Falkirk 0 Raith Rovers 1
They rode their luck at times, and David McGurn had to produce his customary heroics in goal, but Raith Rovers dug deep to get the victory their season badly needed on Saturday.
It was a game that could have easily been lost, nonetheless, it was a crucial three points - arguably Rovers’ best result of the season so far - and one that few could have predicted given the contrasting form of the two sides.
With Falkirk on a five-game win streak compared to Rovers’ four-game losing skid, the visitors may have settled for a ship-steadying draw before kick-off, but once the game started, it was clear there was no huge gulf between the sides.
Falkirk had more clear cut chances and McGurn was the saviour of a Raith defence that struggled at times, but Rovers also had enough good play to trouble the on-form home side, suggesting that perhaps they are not as poor as their recent form suggests.
It was only Rovers second league win in 12 games, but you could say it’s been coming.
They were excellent in Dumbarton two weeks ago and extremely unlucky to lose, while certain aspects of the performance against Hibs last week could be admired.
However, results are all that matter and a win of any kind had become essential - not only to ease some of the pressure on manager Grant Murray, but also to put the brakes on the slide towards the relegation zone.
With some confidence restored, Rovers now need to show consistency going forward, and upcoming fixtures against the likes of Cowdenbeath, Alloa and Dumbarton should give them a chance to build on this result.
Murray made one change to the side that lost to Hibs the previous week - Christian Nade dropped to the bench after a lean spell in front of goal, and Calum Elliot was restored to the starting 11.
The recalled striker looked keen to impress and was involved early on as he went down in the box under a clumsy challenge from defender Peter Grant. Elliot claimed a penalty, but referee Andy Dallas was unmoved.
Rovers had made a positive start but it did not take long for the home side to expose the fragility in the away defence as in their first meaningful attack on 23 minutes, Blair Alston found space in the box and his powerful strike forced David McGurn into a diving save at his near post.
A minute later, comical Raith defending allowed the Bairns to break through again, as Rory McKeown’s stumble gifted Rory Loy a one-on-one with McGurn but the ‘keeper spread himself to brilliantly save with his foot. The rebound fell to Alston who could only steer it wide of the gaping goal.
That was a major let-off for Raith - these defensive mistakes have been punished in recent weeks - but they were the unlucky ones on the stroke of half-time as Ross Callachan’s long range effort took a wicked deflection and smacked off the post with Jamie McDonald beaten.
Falkirk came storming out the traps at the start of the second half and for 20 minutes they had Raith pinned inside their own half and struggling to keep possession.
Loy went close from 20 yards after Raith switched off at a quickly taken free-kick, while McGurn made a brave block at the feet of Grant as the hosts piled on the pressure.
Rovers rode the storm then rediscovered their attacking threat with McKay, who can disappear from games when the team is under pressure, re-emerging as the creative spark once Rovers regained a foothold.
Elliot may have done better than volley wide after latching onto David McCracken’s poor touch in the box, while Luke Leahy was inches away from putting the ball into his own net attempting to cut out a Jason Thomson cross.
Elliot then pinched the ball from McCracken in the 76th minute to set up Ryan Conroy but with just the ‘keeper to beat, the winger’s first time effort flew into the side-netting.
Falkirk should have punished that miss a minute later as Alston, unmarked just six yards out, somehow steered the ball wide from Leahy’s knockdown.
With play now racing from end-to-end the game would be decided on which team made their next chance count, and it was Raith who crucially got their noses in front with 11 minutes left, thanks to the delivery of the match.
McKay teased the Falkirk defence, creating space for the overlapping McKeown who drilled a delicious low cross to the back post where the inrushing Conroy fired it into the roof of the net.
A tiring Conroy had been seconds away from being replaced - the timing could not have been better - and it proved to be his last touch as he made way for Grant Anderson.
Desperate to hold on for victory, Rovers sat deep in the closing minutes and McGurn proved to be the difference between three points and one as he somehow reached back to claw the ball from his goal-line to prevent a Paul Watson own goal in the 85th minute.
The relief on Raith faces as the full-time whistle sounded was all too obvious - and it was a delight to see the pained expression removed from the face of Grant Murray in the post-match press conference.
He’s been a man under pressure in recent weeks, but with such a big win coming just days after Maurice Malpas was brought in as the club’s new director of football, perhaps the new year could prove to be the start of a new chapter for the Raith manager.
Falkirk: MacDonald, Duffie, McCracken, Taiwo (T.Grant 81), Alston, Sibbald, P. Grant, Leahy, Cooper (Smith 74), Biabi (Shepherd 58), Loy.
Not used: Shaughnessy, Dick, Maybury, Bowman.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, McKeown, Watson, Hill, Stewart (Nade 90), Elliot, Martin, Callachan, Conroy (Anderson 79), McKay.
Not used: Perry, Fox, Vaughan, Nade, Barr, Laidlaw.
Referee: Andy Dallas