Goal famished Raith outgunned in New Year derby

Ryan Stevenson made his Raith Rovers debut as a second half substitute in the Fife derby defeat to Dunfermline. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Ryan Stevenson made his Raith Rovers debut as a second half substitute in the Fife derby defeat to Dunfermline. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 0 Dunfermline 2

After finishing 2016 with respectable draws against the top two, Raith Rovers first step into the new year was a backwards one.

The goal famished Kirkcaldy side are now without a victory in seven matches - and have only scored twice in 10 and a half hours of football - after going down 2-0 to rivals Dunfermline in this afternoon's Fife derby at Stark's Park.

The first fixture of 2017 attracted a big crowd, but the home support were made to suffer as the west Fifers reclaimed bragging rights with the type of lively attacking display that Raith are currently crying out for, with only goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert preventing a heavier defeat.

While Raith started and finished this match badly, they had decent spells in between, huffing and puffing without ever looking like scoring, whereas the Pars were dangerous throughout with their superior link-up in the final third proving the key difference between the sides.

Gary Locke will hope his new additions can prompt a change in fortunes.

The Rovers boss bolstered his attacking options ahead of the match with the signings of two strikers - Ryan Hardie, on loan from Rangers, returning to Stark's Park after a successful spell in the second half of last season, and veteran Ryan Stevenson signing only an hour before kick-off following his release from Dumbarton

Resisting the temptation to throw them in from the start, Locke kept faith with Declan McManus and Rudi Skacel up front as the new arrivals took a seat on the bench.

With all the other Championship fixtures taking place on Hogmanay, Rovers knew that a win would take them above Falkirk and back into the top four, while a Pars win would see them climb three places from second bottom to sixth - and just four points behind their Fife rivals.

Rovers were slow out the traps - something you simply cannot afford to be in a local derby - and they were punished in the 11th minute, but not before Cuthbert had already made two stunning saves.

A Kevin McHattie foul right on the edge of the box on seven minutes presented dead ball specialist Kallum Higginbotham with a free-kick chance but his fierce drive was parried to safety by the Raith 'keeper.

Cuthbert made an even better save on 10 minutes - perhaps even a candidate for save of the season - as he somehow clawed a Lee Aschroft header off his line after Rovers left the centre-half unmarked from a Higginbotham cross.

Rovers did not heed the warnings though and from the resultant corner, again taken by star man Higginbotham, striker Nicky Clark took advantage of some sloppy marking to head home unchallenged from six yards.

The loss of the goal finally jolted Raith into action and helped by some positive running from wide men Bobby Barr and Chris Johnston, they seized control the game, pushing the Pars back until half-time without managing to breach their defence.

Rovers first glimpse of goal on 17 minutes saw Johnston weave his way towards the near post, where his attempted cut back took a couple of ricochets, looped into the air, and bounced off the back of the crossbar to safety. From the corner, Jason Thomson headed narrowly wide.

Three minutes later, McHattie made one of several first half forays into the Pars box, flashing an effort across goal that 'keeper Sean Murdoch tipped wide.

Rovers kept pressing but it wasn't until the 40th minute that the away goal was threatened again, with the offside flag denying Skacel his long-awaited first Raith goal as he hooked a close range effort into an empty net.

Raith left themselves short at the back as they chased an equaliser and Higginbotham fired wide from 20 yards on a Pars breakaway, however, the home side finished the half on top with McHattie flashing a 20-yard volley over the bar after good work by Barr in the last action before the break.

After a half-time pep talk from Locke, Raith made a positive start to the second half, winning two corners inside a minute and pinning the Pars back.

But it took an incredible miss to keep Rovers in the game as, on 55 minutes, a stunning back heel from Higginbotham caught out the Raith defence and left two Dunfermline players in the clear with just Cuthbert to beat. Clark took the shot and fired straight at the 'keeper from point blank range, much to Rovers' relief.

A minute later, large cheers from Raith support greeted the arrival of Hardie as he replaced Skacel up front, but the second half performance soon unravelled.

Several dead ball opportunities were played into the arms of the 'keeper, much to the frustration of the home support while, at the other end, only more wasteful finishing from Clark kept Raith in the game as a great touch from Michael Moffat put his strike partner in the clear, only to fire his effort wide.

Rovers went for broke on 70 minutes, replacing Johnston and McManus with Mark Stewart and Stevenson, but the anticipated late push for an equaliser failed to materialise as Dunfermline finally made one of their second half chances count to deliver the knock-out blow with 13 minutes left.

Higginbotham was again the creator as, after his corner kick was cleared back to him, he drilled a dangerous return ball to the back post where Ashcroft arrived late to bundle the ball over the line and spark wild celebrations in the away end.

Raith's afternoon was summed up when Ross Callachan and Jean-Yves M'voto collided in their own box to concede a corner - rendering the big defender injured but unable to be replaced as all subs had been used.

With M'voto hobbling, and Raith's spirit gone, it was now painful to watch for the home fans - indeed most left before the full-time whistle - with only a last-ditch clearance from Iain Davidson, and a couple of good saves from Cuthbert keeping the score at 0-2 as Pars attacked at will.

Rovers remain firmly in the fight for a top four finish but the desperation for three points is growing with every passing week.

With Falkirk next up, the games do not get any easier but with fresh options in attack, there is hope that Rovers can get their campaign back on track before it's too late.

Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, McHattie, M'voto, Davidson, Callachan, Johnston (Stewart 70), Thompson, Skacel (Hardie 57), McManus (Stevenson 70), B.Barr. Not used: Lennox, Roberts, Coustrain.

Booked: McManus, McHattie.

Dunfermline: Murdoch, Talbot, Ashcroft, Fordyce, Herron, Geggan, Wedderburn, Clark, Moffat (Reilly 90), McMullan (Cardle 89), Higginbotham. Not used: Hutton, Williamson, Paton, Duthie, El Alagui.

Booked: Higginbotham, Moffat, Talbot.

Referee: Don Robertson.

Attendance: 5899.