Raith Rovers lament more poor defending in derby defeat

Lewis Allan rounds Jordan Hart to score Raith's opener. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Lewis Allan rounds Jordan Hart to score Raith's opener. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

East Fife 4 Raith Rovers 2

From a football perspective this Fife derby lived up to the billing, but for Raith Rovers this was just the same old frustrating story away from home.

The pattern of taking the lead, failing to hold onto it, conceding cheap goals and ultimately losing the game is all too familiar to the exasperated travelling supporters.

Three were shipped at Stranraer a fortnight ago, another four today. The fact it was against East Fife only deepens the disappointment.

The blustery wind made defending more difficult, but Raith can hardly blame the elements when it was the same for both sides.

The truth is John McGlynn's men simply have an appalling defensive record away from home, which has carried over from last season, leaving fed up fans to question whether this team will ever learn.

The manager and players appear equally as fed up by it but they are the only ones who can actually do something about it - and it's time they got their act together.

Whether it be through a change in tactics, personnel, or both, Rovers need to adopt a different identity on the road to gather the points they will need to mount a title challenge.

This game was in the palm of Rovers' hands in the early stages of the first half.

Having had a 10th minute lead gifted to them by a short pass-back from Russ Dunlop, which Lewis Allan did well to take advantage of, rounding goalkeeper Jordan Hart to score, the Kirkcaldy side should have kicked on from there.

With the wind at their backs, and East Fife on the ropes, there should have no issues with at least seeing the lead out to half-time, if not extending it.

Instead, they were fortunate - very fortunate - to go in at the break on level terms as the home side took control.

Time and again Rovers were exposed at the back, with East Fife cutting through the middle of the rearguard with ease in their first meaningful attack to equalise on the 20-minute mark, Ryan Wallace cutting the ball across goal for unmarked Anton Dowds to squeeze a finish beyond David McGurn.

Shortly afterwards Aaron Dunsmore burst through the defence to go one-on-one with McGurn but the 'keeper pulled off a blinder of a save from his close range volley.

East Fife went close again, as a ball over the top caught both defenders and McGurn hesitating, allowing Wallace to nip in between and head against the crossbar.

Rovers were being frustrated by an inconsistent refereeing performance from Craig Napier, with yellow cards seemingly reserved only for players in navy blue.

The whistler even appeared to smile in the direction of the travelling fans as he left the field at half-time to a chorus of boos.

The away side regained the initiative after the break, with Allan's glancing header forcing a save from Hart, and some promising moves only let down by the end product.

However, as in the first half, East Fife exposed Raith's soft centre in their first attack after the break, scoring from a corner despite Raith having all 11 players in the penalty box.

McGurn could only palm Agnew's delivery beyond the back post to an unmarked Wallace, who returned the ball to Higgins to slot home.

By the 65th minute it was 3-1 as another set-piece delivery from Agnew saw Wallace drift away from the defenders with ease to volley home from close range.

Rovers were now facing an uphill task and they lost Ross Matthews to a horrible facial injury with 20 minutes left, the midfielder suffering a dislocated jaw and fractured eye socket in a clash of heads in the middle of the park.

East Fife were comfortable on their lead but Rovers threw themselves a lifeline with five minutes left as substitute Dave McKay's ball to the back post fell to Jamie Gullan, whose low driven effort back across goal took a deflection and spun beyond Hart.

Rovers tried to set up a cavalry charge in the closing minutes and Spencer saw a goalbound effort blocked, but if Rovers needed a lesson in defending then East Fife gave it to them as they were first to all the loose balls in and around their penalty box.

And deep into injury-time, with numbers short at the back, Agnew found space to blast home the fourth and seal a deserved win for the hosts.

While the negativity among Rovers fans tonight will be understandable, the silver lining, if there is one after a derby defeat, is that Raith remain top of the table.

They are the best of the bunch after five games played, and considering how imperfect they have been, that tells you a lot about League One this season.

But unless Raith address their weakness away from home, they won't be holding onto that position for long.