Dario the hero as Raith willpower wins hard-fought derby

East Fife 2 Raith Rovers 3

Tuesday, 2nd January 2018, 9:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd January 2018, 9:06 pm
Dario Zanatta celebrates after hitting the winner in the Fife derby. Pic: Walter Neilson, Fife Photo Agency.

The relief poured off the Raith Rovers players as they emerged one-by-one from the away dressing room after this hard-fought derby win at Bayview.

Every one of them knew they'd been pushed all the way by a mega-motivated East Fife side desperate to end a run of 30 years without a victory in this fixture.

Both teams played their part in an exciting match, but the real plaudits belong to Raith for once again grinding out three points from a tough away fixture.

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East Fife argued that the least they deserved was a draw. They were the width of the post away from getting one in the last minute.

That was a lucky break for the Kirkcaldy side, and Dario Zanatta's 79th minute winner even had a touch of fluke about it with a wicked deflection taking it over the line.

But to put this victory down to good fortune would be to ignore the grit and determination shown by the players to settle for anything less than the three points they required.

There is a willpower within the Rovers squad that is enabling them to win close games like this, and the one in Arbroath two weeks ago, and which is part of the team mentality moulded by boss Barry Smith and his coaching staff.

You need more than good players and full-time football to win games at this level, and if Raith can continue to show the same resilience as they did today, and use the ball better at times, it will stand them in good stead down the stretch in a title-race that looks likely to go to the wire.

Rovers completed the loan signing of Celtic youngster Regan Hendry on the morning of the match, but the 19-year-old midfielder had to settle for a place on the bench.

Goalkeeper Graeme Smith also signed a contract extension until the end of the season and he kept his place between the sticks in an unchanged starting 11 from the side that defeated Stranraer 3-0 on Saturday.

East Fife made a positive start, but Raith opened the scoring with a well worked move straight off the training pitch on the eight-minute mark.

It was like clockwork as Dave McKay stepped out of defence unchallenged, which triggered a forward run from midfield by Scott Robertson.

The pass instead went to Greig Spence, who in turn picked out the untracked Robertson, putting him in the clear behind the home defence, and although his shot was deflected into the air by the legs of goalkeeper Ryan Goodfellow, the ball looped backwards and bounced over the line.

East Fife responded well and deservedly levelled on 20 minutes with a goal that Raith will feel they could have defended better.

After an initial cross caused uncertainty in the away defence, Mark Lamont's returned ball found Kyle Wilkie completely unmarked, and he had the simple task of guiding a header into the far corner of the net from 10 yards.

Back came Raith, and within five minutes their lead was restored when Lewis Vaughan sent an inviting corner into a crowded six yard box, with Liam Buchanan appearing to get the final touch to take it over the line.

The rest of the first half remained closely fought until half-time with both sides looking lively enough in attack to suggest that more goals were likely.

Zanatta tested Goodfellow with a low effort from 18 yards two minutes after the break, but he almost gifted the hosts a way back with a short pass-back that had Smith scampering off his line, and only just reaching the ball ahead of Chris Duggan.

When Iain Davidson conceded a foul on the edge of the penalty box on 57 minutes there was a sense of inevitability about what was to follow, and sure enough, Scott Linton stepped up a curled an effort over the wall into the top corner for 2-2.

Having been pegged back twice, Raith would now need to dig deep to get the win they needed, and helped by vocal backing from a near 1000-strong travelling support, they surged towards the East Fife goal.

Buchanan should have restored the lead on 65 minutes but was denied by Goodfellow at point-blank range after being superbly picked out by Vaughan.

At the other end, Mark Docherty's deflected effort from 20 yards forced Smith to tip wide as the home side looked to get their noses in front.

With 20 minutes left, manager Smith made his one and only sub, replacing Buchanan with Jonny Court and it proved a well-timed move as Raith regained some initiative before grabbing the lead with 11 minutes left.

Pressure on the ball forced a mistake in the East Fife defence and in a desperate scramble to retrieve the situation, a defender could only deflect Zanatta's shot over the line, sparking wild celebrations in the away end.

Not for the first time in this campaign, the on-loan Hearts forward had made a telling contribution.

It was far from job done though, although Raith fans did not react too kindly to their team's time-wasting tactics in the corner flag in the 86th minute. Injury-time, fair enough, but at that stage, best to get the ball in the box and try to kill the game off.

Raith were almost punished as the game approached the 90th minute when home sub Ian Flanagan got half a yard of space on the edge of the box, and his low shot beat Smith, but rebounded off the inside of the post, rolled along the gaping goalmouth before being booted to safety.

In this instance, luck certainly played its part and Raith don't want to rely on it too much if they are to catch and overhaul league leaders Ayr.

The full-time whistle brought cheers from the travelling fans, and celebratory fist-pumps from the coaching staff and players in recognition of another hugely significant three points.

East Fife: Goodfellow, Dunsmore, Docherty (Mutch 85), Kane, Page, Lamont (Flanagan 86), Duggan, Wilkie, G.Hurst (Smith 45), Millar, Linton. Subs not used: M.Hurst, Reilly, Slattery.

Raith Rovers: Smith, Thomson, Murray, Spence, Robertson, Buchanan (Court 71), Vaughan, Matthews, Davidson, McKay, Zanatta. Subs not used: Lennox, Osei, Hendry, Watson, Berry, Bell.

Referee: Gavin Ross

Attendance: 1795