Raith Rovers cling onto top spot after tough win over wasteful Clyde

Raith Rovers 1 Clyde 0
Steven MacLean turns home Dan Armstrong's cross to seal Raith Rovers' win over Clyde. Pic: Fife Photo AgencySteven MacLean turns home Dan Armstrong's cross to seal Raith Rovers' win over Clyde. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Steven MacLean turns home Dan Armstrong's cross to seal Raith Rovers' win over Clyde. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

If title-chasing teams sometimes need luck on their side, then Raith Rovers used some of their allowance at home to Clyde this afternoon.

For the majority of the first half, John McGlynn's men were not at the races and could consider themselves fortunate to stay on level terms thanks to wasteful finishing from the visitors, as well as a kind deflection off the woodwork.

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The second half performance was an improvement, particularly after the introduction of substitutes Dan Armstrong, Brad Spencer and Tony Dingwall, who changed the game and paved the way for Steven MacLean's winning goal - his first for the club - with 12 minutes left.

Armstrong in particular made a significant impact, stretching the game and delivering the cross for the all-important winner in a display reminiscent of his first spell at the club last season, when he terrified League One defences with his skill and pace.

If this form can be replicated during the championship run-in, then the 22-year-old winger has a major role to play.

MATCH BLOG: Raith Rovers 1 Clyde 0: As it happenedEven then, Raith relied on goalkeeper Robbie Thomson to get them out of jail in the final minute with a wonder save, but this knack of digging deep and grinding out results is continuing to stand the Kirkcaldy side in good stead.

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The awful weather - with a strong, bitterly cold wind interspersed with rain and snow showers - made for difficult playing conditions, but Danny Lennon's side brushed that aside to dominate the opening half hour.

While Rovers passes were constantly going astray, Clyde were getting the ball into good areas only to fail to take advantage.

They should have led on eight minutes, but Ross Cunningham blazed over the bar with the goal at his mercy.

The Bully Wee came close again on 24 minutes when Iain Davidson was heavy with a pass back and Thomson's rushed clearance fell to Chris McStay, who cracked an effort towards goal that took a deflection before crashing to safety off the junction between post and bar.

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Cunningham skied another good opening over the bar, before Rovers finally put together a cohesive attack that ended with MacLean picking out John Baird at the edge of the box, but the striker's side-foot effort flashed wide.

If Rovers led a charmed life in the first half, then the second was more about hard work and endeavour as they fought to get on top of the game.

The attacking threat was still lacking though and Clyde went close again with Ally Love firing narrowly wide before Cunningham again found himself in a clear shooting position, hitting the target this time but his shot lacked the power to beat Thomson.

McGlynn recognised the need for changes and made two in a minute as the hour mark approached, withdrawing teenagers Dylan Tait and Kieron Bowie, and bringing on Spencer and Armstrong.

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Both youngsters have been immense in recent weeks, but the difference was notable as Spencer helped secure a firmer grip on midfield, while Armstrong provided the width Rovers had been crying out for.

The arrival of Tony Dingwall in place of Baird with 20 minutes left gave Rovers another new dimension in the final third, and his combination with Armstrong proved the key to unlocking the Clyde defence on 78 minutes.

Dingwall cleverly drifted into space to collect a throw-in, before spraying a pinpoint pass to his fellow replacement on the right side of the box.

Having earlier cut inside onto his left-foot and tested David Mitchell with a long-range shot, this time Armstrong hit the byline and drilled a low ball across the face of goal that found MacLean lurking at the far post and he showed the composure you would expect from a man of his experience to turn it into the net with minimal fuss.

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The goal burst the tension around Stark's Park and only good goalkeeping from Mitchell preventing Dave McKay from doubling Rovers' lead as he overlapped Armstrong to burst into the box before firing a low effort that the 'keeper blocked with his legs.

Dingwall also went close after turning on a sixpence to create space for a shot on the edge of the box that Mitchell parried at full stretch.

The scoreline was harsh on Clyde - who deserved a point for their first half attacking and their second half defending - and they would have earned one in the 90th minute had it not been for a moment of outstanding goalkeeping.

David Goodwillie had been a threat throughout and he turned Kyle Benedictus inside-out, leaving the Raith captain on his backside in the box, before pulling the ball back for the onrushing John Rankin to hit the target from 16 yards.

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It seemed certain the net would ripple but Thomson flew across his line like a superhero to make the block that kept Rovers top of the table.

The cheers at full-time were extra loud as the 'keeper made his way down the tunnel - a rewarding moment for all the hard work in his recovery from long-term injury - but this victory also owed much to the strength on the bench.

By all accounts, Falkirk were equally fortunate in their 1-0 win over Montrose, which saw their top scorer Declan McManus red carded for handball on the goal-line with the subsequent penalty saved.

The end result is Raith's one point lead maintained at the top of League One with another fixture crossed off.

Rovers now travel to Dumbarton next Saturday, while the Bairns travel to Clyde, before the crunch meeting of the top two at Stark's Park a week on Tuesday.