Raith Rovers slump continues in defeat to champions elect Arbroath

Arbroath players celebrate Colin Hamilton's match-winning strike. Pic: Fife Photo AgencyArbroath players celebrate Colin Hamilton's match-winning strike. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Arbroath players celebrate Colin Hamilton's match-winning strike. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Raith Rovers 0 Arbroath 1

If Raith Rovers title hopes weren't already dead before yesterday's defeat to Arbroath, they certainly are now.

A blunt performance in a must-win match allowed the league leaders to open up a 16-point gap at the top of the table with just 12 games remaining.

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To put that in perspective, that is the same distance between the Kirkcaldy side and second bottom Stranraer.

Rovers managed just one attempt on target in the 90 minutes and for a team in the last chance saloon with regards automatic promotion that was desperately disappointing.

The visitors certainly made life difficult, parking the bus and defending in numbers, but Raith played straight into their hands with a performance that lacked inspiration, and a game-plan that simply didn't work.

The home side should have been throwing everything they had at the Arbroath goal, but Kevin Nisbet was the only recognised goalscorer on the park until the 70 minute mark, albeit options were thin on the ground due to injury.

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Rovers passed the ball to death at times, but this was a perfect example that possession does not win you football matches.

There was only one change from the side that lost to Hibs in the Scottish Cup with the recent goalkeeper rotation continuing as Dean Lyness replaced Robbie Thomson.

Raith fashioned the first chance after eight minutes as Callum Crane's cut back was controlled by Tony Dingwall, whose shot on the turn was on target and troubling Darren Jamieson before it was deflected over the bar.

It was a move that gave the home fans encouragement, but that was to be as good as it got.

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Finding space in and around the Arbroath box was proving a tough task, so there was frustration when on one of the few occasions Rovers got in behind, Nathan Flanagan appeared to pull out of a 50-50 challenge with the 'keeper.

Arbroath's tactic to frustrate Raith and hit on the break was rewarded in the 26th minute as they snatched the opener.

Bobby Linn collected a cross at the back post, and when his drive across goal was parried out by Lyness, left back Colin Hamilton stepped onto the ball and simply rolled it into the bottom corner from 18 yards.

It was a clever finish but the lack of pace on the shot, and the fact Lyness didn't move for it, would suggest the goalkeeper was unsighted.

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With their slender titles hopes on the line, Rovers had to show a spirited response but all they could muster before half-time was a long range effort from Flanagan that drifted harmlessly wide, and a header from Crane that was an easy save for Jamieson.

A quicker tempo and more direct approach was needed for the second half, but tactically, Raith didn't change much at all.

An enforced change was made, replacing the injured Iain Davidson with Craig McGuffie, and reshuffling the pack with Grant Gillespie moving to right back and Euan Murray to centre-back, but the formation stayed the same, and the goal threat remained non-existent.

With Nisbet, the focal point for Raith attacks, dropping deep to get any space on the ball, and neither Dingwall, Flanagan or McGuffie able to make much a telling contribution in the final third, the Arbroath defence were just too comfortable.

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Dingwall did manage to draw a save from Jamieson at his near post but the flag was up in any case, as it was when Nisbet got his only sight of goal in the entire game when he flashed a header wide from a Dingwall cross.

Liam Buchanan eventually came off the bench but Rovers had ran out of ideas. The performance was summed up in the final minute when Raith won a free-kick in the Arbroath half, a chance to send everyone forward, but Jamie Barjonas' delivery failed to make it over the 18-yard line.

Arbroath broke forward and a clumsy challenge from Kyle Benedictus saw the Rovers captain come off worse and he was stretchered off.

With both first choice centre-halves hurt, and two key strikers also out, Rovers are once again back in the injury mire.

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The biggest concern now for John McGlynn is addressing a slump in form that has resulted in just five points being collected from six games, and allowed fifth-placed Montrose, next week's visitors to Stark's Park, to close to within five points.

With the title now effectively decided, Raith's sole focus should be on ensuring they make it into the play-offs in decent form.

The time for 'good football' is over. If this team has a gritty side, it's time to show it.