Pressure builds on Raith after defeat to Dumbarton

Kyle Benedictus challenges Christian Nade. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Kyle Benedictus challenges Christian Nade. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 1 Dumbarton 3

It was supposed to be the match where Raith Rovers got their season going again.

Instead, an utterly disheartening defeat to Dumbarton at Stark's Park only deepened concerns over the direction the club is currently heading in.

The spirited Scottish Cup performances against Hearts appeared to have restored confidence among the players, and built bridges between a frustrated support and a team without a win since October.

On both points, it's now back to square one with fans questioning, quite rightly, why a team that ran Hearts so close over two games, could be deservedly beaten at home by a part-time side, albeit one that continues to punch above its weight in the Championship.

Three games in six days, including extra-time, is tough on any team, but today was always the big one. It's no good performing against Premiership opposition when the pressure is off, then failing to turn up for a must-win league game.

There are good players, and good people, at the club but they need to show that they are up to the task. Hard work is only part of the answer - the right decisions need to be made on and off the park to save this sinking ship, before it's too late.

The only thing more miserable than the January weather was Raith's second half performance as they quickly allowed a 1-0 lead to turn into a 3-1 deficit - a complete capitulation that they never looked like recovering from.

Gary Locke's decision over the extent to which he should freshen up the side after the midweek cup exertions at Tynecastle was effectively made for him.

His hand was forced into two changes with Declan McManus (suspended) and Iain Davidson (injured) both ruled out, which meant a recall for captain Jason Thomson at right back and Ryan Hardie paired with Mark Stewart up front.

A third change - and the only unenforced one - saw midfielder Jordan Thompson drop to the bench and Chris Johnston return to the starting XI as Raith opted for a 4-4-2 with out and out wingers, the same system that has failed to produce a win since October.

Perseverance, it would seem, is getting Raith nowhere.

The warning signs were on display in an opening 10 minutes completely dominated by Dumbarton.

Kevin Cuthbert was called into two excellent early saves, firstly stooping low to his left to parry Robert Thomson's angled drive after just two minutes.

Thomson sent another effort wide, before Cuthbert was at full stretch to push Sam Santon's 20-yard effort behind for a corner.

Following a slow start, Raith grew into the game and after Ross Callachan had forced Alan Martin into an awkward save with a thunderbolt from distance, the hosts took the lead in somewhat controversial circumstances on 26 minutes.

Mark Stewart, by some distance Raith's brightest performer and hardest worker, barged defender Gregor Buchanan off the ball on the right wing. It was a borderline foul, but to Dumbarton's dismay referee Mat Northcroft waved play on and Stewart crossed to the near post where Hardie swept the ball past Martin for the opener.

Thereafter, the game drifted towards half-time with Raith doing more than enough to hold onto their lead, without threatening to increase it.

The half-time break failed to serve Locke's men well, as within 17 minutes of the restart, they'd lost the game.

Dumbarton's first goal came on 49 minutes as a simple cross from the left was met by Christian Nade, who out-muscled his marker to send a downward header towards goal, which bounced up and over the reach of Cuthbert.

It was time for the team to show what it was made of, but the response to the setback was weak.

On 56 minutes, Raith lost the ball high up the park, and were then slow to get back as Dumbarton broke in numbers, leaving Daniel Harvie with time and space to shoot from 20 yards. The ball seemed to take a nick off Thomson, wrong-footing Cuthbert on its way into the net.

Worse was to follow six minutes later as Andrew Stirling's low corner bounced straight along Raith's six-yard line to Gregor Buchanan at the back post who slammed home.

Raith were crumbling and it was painful to watch.

Their efforts to get back into the game included bringing Ryan Stevenson, Scott Roberts and Rudi Skacel off the bench, but apart from a Callachan effort deflected wide for a corner, and a few half chances, the team's fightback amounted to nothingness and the boos at the end were as justifiable as the midweek applause at Tynecastle.

The club is hurting and the pressure is building. Only positive results can resolve it.

February promises to be a make-or-break month.

Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson (Skacel 74), McHattie, Benedictus, M'voto, Callachan, Johnston (Stevenson 58), Matthews, B.Barr (Roberts 63), Hardie, Stewart. Not used: Brennan, Thompson, C.Barr, Bell.

Booked: McHattie

Dumbarton: Martin, Docherty, Buchanan, Carswell, R.Thomson, Stanton (McCrorie 81), Harvie, D.Barr, Smith, Stirling (Lang 86), Nade (Gallagher 63). Not used: Brown, Lang.

Booked: Carswell, Stirling.

Referee: Mat Northcroft

Attendance: 1413