Derby defeat compounds relegation worries

Dunfermline's Andy Geggan and Raith's Chris Johnston.
Dunfermline's Andy Geggan and Raith's Chris Johnston.

Dunfermline 1 Raith Rovers 0

Raith Rovers' relegation worries were compounded by the failure to claim local bragging rights in today's 1-0 defeat at Dunfermline.

A poor Fife derby was settled by a penalty kick as a clumsy trip from Jason Thomson on Paul McMullan was punished by Kallum Higginbotham, who produced a rare piece of skill and composure to coolly chip home the 48th minute spot kick.

After a reasonable first half display where they missed the better of the chances, the loss of the opener so quickly after the break came as a hammer blow to Raith, whose comeback attempts were completely rudderless, and lacking in any conviction.

Dunfermline were not much better, but Raith are beating themselves. The team are going to have to find it within themselves to deliver much better in the final four games, or League One beckons.

"If we had scored first it might have gave us something to hold onto," said manager John Hughes.

"To put so much into the game and lose it to a soft penalty, you feel for the boys and the supporters.

"But we never really looked like we could go and get the equaliser, the reason being we're not passing it properly.

"We're playing hope-it-happens football rather than make-it-happen football."

Rovers went into the match knowing that defeat could send them bottom of the Championship, but while results elsewhere spared them from that fate, the Kirkcaldy side could still fall into the relegation play-off position on Tuesday night if St Mirren win their game in hand away to Morton.

As kick-off approached a number of tracksuited Raith players took their seats in front of the press box - Mark Stewart, Kevin Cuthbert, Ross Matthews, Kyle Benedictus, Scott Robertson - all players who, if fit, would have make the squad stronger. Ross Callachan too, who was absent with a season-ending broken arm.

With changes required and options limited, Hughes turned to Rudi Skacel, giving the 37-year-old a rare start, and a chance to finally deliver on the promises made when he was signed, but despite having more attempts on goal than any other Raith player, his most telling contribution was missing a first half sitter.

There was also a first start for recent loan signing Danny Handling, who showed enough good touches to suggest he can be a difference maker if he can get up to the level of match fitness required after spending two years battling injury. The 90 minutes will have helped.

Club captain Thomson returned to right back after missing the defeat at Falkirk. Dropping to the bench was Declan McManus, who paid the price for his lack of goals, while Benedictus and Callachan dropped out the squad with injuries.

The first chance of the game fell to Ryan Hardie on 13 minutes, who pounced on a poor touch from Callum Morris to race clean through. Hardie had the pace and finishing prowess to make the chance count, but the striker seemed to hesitate, which allowed the defender to make his recovery.

Five minutes later, Hardie was involved again as he latched onto a superb low cross from Kevin McHattie at the near post but, from a tight angle, he was unable to divert his attempt on target as the ball drifted beyond the far post.

Dunfermline were struggling to create anything of note, but Pavol Penksa almost gifted them a chance on 26 minutes when he took an age to deal with a passback, allowing Michael Moffat to make a block, but fortunately for the 'keeper, the ball spun just out of play.

Raith came close from a Chris Johnston corner, Jean-Yves M'voto narrowly missing the ball with his head just six yards out, and as the ball broke to Skacel, his goal bound effort was blocked.

The chance of the game arrived four minutes before half-time as Johnston sent a free-kick into the Dunfermline box, which found Skacel completely unmarked six yards out, but the Czech failed to connect properly and 'keeper Sean Murdoch was relieved to gather the ball.

It proved a costly miss as just three minutes after the restart, Pars winger McMullan ghosted in behind Thomson, who made the fatal mistake of getting tangled up with the player, who hit the deck, and referee Andrew Dallas pointed to the spot.

Dunfermline's remarkable record of missing penalties this season gave Raith hope that the gift would be squandered, but Higginbotham was coolness personified as he fooled Penksa with a clipped Panenka effort.

A feature of Raith's slide towards the bottom of the table has been their inability to respond to falling behind, and this was again evident as they struggled to produce cohesive attacks, with only several good saves from Penksa preventing Dunfermline from a more comfortable win.

The Slovakian had to be alert to tip over a header from Andy Geggan, while he also denied Nicky Clark with a free header from six yards, although the striker should have scored.

Skacel tried to hit back but after charging down Jason Talbot's clearance, his attempt from 20 yards lacked sufficient power to trouble Murdoch.

Ref Dallas refused to even up the penalty count on 70 minutes when Thomson fell in the box under a Talbot challenge. There certainly appeared to be contact, but Thomson's slightly belated fall may have swayed the officials against him.

When Murdoch spilled a ball after winning a race with Hardie, it gave Skacel a chance to create an opening, but with the 'keeper out of position, he wastefully chipped the ball straight into his grateful arms.

Penksa then made his best save of the game with 15 minutes left, stopping Clarke's close range effort with his legs before quickly getting to his feet to smother the loose ball to keep his team in the game.

Rovers fans had chanted substitute Bobby Barr's name throughout the second half and they got their wish with 15 minutes left as the winger replaced Jordan Thompson. An earlier change may have been more effective.

Regular U20s scorer Jonny Court was also introduced with four minutes left, but Rovers were unable to create a chance in the closing stages. They were barely even able to huff and puff as Dunfermline kept them firmly at arms length.

There is no doubting the severity of the position Raith find themselves in, but their fate is still in their own hands. Whether that is a cause for optimism remains to seen.

Dunfermline Athletic: Murdoch, Geggan (c), Morris, Ashcroft, Talbot, Higginbotham, Wedderburn, McCabe, McMullan (Cardle 89), Moffat, Clark. Not used: Williamson, Paton, Reilly, Martin, Spence, Gill (GK).

Booked: Talbot (64), Higginbotham (67), Wedderburn (84).

Raith Rovers: Penska, Thomson, Mvoto, C.Barr, McHattie, Skacel (Court 86), Davidson, Thompson (B.Barr 78), Johnston, Handling, Hardie. Not used: McManus, Roberts, McKay, Brennan (GK).

Booked: Thomson (15), Skacel (73), C Barr (75), Davidson (90).

Referee: Andrew Dallas

Attendance: 4865