Locke hails best performance so far as Raith romp to victory in Falkirk

Mark Stewart celebrates the first of his two goals against Falkirk. Pic: Michael Gillen
Mark Stewart celebrates the first of his two goals against Falkirk. Pic: Michael Gillen

Falkirk 2 Raith Rovers 4

Raith Rovers put their recent inconsistency behind them to firmly state their promotion credentials with a thrilling victory at Falkirk Stadium this afternoon.

The Kirkcaldy side hit four goals on the road for the first time in three years to reclaim fourth place from the Bairns, who had gone into the match as the form side in the Championship after collecting 16 points from the previous 18 available.

After a lean spell in front of goal, manager Gary Locke handed Mark Stewart his first league start of the season, and it proved a pivotal decision as the striker grabbed two goals and set up another in a devastating performance against his former club.

Apart from a brief wobble in the first half - during which Falkirk were gifted an equaliser and would have taken a 2-1 lead but for the worst miss of the season - this was one the most impressive Raith performances in recent years at a venue that has proved notoriously tough.

"I'm over the moon," Locke said. "That's probably the best we've played. The first couple of minutes set the tone for the whole team performance."

In the opening minute, Stewart, clearly keen to prove a point, flew out the traps like a caged animal released into the wild, latching onto a hopeful ball forward to drive at the Bairns defence, and his near post shot was pushed behind by Danny Rogers.

From the corner, Rogers was called to make a more difficult save, stretching to his full reach to tip Jean-Yves M'voto header over the bar.

Raith continued their positive start and on 16 minutes, a surging run from Bobby Barr down the left saw his low cross fall to Ross Matthews, whose goal bound effort was deflected over the bar.

From the corner, Raith took the lead. Barr's delivery into the heart of the box wasn't cleared by the Falkirk defence, and the ball dropped kindly for Iain Davidson who hooked a left-foot effort through a crowd for a rare goal.

Falkirk levelled almost straight from the re-start - and it was a gift from the Rovers defence. A ball clipped into Raith box should have been cleared by M'voto, but he left it for Kevin Cuthbert, who hesitated, allowing John Baird to nip in and slot into the empty net and continue his remarkable scoring record against his former club.

Raith took some time to recover from the setback, and only a glaring miss from Mark Kerr prevented Falkirk taking the lead on 27 minutes.

M'voto slipped to let Bob McHugh through on goal and after Cuthbert made the initial save, the ball broke to Kerr in front of the empty net, but he somehow managed to mishit wide of the gaping target.

It was a key moment and this let-off allowed Raith to regain a foothold, with only a last-ditch block from Kerr preventing Stewart getting a clear shot on goal after he and McManus had sprinted the length of the park and swapped passes in a lightening counter attack.

Stewart clearly had the goal in his sights and the Bairns defence could only keep him out until the 37th minute as he pounced on a rebound to nod home from six yards, after Rogers had initially saved a close range header from Matthews.

Falkirk's defence had struggled to contain Raith's attacking verve in the first half, and they were ripped apart again two minutes after the restart as Stewart raced into the box, but with team mates queuing up to score, his pass was cut out by a defender.

We had seen the best and worst of M'voto in the first half, with the defender at fault for the goal while clearing everything else, but he recovered well and was a rock at the back throughout the second half as Falkirk threw bodies forward in search of an equaliser.

In doing so the hosts left themselves short at the back and Rovers were able to exploit the spaces with the pace of Barr, Stewart and McManus causing them all kinds of problems on the break.

Falkirk frustration spilled over on the hour mark as Peter Houston was sent to to stand after a furious exchange with referee Barry Cook, who had originally walked across to the Raith dug-out to give Locke an explanation for Kyle Benedictus' booking.

The hosts were roused and only a great block from Kevin McHattie denied another former Rover, James Craigen, at back post. The ball broke to fellow substitute Lee Miller but Cuthbert saved at point-blank as Raith just survived.

There was a big injury blow for Rovers on 70 minutes as winger Barr, one of the most consistent performers this season so far, tangled with Scott Shepherd near the touchline and fell clutching his knee. He looked in real pain as he was subbed off for Chris Johnston.

McManus and Stewart were going close on the break and they combined superbly to put Rovers 3-1 up on 72 minutes. McManus started and finished the move as he played Stewart wide, then raced into the box to smash Stewart's low cross past Rogers.

The two-goal cushion was quickly wiped out as, three minutes later, a ball to the back post was headed back across goal by Shepherd and Miller nodded home from six yards.

It was game on again, until Stewart struck for a second time with 11 minutes left, nicking the ball from defender David McCracken to race through, round Rogers, and slot home.

That allowed Raith to see out the game comfortably and secure a big three points that sets them up nicely for the BBC Alba clash at home to Queen of the South next week.