Raith Rovers count cost of injury and suspension in defeat to Dumbarton
Raith Rovers 0 Dumbarton 2
Raith Rovers injury and suspension problems caught up with them as they lost their unbeaten home record to Dumbarton.
The Kirkcaldy side were without seven regular starters, including their first choice back four, as they fell to their fourth league defeat of the season, and their first at Stark's Park.
With Iain Davidson and Kyle Benedicus suspended after picking up needless red cards in consecutive weeks, adding to injuries to Steven Anderson and Michael Miller, it was an unrecognisable rearguard that started the match.
But for all their selection problems in defence, it was in the forward areas where Raith struggled most as, despite plenty possession, there was precious little penetration.
Jamie Gullan was the one who looked like he might provide a spark with some darting runs, while Regan Hendry constantly looked to create from midfield, but the supporting cast was lacking.
The players gave their all in difficult circumstances, but collectively, the team just didn't get going.
With three of the back four in unfamiliar roles - only centre-half Dave McKay was in his natural position - it was hardly surprising that the balance wasn't right, particularly in the full back positions.
Grant Anderson at right back and Jamie Watson at left back can hardly be blamed for appearing uncomfortable, while Kieran MacDonald may have had a solid game at centre-back, but his driving runs down the left were sorely missed.
This undoubtedly affected the team going forward as much as it did defensively, particularly down the left where Watson was often forced back onto his stronger right foot, leading to crosses from deep positions which were meat and drink to the Dumbarton defence.
Raith's one moment of attacking quality arrived on 28 minutes when a period of prolonged possession in the Dumbarton half ended with Hendry clipping a terrific ball in behind the defence for Tony Dingwall to race through and dink the goalkeeper onto the see the ball bounce back off the crossbar straight into Connor Brennan's arms.
Had that gone in - and the move certainly deserved a goal - then Raith could well have gone on to win this game, as they were controlling the play at the time, but the loss of the first goal six minutes later proved a turning point.
Connor Scullion found space in the box to cut-back for the unmarked Paul Crossan whose side-footed volley was deflected past Ross Munro by the unfortunate MacDonald.
If that was a setback for a makeshift home side, then Dumbarton's second goal five minutes before half-time was a fatal blow.
Missing their three most experienced centre-backs would always make Rovers vulnerable at set plays and so it proved as a free-kick from the right was played to the back post where Ryan McGeever had a clear run to power home a header.
That left the league leaders with a mountain to climb in the second half, and although the players never threw in the towel, constantly trying to push forward, there was a feeling that they could play all night without scoring.
With attacks constantly finding dead ends, glimpses of goal from open play were few and far between, but both John Baird and Kieron Bowie should have done better with close range headed opportunities from corner kicks.
Subs Lewis Allan, Joao Victoria and Jack Smith were introduced as the clock ticked down, but the visitors defended strongly, albeit far from desperately, to hold onto their clean sheet with Rovers left to count the cost of their own indiscipline of recent weeks.
The silver lining is that John McGlynn's men remain top of the table at the halfway stage on goal difference, with just one point separating the top four ahead of next week's hugely significant end of year derby at Bayview.
Given the constant upheaval - today being the most challenging situation yet - that has been no mean feat and suggests that there is a spirit and resilience in the Rovers squad that will stand them in good stead for the second half of the campaign.
To stay ahead in the race, however, they undoubtedly need fewer players sitting in the stand.