THERE is nothing quite like a 5-0 hiding to put the brakes on pre-season optimism.
After the encouraging displays against Sheffield United and Hibernian last week, Raith Rovers were brought crashing back to earth last night as Hearts ran riot at Stark’s Park.
The Tynecastle club lost a number of first team players this summer after falling into administration and arrived in Kirkcaldy with a young line-up that featured former Rovers loanees Jamie Walker and David Smith.
However, what the visitors lacked in experience they made up for in quality, although Rovers downfall was partly self-inflicted as individual errors in defence contributed to Hearts’ goal tally.
Grant Murray’s men actually played some decent football in spells, especially in the first half, and while the defending left a lot to be desired, there is certainly no need for any Rovers fans to panic.
Friendly games are little more than a fitness excercise, and results are almost irrelevant. Even Claude Anelka’s duds managed a pre-season draw with Dundee United back in the day!
Murray felt the match was a good learning experience for his new-look side.
“We created a few chances but lethal finishing showed in the end,” he said.
“There was a few individual errors out there and we’ve got to eradicate that, but Hearts played very well.
“When we had the ball they worked us hard, and didn’t give us many opportunities to move the ball about as we did in the last two games.
“It was a good lesson for us.”
Rovers team sheet included former Livingston defender Paul Watson at number four, the 22-year-old centre-back having put pen to paper on a one-year deal in the lead up to kick-off, but it was not the debut he would have hoped for as the Hearts rout got underway in the fifth minute.
A corner-kick created havoc in the Rovers box and after a few ricochets the ball broke kindly for Kevin McHattie to slam the ball into the net for the opener.
Rovers almost levelled in the 10th minute when Grant Anderson’s near post flick from a Joe Cardle corner brought out a superb one-handed save from Jamie MacDonald.
Hearts’ pace up front was causing Raith concern and after quarter of an hour rapid 19-year-old Billy King left Jason Thomson for dead before picking out Ryan Stevenson in the box, however the striker’s weak finish was straight at Ross Laidlaw.
At the other end, a looping header from Callum Elliot drifted narrowly wide in the 24th minute, while four minutes later, a blistering solo run from Joe Cardle ended with a cutback that eluded everyone, before Liam Fox’s powerful 18-yard drive was held by MacDonald.
Rovers were producing some eye-catching attacking moves and another one saw the impressive Fox send a low drive across goal that Elliot just failed to convert at the back post.
At this stage there were plenty positives for Rovers fans, but the loss of cheap goals either side of half-time put a dampner on proceedings.
Three minutes before the break, the impressive King showed Dougie Hill a clean pair of heels to unleash a powerful low shot from 16 yards that appeared to go through the hands of ‘keeper Laidlaw.
The Jambos scored again five minutes into the second half when a rusty looking Watson misjudged a bounce to let Walker run clear and slot home the third in front of the delighted travelling support.
Rovers could have pulled one back on the hour mark when Elliot’s clever dummy set up Kevin Moon for a clear shot on goal but the midfielder lost his footing at the crucial moment and missed the target.
At the other end, Raith’s defending again let them down as they conceded a fourth in the 70th minute. Laidlaw did well to parry a powerful Walker strike however Stevenson reacted quickest to stab home the rebound.
Both sides introduced a number of subs in the latter stages, with Raith boss Murray again giving a run-out to trialist striker Lewis Bonar as the 20-year-old looks to win a deal.
However, the Kirkcaldy’s side’s miserable night was complete in the final minute when Hearts sub Gary Oliver was left unmarked in the box to loop a header over Laidlaw.
Raith Rovers: Laidlaw, Thomson, Booth, Watson (Ellis 70), Hill, Fox, Anderson, Moon (Trialist 77), Spence (Smith 66), Elliot, Cardle (Callachan 54). Subs not used: Donaldson, Vaughan, Murray, Matthews, McGurn.
Hearts: MacDonald, Hamill, McHattie (Trialist 74), McKay, McGowan, Tapping, Stevenson. Robinson ( Oliver 85), B.King, Walker (A.King 85), Smith (Nicholson 78). Subs not used: Gordon.