Livingston 0 Raith Rovers 1
Raith Rovers have given off mixed signals so far this season but after an away win and clean sheet against an on-form Livingston side, you can really begin to say that the Kirkcaldy side have had a good, if not excellent start to the season.
Three wins over the league’s part-timers came with a certain level of expectancy, as did the two defeats to Hearts and Rangers, but the manner of those losses were alarming enough to cancel out much of the good vibes from the victories.
Saturday was the first chance we’ve had to judge Rovers’ Championship credentials against a team of similar stature and with a budget, squad size and full-time status on a par with their own.
This match, more than any other thus far, would be a true indicator of Raith’s progress, and how far they have come from the horrors of the second half of last season, when even relegated Morton outperformed them.
Grant Murray has worked tirelessly to correct those failings and restore faith among the fans, but if he is to convince the doubters, his team will have to show that they can compete with, and take points from, the likes of Livingston.
And after a hard-fought 1-0 win at a venue where they have tradtionally struggled, it’s fair to say that Rovers, who sit just a point behind Rangers in third place after six games, are now starting to show signs of heading in the right direction under Murray.
There’s still lots to work on but Saturday’s performance was far removed from the debacle of recent 4-0 defeats.
Livingston enjoyed more possession, especially in the second half as they pushed for an equaliser, but Rovers’ grit and determination provided the foundation for the win while Ross Laidlaw had a fine game dealing mostly with long range shots and cross balls.
There were also moments of quality as Rovers carved out some good chances for themselves, and only a few excellent saves from Darren Jamieson - including a stunning penalty stop - prevented a more comfortable win in the end.
Changes to the starting 11 had the desired effect. Christian Nade and Calum Elliot brought a physical presence up front that Raith badly lacked against Rangers although the chemistry between the pair still looks to be ‘work in progress’.
Another key change was an enforced one as 35-year-old Laurie Ellis was drafted into the defence after Ross Perry picked up an injury in training.
The experienced player-coach has lost a yard (maybe two) of pace but he brought a measure of calm to a back four that had leaked 13 goals in four games.
The Perry/Watson partnership at the back has been unconvincing - both are still in their early 20s and perhaps not yet ready to command a back four. Maybe an older head is necessary while Dougie Hill and Craig Barr recover from long-term injury.
Rovers scored the game’s only goal after 18 minutes - Martin Scott breaking his duck for his new club against his old club with a sweet outside-of-the-boot finish from 12 yards - and he certainly enjoyed it.
He insisted afterwards however that there were no hard feelings behind his wild celebration in front of the Livingston fans and dug-out, describing John McGlynn as a ‘great guy’ - a sentiment most Raith fans would agree with.
The game was finely balanced when Elliot had a chance to strike a killer second blow early in the second half after Nade was brought down in the box, but his penalty was saved by Jamieson.
It’s strange that Ryan Conroy has been overlooked for penalty duties considering he his perfect record at Dundee - perhaps now he should be first in line.
That miss gave the home side a boost and Rovers were under the cosh for most of the second period.
However, Laidlaw and his defence handled everything Livvy threw at them and in the closing minutes, Rovers counter-attacked at will with debutant loan signing Barrie McKay giving the visiting fans a glimpse of his electric pace after coming on as sub.
Fellow sub Mark Stewart had two great chances to seal the win but couldn’t beat the impressive Jamieson. In the end, however, one goal was enough.
Livingston: Jamieson, Fordyce, Talbot, Sives, Jacobs, McKenna (Hippolyte 56), O’Brien, Robertson (Burchill 71), Jacobs, White, Glen (Ogleby 80). Not used: Beaumont, Mullen, Grant, Rutherford.
Raith Rovers: Laidlaw, Thomson, Watson, Ellis, McKeown, Fox, Conroy, Scott, Moon (McKay 61), Elliot (Stewart 74), Nade (Callachan 90). Not used: Anderson, Vaughan, Bates, McGurn.
Referee: Bobby Madden