Cowdenbeath 0 Raith Rovers 1
If last week’s victory in Falkirk put the emergency brakes on Raith Rovers’ slide down the table, then Saturday’s second successive win and clean sheet got them moving in the right direction again.
After steadying the ship with a fantastic three points away to the on-form Bairns, it was vital that Rovers followed up with another good result in the New Year derby against local rivals Cowdenbeath.
That would be easier said than done, of course. While the part-timers are struggling against relegation they recently picked up an impressive win in Dumfries, and after a few days heavy rain, the Central Park pitch was in poor condition.
But the confidence gained from the win in Falkirk was evident as Rovers bossed the game for long spells, and defended much better than of late, albeit against a home side that offered little going forward.
The match appeared to be heading towards a goalless draw, which would have been enough to maintain at least some positive momentum, but would have also been a frustrating outcome for the Kirkcaldy side given the balance of play.
So there was a great deal of satisfaction among the Rovers ranks when substitute Christian Nade headed home a deserved winner two minutes from time to seal the team’s first back-to-back league wins since August.
As well as creating a buffer to the sides below them, the two victories, coupled with the arrival of Maurice Malpas as director of football, have helped to relieve an immense pressure from the shoulders of Grant Murray.
Whatever your feelings on the manager, you cannot help but be impressed by the way he and his players have fought back from all the recent criticism with two huge results away from home.
Murray was forced into one change with Barrie McKay calling off sick, which meant a recall to the starting line-up for Grant Anderson, who will have done his hopes of retaining his place no harm with a wholehearted display.
There were good performances throughout the Raith side - Ross Callachan continued to impress in midfield, David McGurn was again there when called upon, while we also saw glimpses of the Calum Elliot of old.
Rovers star man on the day, though, was skipper Jason Thomson, who led by example.
Whether putting his body on the line in defence or driving the team forward down the right flank, his all-action performance was exactly what Rovers needed from their captain.
There was little between the sides in the opening 20 minutes as both looked to get off to a good start.
Sean Higgins found space at the edge of the Raith box on 17 minutes but fired a volley straight at McGurn, while at the other end, Ryan Conroy delivered some great balls into the danger area but Rovers couldn’t take advantage.
Rovers slowly started to exert control on proceedings and Rory McKeown was first to test Cowdenbeath ‘keeper Robbie Thomson on 23 minutes with a powerful 30-yard effort that required a diving save at the expense of a corner.
Rovers were inches away from a 31st minute lead when Thomson lofted a free-kick into box, which was cleared to Dougie Hill on the 18-yard line, and the defender hit a stunning first time volley that flew just wide.
Raith were then cruelly denied a wonderful team goal on 38 minutes by the offside flag.
Elliot’s delightful back-heel bamboozled two opponents and sent Thomson racing towards the box, and although he slipped in Mark Stewart to clip the ball past the advancing ‘keeper, the flag was up and celebrations were cut short.
It looked the correct decision.
Still though, it was a flowing move to warm the toes of the 900 travelling Rovers fans, who showed their approval by stamping their frozen feet on the wooden floor of the enclosure as temperatures plummeted.
Play became more scrappy in the second half with fewer passes finding their target as the pitch continued to cut up, but Rovers maintained the upper hand in terms of possession and attempts on goal.
Callachan fired a 20-yard shot wide on 55 minutes, then just a few minutes later, Anderson’s low effort grazed the outside of the near post after cutting in from the right wing.
Cowdenbeath showed their threat on 63 minutes when Lewis Milne’s ball across goal made it through to Jon Robertson at the back stick, but McGurn did well to block his effort.
Rovers were almost gifted an opener on 76 minutes as Anderson fizzed a cross into the box and Nat Wedderburn’s wild swipe only diverted the ball on target, and Thomson had to make a fingertip save.
Frustration was beginning to set in among the travelling fans as Rovers’ grip on the match loosened, but the introduction of Nade for a tiring Elliot with 13 minutes left breathed new life into side.
While Rovers were pushing for the winner, there was also a genuine fear that the match could yet be lost as the home side again hit the visitors with a dangerous break with nine minutes left.
Hill was left one-on-one with sub Craig Sutherland, who roasted the Raith defender for pace, but from a narrow angle, his shot was parried by McGurn and, fortunately, the rebound fell to Paul Watson who booted clear.
Raith responded with five minutes left as Callachan burst into space and clipped a ball onto head of Stewart, whose terrific looping header looked in all the way, only to drop the wrong side of the post.
A 0-0 draw looked on the cards until the breakthrough finally arrived in the 88th minute as Callachan pounced on a poor touch from Robertson to release Stewart down the left, who sent a deep cross to the back post to the unmarked Nade.
The Frenchman still had plenty to do but kept his composure to plant a powerful downward header past Thomson, sealing the points, and his fifth goal of the season in the process.
After a difficult end to the year, things are now looking up for Raith, but until this team produces good performances and results on a more consistent basis, particularly on home soil, questions will remain.
A new face or two in January might just provide the answers.
Cowdenbeath: Thomson, Wedderburn, Brownlie, Miller, Halsman, Campbell (Hughes 80), O’Brien, Robertson, Milne (Sutherland 80), Marshall, Higgins. Not used: Kane, Johnston, Lynas, Sneddon, Scullion.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, McKeown, Watson, Hill, Callachan, Anderson, Scott, Conroy, Elliot (Nade 77), Stewart. Not used: Perry, Fox, Moon, Vaughan, Barr, Laidlaw.
Referee: Don Robertson