Raith Rovers do it the hard way in win over Brechin City

Liam Buchanan celebrates his winning goal against Brechin City. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Liam Buchanan celebrates his winning goal against Brechin City. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 3 Brechin City 2

Raith Rovers lived up to their reputation of making life difficult for themselves as they twice came from behind to eventually overcome relegation-threatened Brechin City in this penultimate league match at Stark's Park.

There was plenty to admire about Rovers' attacking play, with Kevin Nisbet again showing his quality with a brace that took him to 33 for the season, but if the team defends like this in the play-offs then there is virtually no chance of them making it to the Championship next season.

Despite playing at a good tempo and dominating the first half, Rovers went into the break level at 2-2 after conceding twice from corner kicks - both goals falling very much into the avoidable category just like the double conceded in Arbroath the previous week.

Conceding sloppy goals when on top of games has been the thorn in Rovers' side all season, and overcoming it will be the determining factor in the play-offs, because with Nisbet in this form, you wouldn't bet against Rovers finding the net at the other end.

John McGlynn named an unchanged 11 from the side that started the 2-2 draw with Arbroath last week, which meant returning trio Euan Murray, Grant Gillespie and Nat Wedderburn all had to settle for a place on the bench.

After a minute's applause for Billy McNeil, the game kicked off with Rovers turned around and shooting towards the away end in the first half, a clear tactic from former boss Barry Smith to upset the home tradition of shooting into the South Stand in the second half.

Rovers were on the front foot from the first whistle and Jamie Gullan almost struck a spectacular opener from the edge of the box but after jinking his way into space, his curling effort was clawed away from the top corner by 'keeper Graham Bowman.

Brechin's first real attack on 11 minutes produced a corner, from which they took the lead.

Callum Tapping's near post corner was met by Ross Matthews, but his poor clearance went straight back to the taker, whose second delivery was met by Ross Kavanagh at the near post and he turned it past Dean Lyness.

Rovers were behind but they were playing attractive, positive football - eight corners were won inside the opening 25 minutes - and finally the pressure paid off when Nisbet rose at the back post to send Craig McGuffie's cross back across goal and inside the post.

Again though, they lost a goal out nothing on 35 minutes to send themselves back to square one.

Another corner, this time Lyness flapped, the defence stood still, and Kavanagh glanced a header into the net from close range.

Lyness did not have a good afternoon coming for cross balls and Rovers will need their 'keeper to be much more commanding in the play-offs.

This time Rovers response was immediate as straight from kick-off, the ball was worked down the right with Dave McKay finding Nisbet in open stride, and the striker coolly slotted beyond Bowman from the edge of the area.

Nisbet's link-up play was as impressive as his finishing and after holding off two men, he laid off to McGuffie who curled an effort narrowly wide as Rovers ended the half pushing for a 3-2 lead, when had they defended properly, they would have been comfortably ahead.

McGlynn would have demanded better concentration in the second half, and for the most part Rovers defended better, albeit without showing the same attacking impetus as they had in the first 45.

Rovers made a rather uninspiring double change on 63 minutes with defensive players Wedderburn and Murray replacing Matthews and McKay, but with play-offs approaching, McGlynn was clearly keen to get both players minutes on the pitch.

Five minutes later a rather dull second half was finally brought to life when Liam Buchanan gathered a loose clearance on the edge of the box, adjusted himself quickly as the ball initially got stuck between his feet, and slammed a deadly finish beyond Bowman.

The goal forced a rather defensive Brechin side to come out more, and within a minute of falling behind the visitors were almost level when a cut-back from Kavanagh had the defence falling over each other before Calum Tapping shot over from a glorious position.

With spaces opening up, Raith got more joy going forward and after showing good acceleration, Gullan twice tried his luck from distance with goalkeeper Bowman coming out on top.

Nisbet, still chasing his first hat-trick of the season, also went for goal from 30 yards and was incredibly unlucky as his effort skidded wide off the outside of the post.

It wouldn't be a Raith match without a couple of scares before the end and a poor punch Lyness had to scrambled to safety.

A free-kick awarded against Wedderburn for picking the ball up claiming a foul had hearts in mouths in the 90th minute, but sub Samuel Jamieson's attempt was headed clear by Kyle Benedictus, who showed real determination to make it full-time as he continues to build his match fitness in his return from long-term injury.

There will be some exasperation at the continuing issues in defence, but the victory was an important one in terms of building confidence ahead of play-offs.

It also keeps alive Rovers' hopes of finishing second, with Forfar's win over Montrose keeping them one point ahead going into the final week of the season.