Momentum stalls again as Raith Rovers lose in Montrose
Montrose 3 Raith Rovers 2
Just when it seemed Raith Rovers were beginning to gather momentum, defeat at Montrose has reapplied the brakes.
A run of three straight victories heading into this game, with some attractive football for good measure, had suggested the team was building steam in the pursuit of Arbroath.
But that notion now appears to have been over-hyped, as Raith again showed their flaws away from home with a poor result that leaves them trailing the league leaders by 13 points.
It may only be the first week of December, but the title procession is all but over.
Just like the recent losses in Forfar and Methil, it was the failure to compete in the second half, both physically and mentally, that proved their downfall.
That was after a fairly positive first half which suggested Raith could claim three points from Links Park.
For the third match in succession, Raith struck early as Daniel Armstrong fired them into a third minute lead, pouncing at the back post to sweep Nathan Flanagan's cross into the roof of the net as the wingers combined to devastating effect.
The lead lasted just seven minutes though as Montrose drew level through a stunning 30-yard free-kick from Martin Rennie.
With the angle and distance favouring a cross, the striker caught everyone by surprise by thumping the ball over the wall into the top corner, leaving Robbie Thomson with no chance.
Other than not conceding the foul, there was little Raith could have done to prevent the goal, but despite this setback, John McGlynn's men continued to press forward with Armstrong causing numerous problems for the home defence.
He burst between two defenders in the 18th minute only to see his goal-bound effort blocked, likewise Euan Murray with the follow-up.
A great chance was passed up in the 21st minute when Armstrong broke forward again with Kevin Nisbet in the clear to his left, however a combination of a delayed pass and the striker drifting offside meant the chance was gone.
There was a moment of controversy on 27 minutes when Ross Matthews crumpled to the deck off the ball, with referee Alan Newlands quick on the scene to brandish a yellow card at Montrose midfielder Paul Watson.
Matthews was clearly questioning the colour of card, gesturing that he had been elbowed, and.a half-time glance at the Raith TV footage showed that Watson was indeed lucky to stay on the park, having made a deliberate motion into the ribs of the Raith midfielder as they prepared to contest a throw-in.
Rovers remained on the front foot and a strong run by Flanagan ended with a pass to Liam Buchanan in space but the striker drove his effort over the bar from the edge of the box.
With Raith dominating the ball, the home side were not venturing up the park too often, but when they did, they carried a threat and five minutes before half-time, Thomson spilled a ball after being clattered by Rennie, but Nat Wedderburn was on hand to clear after Euan Henderson chipped the stranded keeper.
At half-time Raith would have felt the game was there's for the taking, but the home side had other ideas as the came flying out the traps with an energy and enthusiasm that the full-timers were unable to match.
Rovers were let off the hook just two minutes after the restart when a poorly defended free-kick saw the ball drop to Watson, and his looping effort over Thomson came crashing back off the underside of the bar, with Rennie putting the rebound into the net only to be flagged offside.
There was another warning for the away side on 56 minutes when right back Terry Masson found himself unmarked in the Raith box only to blaze over the bar.
Rovers had taken good care of the ball in the first half but now their passing had become wasteful, which combined with unconvincing defending was a recipe for disaster.
So it proved in the 59th minute as another free-kick to the back post was not defended, and Watson headed back across goal for the unmarked Craig Johnston to rush in and slam the ball into the net from six yards.
It took Raith 23 minutes of the second half to venture far enough up the park to win a corner, from which Buchanan forced Allan Fleming into a point-blank save after latching onto an Iain Davidson knock-down.
Rovers were needing inspiration and who else but Nisbet provided it on 73 minutes with a goal he had no right to score. Collecting a knock-down from Wedderburn with his back to goal, and tightly marked, 18 yards out, the striker swivelled to volley a sweet finish beyond Fleming, giving his side a lifeline.
At least, it should have but Rovers were the architects of their own downfall just six minutes later as they conceded again, this time from their own attacking free-kick.
A ball to the back post saw Davidson given a slight nudge in the back. Raith players turned their attentions to the referee to claim what would have been a soft penalty, meanwhile Montrose carried on and within seconds the ball was in the back of the visitors net, with sub Ross Campbell bundling Henderson's cross over the line.
The fact that Davidson, the player who had to pick himself off the ground in the Montrose box, was the last defender back chasing down the attack would lead you to question what the rest of the team were doing to prevent the goal.
Rovers had chances to snatch a draw - Nisbet rather wastefully blasted a free-kick from close range high over the bar, then did likewise after doing well to create space for himself in the box, while Murray planted a header straight into the arms of Fleming.
The damage had already been done, and for the third away game in four, Raith travelled back to Kirkcaldy with nothing. For a full-time team in a part-time league, these are poor returns.
The preceding weeks showed that there is clearly talent in this squad, but the combination of factors that have caused Raith to haemorrhage points on the road in this division over the past season and a half must be identified and addressed once and for all, or it will be a long time before this club plays Championship football again.