Queens expose Raith’s top four credentials

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Raith Rovers play-off credentials were put to the test in Dumfries on Saturday night, but on this evidence they should be more concerned about staying ahead of the teams below them.

If Queen of the South are setting the standard in the race for fourth spot then Rovers are slipping some way below it as they were beaten by a better team on the night.

While the hosts displayed the solid defending and lively forward play you might expect from a team sitting third in the Championship, by contrast Rovers were disorganised at the back, with both centre-halves AWOL for the goals, and just too plain and predictable in possession.

It was the same uninspiring stuff that we’ve seen for most of 2014 from the Kirkcaldy side, who are now seven points behind the Doonhamers and, perhaps more importantly, just one point ahead of sixth-placed Falkirk.

And with only one win in their last eight league games, unless things improve, it will only be a matter of time before Rovers are leap-frogged by the Bairns.

With Raith looking to close the gap on those above them the onus was really on the away side to take the match to the hosts, similar to the manner in which Queens approached the previous game at Stark’s Park in October.

However, the tone was set inside two minutes as centre-half Paul Watson kicked off a poor individual display with a needless foul on the edge of the box after he tried to shield the ball out for a goal kick instead of completing a simple clearance.

From the resultant free-kick, Queens almost produced a well-worked opener as Ian McShane slid the ball into the box for Chris Higgins to shoot but defender Rory McKeown managed to block on the line.

The ball was only cleared back to McShane, who forced McGurn into a superb diving save as he clipped a curling effort towards the top corner of the net.

Queens had started with more energy and purpose and they were almost rewarded in the seventh minute when Gavin Reilly got in behind a dozing defence only to shoot straight at McGurn.

The opener was only delayed until the 22nd minute as a high punt up the park from the goalkeeper was misjudged by Watson, and John Baird got the break of the ball to turn and drive for goal.

There should have been an instant recognition of the danger from Ross Perry and Rory McKeown - the two defenders between Baird and the goal - particularly since the wee man had already scored against his former club this season.

Instead, they both backed off, effectively inviting Baird to shoot, which he was only too glad to do as he sent a powerful low drive past McGurn from the edge of the area.

The question is, how many more goals like this will Rovers lose before they learn to shut down the space at the edge of their area?

While both sides enjoyed decent spells of possesion the real difference was in the final third of the pitch as Raith struggled to create openings against a firm defence, while Queens always carried a threat.

Only a last ditch Jason Thomson tackle prevented Baird from grabbing his second after the break, while poor marking at a corner was lucky to go unpunished as Mark Durnan headed down into the ground and over the bar.

The early second half introduction of Mark Stewart in place of an out of sorts Calum Elliot brought some much needed pace to the Raith attack and he was unlucky to see a near post effort bounce back off the post after he sped past his marker into the box.

Grant Anderson should have done better than side-foot the rebound high and wide of the target. That was the only time Rovers came close to scoring in the 90 minutes.

Queens reacted to this scare by bringing on Derek Lyle for a tiring Baird, a change which helped the home side regain the impetus with only a stunning double-save from McGurn denying the hosts a second goal.

Reilly’s low strike was parried by the Raith ‘keeper who got to his feet super-quick to brilliantly block Iain Russell’s rebound, with the defence, in contrast, slow to react.

However, there was nothing McGurn could do to prevent Queens putting the result beyond doubt in the 79th minute as nobody picked up Lyle from a throw-in on the right.

The substitute was able to turn into acres of space, and steer a low cross into the feet of Reilly who fired home via the underside of the bar. A free cross to a striker six yards out, centre of the goal, unmarked - that’s unacceptable at any level.

McGurn’s furious reaction to those in front of him was fully justfied.

Grant Murray responded with a double change, Martin Scott and Ryan Conroy for Liam Fox and Grant Anderson, but that was too little, too late and, in the end, this goes down as another disappointing defeat.

Rovers are simply not performing well enough either individually or as a team at the moment, although with so many injury problems this season it seems as though the manager is still searching for his best 11.

With most players now returning to the fold, and plenty options in the squad, Rovers will hope to find that winning formula sooner rather than later.

Queen of the South: Clark, Dowie, Durnan, Higgins, Holt, Carmichael (Kidd 85), Kerr, McShane, Russell, Baird (Lyle 71), Reilly. Not used: Dzierzawski, Atkinson, Hooper, Kiltie, Pickard.

Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Watson, Perry, McKeown, Anderson (Conroy 84), Moon, Fox (Scott 84), McKay, Elliot (Stewart 50), Nade. Subs not used: Hill, Callachan, Vaughan, Laidlaw.

Referee: Stephen Finnie

Attendance: 1597