EVERY season has its defining moment, and Raith Rovers might look back on Saturday’s 90th minute winner as theirs.
A horrid run of form, just one win in 10 league games, had effectively turned this home match against Dumbarton into a relegation six-pointer.
Such a scenario seemed unlikely at the turn of the year, when Raith were still in touch with the league leaders and looking to consolidate their position in the top four.
However, on Saturday, had results gone against them, Grant Murrray’s men could have dropped to second bottom. Such a circumstance demanded a big performance.
Anything other than the same attitude and application shown against Celtic would have been unacceptable. Most important of all, though, was the need to win.
Dumbarton’s remarkable change in fortune since Ian Murray took over, collecting 18 points from their previous eight games while scoring 20 goals, suggested a difficult match lay in prospect.
That certainly proved to be the case as the visitors twice equalised after falling behind, before Rovers conjured up the all-important winner.
The troubled Stark’s Park pitch had been heavily sanded during the week to allow the match to go-ahead, but considering the state of the surface, the teams produced some decent football.
Dumbarton should have taken a 13th minute lead but a stunning double save from the ever-reliable David McGurn somehow kept them out.
His first save to block Bryan Prunty’s close range effort was good enough, but he then got to his feet to get his body behind Mark Lamont’s powerfully struck rebound.
That save gave Rovers, who had startly poorly, a much-needed lift and on 20 minutes Pat Clarke burst through midfield before picking out Graham in the box.
The striker took his shot first time looking for the bottom left hand corner but Stephen Grindlay got down to tip the effort round post.
Rovers were unfortunate not to take the lead in the 27th minute as a low cross from Graham bobbled through Grant Anderson’s legs, before Clarke’s attempt was blocked by a defender.
Dumbarton’s front two were causing the Raith defence problems, particularly the physicality of Jim Litser. On 35 minutes, Laurie Ellis came off worst in a head clash with the big striker and left the field for stitches.
Two minutes later, Dumbarton took advantage of the extra space to pass their way into the Raith box and Prunty should have done better than blaze over from eight yards out.
Raith rolled their sleeves up and took the lead while still temporarily down to 10 men. Thomson swung over a cross that was helped onto Allan Walker at the back post.
The Raith captain kept a cool head, side-footing home a neat finish to give Rovers the lead, just as a bandaged Ellis re-emerged from the tunnel.
It was a lead Rovers should have held until the break, but a lapse in the second minute of injury time let Dumbarton in to equalise. Eddie Malone gifted away possession, and the visitors counter-attack was finished off by Prunty, whose low shot across McGurn was touched in by the far post.
Raith started the second half with renewed determination and took a 51st minute lead. Graham’s cross was only cleared to the edge of the box where Clarke steered a superb effort into the top corner.
Again, Rovers failed to consolidate their lead and five minutes later a long ball forward was flicked on to Prunty, who swept the ball home from six yards.
There was an understandable air of concern in the stadium knowing how vital the next goal was. Raith boss Murray went for it, replacing a midfielder, Joe Hamill, with a forward, Greig Spence.
And his team kicked the losing habit by showing a real will to win in the final minute, right-back Jason Thomson popping up in the centre forward position to set-up Graham for a typically cool finish.
It could just prove to be the turning point for Rovers’ season.