Raith Rovers 2 Dumbarton 1
Anyone visiting Stark’s Park for the first time on Saturday would have left this game wondering who the real Raith Rovers were.
You had the first half Rovers – confident, sharp and pleasing on the eye as they passed Dumbarton off the park for a fully deserved 2-0 half-time advantage.
Then you had the second half Rovers – sloppy, hesitant and frustrating to watch - a team that could barely string two passes together and that was very lucky to hold on for a 2-1 victory.
You have to give Dumbarton credit for their second half display, but for those who follow Raith regularly, this was the two sides to their team that they’ve come to love and loath in equal measure.
Saturday’s first half was an example of how good this team can be when the approach is right as Rovers pressed the opposition into mistakes, retained possession by building patiently from the back, and controlled the game by keeping the visitors on the back foot.
It’s a standard this squad ought to be capable of producing much more regularly, especially at home.
The second half, however, was a reminder of how ugly things can get when the team loses focus and direction, which is still happening too often, despite three wins on the bounce.
Nevertheless, this was an important three points, and for all that was wrong with the second 45 performance, it was certainly character-building as the team dug deep and held firm against a tide of pressure.
The confidence that back-to-back wins can bring was evident in the first half as, in front of a quietly expectant home crowd, Rovers produced their best football at home since the opening day of the season.
Stewart had already struck the inside of the post from six yards - he should have scored - before Rovers took the lead on 29 minutes from the penalty spot.
Anderson’s driving run into the box ended when he tripped over the out-stretched leg of a defender and referee McKendrick was well placed to award a penalty.
Conroy stepped up to despatch the spot kick into the side-netting with supreme confidence - Rovers have not had such a competent penalty taker for a number of years.
Within four minutes it was 2-0 as Elliot twisted his way to the by-line before chipping a cross to the back post that left Anderson with a simple header into a gaping net for a well-crafted goal.
How refreshing it was to see the Raith players given a half-time standing ovation from a home support that has booed them off the park more often than not this season.
Had Stewart put away a glaring chance at the start of the second half then a comfortable victory may have been sewn up, but after Scott played him clean through on goal, the striker steered his effort wide.
From then on, the visitors took control by pressing themselves further up the park and with Rovers wasteful on the break, and players who dictated the first half falling out of the game, the pressure was constant.
Manager Grant Murray tried to inject some new life into the Rovers line-up with three like-for-like substitutions, but this failed to have any impact on Dumbarton’s second half dominance.
The home fans started to turn - frustration in the stands only added to the mental breakdowns on the pitch - and the inevitable happened in the 81st minute as Rovers lead was halved.
McGurn could only parry Agnew’s long range effort and Megginson reacted quickest to bullet home the rebound.
Only a large slice of a luck prevented an equaliser in the Sons next attack as Megginson was presented with an almost identical opportunity, only this time he blasted the ball off the top of the crossbar.
Rovers were on the ropes as the match entered injury-time - and as everyone piled into the Raith box, Agnew swung a leg at a bouncing ball to send a volley towards the roof of the net, which McGurn somehow stopped before McKeown cleared off the line.
It was a match-winning save as the final whistle blew only seconds later, but had Rovers reacted more positively and swiftly to Dumbarton’s change of approach in the second half, it may never have come to that.
Still, with three successive wins under their belt, Raith are now showing some consistency of results, if not quite producing the complete performances.
There is an energy and steeliness to the team that was lacking before Christmas, and Saturday’s first half was hugely encouraging, but Rovers will struggle to sustain good form without learning from the mistakes that made the second half, and parts of the season so far, such a strenous experience.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Watson, Hill, McKeown; Anderson (McKay 86), Scott (Moon 73), Callachan, Conroy, Elliot, Stewart (Nade 80).
Not used: Vaughan, Barr, Fox, Cuthbert.
Dumbarton: Rogers, van Zanten, Graham, Mair, Linton (Taggart 77), Findlay, Agnew, Turner, Fleming, Megginson, Campbell. Not used: Nish, McCallum, Whitefield, Ewings.
Referee: John McKendrick