence.

Cardle was unwise to give the ball to Callum Morris on the edge of the area while under pressure but the defender should really have done better, as Barr took advantage, rolling the ball across box for Buchanan, who swept the ball home from inside the area for his second goal of the summer.

Raith doubled their advantage in the 31st minute with an excellent strike. A well-worked move involving Greig Spence, Thomson and Barr, eventually ended with the latter sending a cross into the area, which Vaughan hook-volleyed into the net from eight yards. It was another fine moment for a player who has impressed in pre-season but, as Smith pointed out after the game, Vaughan is combining skill with hard graft.

“We know how good a player Lewis is and he’s shown that since he come in. He’s got the bit between his teeth, because he wants to do well for Raith Rovers, and he’s getting that opportunity.

You look at him agaisnt Dunfermline – he’s a forward player but ,with 10 minutes remaining, he’s sprinting back to make a challenge on the edge of his own box, which shows his commitment. The whole team showed it, though, because they know what’s expected.”

The jeers from the away end at the sound of the half-time whistle told their own story, but there was no great turnaround in performance in the second period from the Pars. Other than some driving runs up the right from Williamson, they gained little traction against an obdurate Rovers defence, with Brian rarely troubled. His one save came from a Morris header midway through the half.

The second 45 minnutes were less incident-laden than the first but it still produced arguably the game’s best goal, as Ross Matthews, who was introduced as a substitute early in the second period, picked up the ball midway inside the Dunfermline half before rifling a humdinger past Murdoch and in off the inside of his right-hand post in the 82nd minute, to give the match a scoreline it probably merited.