Raith Rovers win to stay top despite sixth red card of season

Dylan Tait (right) celebrates after firing Raith in front against Peterhead. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Dylan Tait (right) celebrates after firing Raith in front against Peterhead. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 2 Peterhead 1

A sixth red card in just 12 weeks of football failed to prevent Raith Rovers from collecting a deserved three points at home to Peterhead.

First half goals from Dylan Tait and Jamie Gullan, either side of a Derek Lyle equaliser, secured a fourth victory over Jim McInally's men at Stark's Park this season.

Defender Dave McKay's red card - the third Raith player to sent off by referee Gavin Ross this season - came with 11 minutes left and meant the home side had to hang on for a victory that should have been in the bag by half-time.

The visitors had goalkeeper Greg Fleming to thank for keeping them in the game in the first half with a string of top drawer saves, including a Regan Hendry penalty stop which prevented the hosts taking a 3-1 lead.

Only one of the eight players who missed the win over East Fife returned with Ross Matthews taking his place on the bench - otherwise John McGlynn named an unchanged side.

The performance of youngster Tait was one of the highlights of the derby win, and the 18-year-old midfielder picked up where he left off by firing Raith into an ninth minute lead with a terrific 25-yard strike that took a slight deflection as it looped over Fleming into the net.

His goal aside, this was another eye-catching display from the teenager, with both his ability and work-rate making a significant impact on the game.

Rovers suffered a setback just two minutes later as Peterhead equalised through veteran Lyle, who steered a low first-time finish beyond a wrong-footed Ross Munro after the home side had been too slow to close down the danger down the right.

The response from Raith was to take an even firmer grip on the game with some positive attacking football.

Fantastic wing play from Kieran MacDonald saw the left back deliver to the near post where John Baird's flick drew a point-blank save from Fleming.

Rovers got themselves back in front just two minutes later when defender Jason Brown misread a bounce, allowing Grant Anderson to run in behind and deliver the perfect ball across goal for Gullan to slam home his ninth of the season.

The on-loan Hibs striker flies to Spain on Monday to join up with his parent club and it remains to be seen whether he will return to Stark's Park for the remainder of the campaign.

Gullan's goal and overall performance was just another reminder of his importance to the Kirkcaldy club's title push. His return could be make-or-break.

Blue Toon goalkeeper Fleming was all that stood between Rovers and a comfortable half-time scoreline.

He made a brilliant double-save on the half hour, first denying Anderson after Tait's pass had sent the forward in the clear, then quickly getting back to his feet to push away Hendry's powerful low strike from the edge of the box.

His next stop from Baird will be a contender for save of the season as the stopper somehow kept out a powerful diving header from Jamie Watson's cross at close range.

Watson was another youngster who impressed, the 20-year-old gaining in confidence from his recent game time and showing himself to be a steady performer despite falling to third choice right-back earlier in the campaign.

A push in the back of Baird from Paddy Boyle saw referee Ross award Rovers a penalty four minutes before the break, but Fleming denied them again, diving to his left to turn Hendry's well-struck penalty past the post.

Peterhead changed shape at the interval and while Rovers were not as effective going forward in the second half, they still had good control of the game, and just after the hour mark Baird went close with a chipped effort that landed on the roof of the net with Fleming scrambling.

Rovers were rarely in danger but with 11 minutes left, McKay challenged for a ball that he was never going to win, and referee Ross, having handed the centre-half a soft booking early in the match, raced over to brandish a second yellow.

With no defenders on the bench due to injury and suspension, a tactical reshuffle was required, with Ross Matthews replacing Baird and slotting into right-back, with Watson moving to left back, and MacDonald into the middle.

Munro's save from the resultant free-kick, diving down low to his left to push away Ryan Conroy's dangerous effort, ensured Rovers didn't suffer double punishment, but it took the woodwork to spare Rovers two minutes later as Lyle's header from a corner struck the crossbar.

Once again Rovers finished a match with a makeshift defence, but the team-work was there for all to see as all the players, including the three subs, rolled their sleeves up and prevented Peterhead from making the extra man count.

The number of hurdles Rovers are managing to overcome, some self-inflicted, to stay ahead in the title race is admirable, and character-building to say the least, but they certainly aren't doing anything the easy way this season.