Pressure relief as Raith Rovers run out convincing winners over Montrose

Craig McGuffie sends a strike towards goal that deflected into the net to complete the scoring for Raith Rovers. Pic: Fife Photo AgencyCraig McGuffie sends a strike towards goal that deflected into the net to complete the scoring for Raith Rovers. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Craig McGuffie sends a strike towards goal that deflected into the net to complete the scoring for Raith Rovers. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Raith Rovers 4 Montrose 1

This was much better as Raith Rovers put a poor run of form behind them to run out convincing winners over Montrose.

The performance may have come a week late in terms of maintaining an interest in the title race, but it was important in order to regain a stronghold on a play-off position, at the same time as providing a much-needed lift for both players and supporters.

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Helped by an early goal, Raith played a more varied and attack-minded game than they had the previous week against Arbroath, mixing the passing game that has been a staple of John McGlynn's second spell at the club, with a more direct approach to attacking the opposition goal.

With Liam Buchanan brought back into the side, providing Kevin Nisbet with the strike partner he sorely lacked last week, the overall play was quicker, more positive, more productive, and more like the level of dominance Raith should be looking to exert more often in this division, particularly at home.

The one irk for John McGlynn will be that, despite a solid enough defensive performance, his team once again found a clean sheet elusive, albeit it is a far less costly tendency when you are scoring four at the other end.

"It was just a matter of winning today - but we won well, which is even more pleasing," McGlynn said.

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"It's a relief to get back to winning ways and we've done it in style with four goals, and it could have been more."

Iain Davidson handed the team a major boost by making an unexpected recovery from the back injury that forced him off at half-time last week to take his place at centre-half alongside Euan Murray, who was handed the captain's armband in place of the injured Kyle Benedictus.

There was further reshuffling in defence as Grant Gillespie moved from midfield to right back, while McGlynn continued the current trend of rotating his goalkeepers with Robbie Thomson swapping places with Dean Lyness, who dropped to the bench.

Keen to show a reaction from their defeat the previous week, Rovers started the match with fervor, winning two corners straight from kick-off before forcing the Montrose defence into a costly mistake in the second minute.

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Nisbet put Sean Dillon under pressure, forcing the defender to touch the ball away from outrushing goalkeeper Allan Fleming, whose momentum saw him clatter into the Raith striker, a collision that referee Mike Roncone deemed worthy of a penalty award.

Nisbet took the spot kick himself, and sent Fleming the wrong way to score his 22nd goal of the season.

The goal lifted a weight from the home side, and from Nisbet himself who looked more like himself, and Rovers continued to exert control throughout the opening 20 minutes with only the offside flag denying them clear sights of goal.

Montrose had a brief rally, during which Thomson made a good catch on his line from a Graham Webster header, but Raith quickly regained control, doubling their advantage just after the half hour mark.

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Nathan Flanagan, much more effective before being forced off in the second half with an injury, sent a cross to the back post where Nat Wedderburn showed great skill to do a spot of keepy-uppy before dinking the ball back across goal for Murray to bullet home a header.

It was the defender's fourth goal in eight games - his fifth of the season overall - which is his reward for the desire he shows whenever he attacks a ball, at both ends of the pitch.

Rovers should have taken a 3-0 lead into the half-time break but, with just the 'keeper to beat from inside the box, Nisbet blasted high over the bar from a Tony Dingwall cross, and a diving save from Thomson to keep out a Martin Rennie header at the other end ensured that miss was not punished.

There was no let-up from Raith at the start of the second half and they were rewarded with a third goal on 54 minutes. Dingwall motored down the left and his cross fell to Buchanan, who showed the required composure to roll the ball past Fleming, wrong-footing the goalkeeper at his near post.

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At this stage Montrose looked dead and buried but the visitors threw themselves a lifeline with a goal out of nothing in the 63rd minute.

Andrew Steeves picked the ball up in space 25 yards out, and was allowed to take one too many strides before sending a low shot beyond Thomson, who managed to get a glove on the ball but the power beat him.

Rovers shrugged off the minor setback and looked the more likely to add to their tally with Nisbet dashing between defenders to race clear through on goal only for Fleming to make the save.

The injury situation meant Raith only had one striker on the bench in the shape of Fife Elite Academy player, and current Kirkcaldy High School pupil, Kieron Bowie, and it was great to see the local teenager get a run-out for the final 10 minutes.

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He immediately had a hand in Rovers fourth goal with a lay-off which started the move that ended with fellow substitute Craig McGuffie scoring his first goal for the club, courtesy of a wicked deflection that saw his 18-yard effort loop over the head of Fleming into the net, although the Montrose goalkeeper did seem slow to react.

Rovers saw the game out comfortably in front of a little over 1100 home fans. It was only a pity that one of their lowest crowds of the season watched one of their best performances - but the team only has themselves to blame for that.

Now with a busy week of travelling ahead - Dumbarton on Tuesday and Stranraer next Saturday - Raith will look to build the momentum that has eluded them all season.