Raith earn huge three points in must-win match

Craig Barr celebrates after heading Raith into the lead against Morton. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Craig Barr celebrates after heading Raith into the lead against Morton. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 2 Morton 0

Raith Rovers have given themselves a fighting chance of avoiding relegation after securing a 2-0 win over Greenock Morton at Stark's Park.

The visitors hit the post three times but Rovers earned their luck in a richly deserved victory, one which extended the team's unbeaten home record under John Hughes to five matches.

All the fighting spirit you would expect from a team battling against the drop was on display, but just as important, the standard of football was an improvement on what has been offered in recent weeks, with the team's second goal just one example of several fine moves the team produced on the day.

Results elsewhere, with St Mirren and Dumbarton dropping points, meant Raith leapt out of the relegation zone from ninth to seventh, a huge psychological boost, but with all the teams packed tightly together at the bottom, all will be decided in the final three games.

Ross Matthews returned after missing the defeats to Falkirk and Dunfermline through injury and showed his understated worth to the team in an all-action display. His goal aside, his overall contribution in midfield was immense as almost every Morton player felt the force of a Matthews tackle.

His midfield partner was also outstanding as, between them, Matthews and Iain Davidson won every 50-50. The back four were solid, but every played played his part in earning a much needed clean sheet.

Jordan Thompson dropped to the bench in the only change from the side that lost the Fife derby at East End Park.

John Hughes lined the team up in a 4-2-3-1 system - the same formation used throughout most of last season to good effect by Ray McKinnon - with Ryan Hardie starting as the lone striker, again supported by three attacking midfielders, Rudi Skacel, Danny Handling and Chris Johnston.

Hughes felt his side were due some Lady Luck - and they got it with Morton hitting the woodwork three times - but make no mistake this was a deserved Rovers victory.

Throughout the game it was clear they were the hungrier side. It was pressure game for Raith - a must-win in every sense of the word - and the players delivered.

The game had barely started when Rovers escaped with their first left off as with five minutes on the clock, Ricky Lamie got his head to a Ross Forbes free-kick, and the ball spun wide off the outside of the post.

Raith went on to settle into the game and produced arguably their best piece of football since October in the 24th minute as a flowing one-touch move involving McHattie, Skacel and Handling ended with the latter firing wide from 22 yards.

The opener arrived three minutes later as Johnston's corner kick appeared to hold up in the wind, and Craig Barr typified the determination on display by making it his, charging through a crowd of bodies to head it over the line.

Morton tried to hit back but Rovers defence was firmly on top, and a full-bloodied tackle from McHattie set up a counter attack that saw Johnston's ball over the top find Hardie, and he cut inside the defender before firing a shot straight at Derek Gaston.

On the first half evidence, this was a very winnable match against a Morton side who are not currently playing like a top four side.

But Hughes' men had another let-off just after the break when Jamie McDonagh skinned McHattie and cut back for Kudus Oyenuga, who hit the post from just six yards out.

Raith made the most of their good fortune by forging into a two-goal lead on the hour mark.

The introduction of Bobby Barr from the bench proved crucial, as the winger's first touch teed up Jason Thomson, whose perfect cut-back was slammed home by Matthews from 10 yards.

Raith had the bit firmly between their teeth and looked more likely to add to their tally than suffer any late setback, but they again had the woodwork to thank with 15 minutes left when substitute John Scullion's superb 25-yard free-kick cannoned off the inside of the post.

The full-time whistle brought large cheers from the 1500 home fans. There have been times when they have feared the worst, but with this performance, the team has given them reason to believe again.

Raith Rovers: Penksa, Thomson, McHattie, M'voto, Johnston (B.Barr 57), Matthews, Davidson, Skacel, Handling (Stewart 79), Hardie (McManus 63), C.Barr. Not used: Brennan, Court, Benedictus, Thompson.

Booked: McHattie, Matthews

Morton: Gaston, Kilday, Lamie, O'Ware, Oliver (Shankland 77), Forbes, Oyenuga, Lindsay (Tidser 70), Nesbitt, McDonagh, Murdoch (Scullion 63). Not used: McGowan, Doyle, Tidser,, Russell, Donnelly.

Referee: Alan Newlands.

Attendance: 1720.