Play-off defeat condemns Raith Rovers to another season in League One

Dejected Raith players applaud the travelling fans at full-time. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Dejected Raith players applaud the travelling fans at full-time. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Queen of the South 0 Raith Rovers 0 (3-1 on aggregate)

A goalless draw in the Championship play-off final second leg has condemned Raith Rovers to a third straight season in League One.

The damage was done in the first leg at Stark's Park, with a two-goal deficit to Queen of the South proving too much to recover from in the final game of the season.

Having been three down on Wednesday, a late Dave McKay goal had allowed Rovers to travel to Dumfries with a slight glimmer of hope, and a bright opening 15 minutes had 600 travelling fans believing a comeback was on.

But by full-time any promotion aspirations had long since been extinguished as Raith's encouraging start faded away, and for all the effort and endeavour, a lack of quality meant they never looked like getting the two goals they needed.

In fact, Rovers had to do more defending than attacking, and it took a top drawer performance from goalkeeper Dean Lyness and his defence to keep the home side at bay as Queens comfortably held onto their Championship status.

The inconsistency shown by Raith at League One level had suggested they were not good enough to earn promotion, and that ultimately proved to be the case against a side who were simply better over the two legs.

The challenge now for McGlynn is to ensure Rovers are better equipped to go up automatically next year - no easy feat in a division that will contain Falkirk as well as a number of ambitious part-time clubs with newly-promoted Clyde and Peterhead unlikely to just make up the numbers.

Twelve players from the current squad are under contract for next year, so any massive clear-out will require some negotiation, while investment in the squad is required, as well as some serious thinking in terms of the club's overall strategy.

Full-time football, part-time football, or a mix of both. These are key decisions that will shape the club's future.

Injuries have been a major factor, of that there is no doubt, but the club was under prepared for this season both in terms of the quality and depth of the squad and these are lessons that must be learned.

John McGlynn made three changes to the side that started the first leg with Jamie Barjonas taking the place of Nat Wedderburn, who was left out of the squad due to illness, Chris Duggan replacing Jamie Gullan in attack, and Craig McGuffie starting in place of Nathan Flanagan.

There was also a change of system as McGlynn reverted to a 4-4-2 formation having adopted a 3-5-2 in the three previous play-off ties.

A relentless start where they were first to everything was encouraging for the Kirkcaldy men, with Duggan proving a real handful for the Queens defence, as he had in the final eight minutes of the first leg.

In the fifth minute Ross Matthews stabbed a Kevin Nisbet knock-down over the bar, while six minutes later Duggan could only knock a Barjonas free-kick wide at full stretch.

The big chance arrived on 14 minutes as Euan Murray advanced from left back to head a crossfield ball into the box, where Duggan bulldozed past his marker to go one-on-one with Alan Martin, but the Queens 'keeper raced off his line to make a point-blank block.

Queens had barely been in the Raith half at this stage but Stephen Dobbie issued a reminder of their threat on 23 minutes when he collected a ball in space 25 yards out and rattled the post with a powerful low drive, the ricochet fortunately landing in the arms of Lyness.

A minute later Rovers fashioned another glorious opening as Murray ghosted to the by-line to send an inviting cut-back across the box that found no takers, despite plenty of yellow jerseys in the box.

Having managed to weather the early storm, Queens then settled into the game and by half-time they were the team in the ascendancy.

Connor Murray dragged a shot narrowly wide before Lyndon Dykes saw a goal-bound effort deflected over the bar by Kyle Benedictus - one of three occasions the Raith captain prevented a goal by being in the right place at the right time.

Lyness also made a good save down low to his right to deny Dobbie and prevent Queens from completely killing the tie before half-time.

With just 45 minutes left in their season, Rovers had to go for it in the second half, but for the most part they struggled to get out their half.

Rovers lost Callum Crane straight after the restart as the winger failed to recover from a first half knock, and his replacement, Flanagan, a player capable of turning a game off the bench, was unable to make his mark.

The service to Nisbet and Duggan completely dried up, and Raith were left to hang on for considerable periods of the second half.

Things may have been different had referee Nick Walsh deemed a high boot from defender Barry Maguire which appeared to catch Duggan in the head to have been worthy of a penalty - anywhere else on the park and it would have been blown for a foul.

Rovers looked out of ideas so it was no surprise to see another change, Gullan replacing McGuffie on 65 minutes, but within sixty seconds Lyness was called into action, a stunning one-handed stop denying Dundee-bound Josh Todd from finding the top corner from 16 yards.

Nisbet had been unusually subdued but having fed off scraps for the majority of the game, he was presented with a half chance on 68 minutes when Gullan's cross was allowed to bounce in the box but the ball just wouldn't drop quickly enough for the striker to get a clean shot away.

As the tie moved into its final 20 minutes it was time for Rovers to throw everything they had at Queens, but they had nothing left, and it was the home side who took full charge.

Dobbie was on a mission to get his goal, but he fired wide from good positions on three occasions, while Lyness clawed an effort away from the top corner.

Benedictus also made two brilliant goal-line clearances as Rovers showed the kind of desperation in defence that would have served them well in the first leg, indeed during the entire league campaign where clean sheets were like hens teeth.

Liam Buchanan was brought off the bench for the last 15 minutes and Murray was thrown up front in a last throw of the dice but to no avail.

Rovers best attempt in the closing stages was actually the last kick of the ball as Benedictus thumped a 20-yard volley narrowly wide, and with that, the referee's whistle brought their season to a deflating but not unexpected end.

The club's fans, who gave the team tremendous backing in defeat, deserve better next season.