Vital derby win after half-time hullabaloo

Christian Nade scores Raith's second goal against Cowdenbeath from a Calum Elliot cross. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Christian Nade scores Raith's second goal against Cowdenbeath from a Calum Elliot cross. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
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Raith Rovers 2 Cowdenbeath 1

They made heavy weather of it but Saturday’s derby win over Cowdenbeath was absolutely vital for Raith Rovers.

Not so much in terms of league position - win, lose or draw the Kirkcaldy men would have retained fifth place - but after no league wins in six, and a home support at the end of its tether, this was simply a must-win.

With almost a full squad to choose from, against a bottom of the table part-time side that lost four players to injury by half-time, there would have been serious concerns raised had the winless run been extended.

But in typical Rovers style, they did it the hard way, coming from a goal behind, and overcoming an intense half-time scalding from their own fans, to secure the three points against a spirited Cowdenbeath side.

It wasn’t a particularly impressive Raith performance - until Christian Nade came off the bench the team looked devoid of ideas - but it was certainly a brave second half fightback amid an unforgiving, and at times hostile Stark’s Park atmosphere.

The animosity at half-time was quite severe, mostly aimed at manager Grant Murray, who has faced criticism for his team selections and tactics, particularly for home games, in recent weeks.

On Saturday he went with the same 11 who produced a praiseworthy showing in the narrow 1-0 defeat at Tynecastle the previous week.

It meant one recognised striker, Calum Elliot, on the pitch, with a plethora of striking options, the likes of Nade, Mark Stewart and Lewis Vaughan among the substitutes.

You could argue that a home match against Cowdenbeath presented a different challenge from Hearts away and that Murray should have altered team to suit. It certainly looked that way for the first 55 minutes of the match.

But the manager’s explanation afterwards that his players had earned the right to keep the jersey also carries some weight, and in the end, his team won, so he wins the debate.

The victory spared the manager from facing the heat of the fans at full-time, and hopefully it can be the start of an improving relationship between the dug-out and the stands.

The atmosphere needs to be more positive for Rovers to flourish, however, only results and performances will determine that.

Most of Rovers problems at home throughout 2014 have been caused by conceding the first goal - and the bad habit continued on Saturday.

Cowdenbeath lost defender Jon Robertson to injury in the warm-up, Thomas O’Brien replacing him on the team sheet, and Raith started brightly enough with Jason Thomson firing narrowly over.

However, it quickly became apparant that Raith were set up too defensively, with the back four sitting too deep which allowed Cowdenbeath to push themselves up the park.

The visitors opening goal on 35 minutes was a prime example. A ball was cleared from the Cowdenbeath defence and picked up by Lewis Milne - in absolute acres of space between the Raith defence and midfield.

He was able to drive at the back four, who retreated back inside their own box, playing the ball to Craig Sutherland, who sprinted across the 18-yard line and set up Kudus Oyenuga, who steered a composed low finish past David McGurn.

A great finish from the on-loan Dundee United striker, but a goal caused by a hesitant defence with a starting position 10 yards too deep.

Rovers hadn’t created much in the first half, and the opening 10 minutes of the second were much the same, until, to great cheers from the support, Nade was brought on for Martin Scott, who hadn’t been able to influence the game in the number 10 role.

It was as if the players themselves had been waiting for the change as it gave them an instant injection of belief and within four minutes, Rovers were level.

A free-kick was only partially cleared to Kevin Moon - Rovers’ hardest worker on the day - and he cracked a stunning strike through a crowd and past Robbie Thomson for 1-1.

Rovers were now alive and with two strikers on the park - and the crowd now behind them - they looked a more assertive team and the game-winning goal duly arrived on 71 minutes.

Barrie McKay stepped in from the wing to make an incisive burst through the heart of the Cowdenbeath defence, laying the ball wide to Elliot who fired across goal for Nade to stab the ball into the net.

The relief was palpable, even more so five minutes later when a piledriver from Thomas O’Brien left David McGurn helpless but smacked back off the post.

The space afforded to the Cowdenbeath midfielder 30 yards from goal suggested that Rovers were again defending too deep.

Rovers missed chances to avoid a nervy ending with an overhit final pass the main culprit, and in the end, the home side were thankful for the final whistle.

With an important three points banked at least Rovers can now go forward with some positivity.

The push for the top four is still very much on ahead of Saturday’s six-pointer in Dumfries.

Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Watson, Perry, McKeown, Anderson, Moon, Fox, McKay, Elliot, Scott (Nade 54). Subs Not used: Hill, Stewart, Callachan, Conroy, Vaughan, Laidlaw.

Cowdenbeath: Thomson, Miller, Fraser, Wedderburn, Brett (Campbell 27), O’Brien, Marshall, Gallagher (Sutherland 15 - Kane 45), Milne, Oyenuga, Higgins. Subs not used: Jurisic, Sneddon, Scullion.

Referee: Brian Colvin

Attendance: 1779