Raith Rovers 2 Livingston 0
Raith Rovers delivered a fitting tribute to club stalwart Ally Gourlay at Stark’s Park this afternoon as they claimed their first home win since October to climb back into the Championship top four.
An emotional pre-match memorial - which included a playlist of Ally’s favourite songs, interviews with former players and close friends, and a minute’s applause - was followed by a hard-working 2-0 victory over a relegation threatened Livingston side.
Gordon Arthur, First Division Championship winning goalkeeper from the 1990s, said Ally “epitomised everything about Raith Rovers” while Hall of Fame inductee Tom Houston said “he knew every player and every stat” and was “the greatest friend you could ever meet”.
Ally, who was the club’s media officer and chairman of the Former Players Association, fought courageously against cancer until his death two weeks ago, and was an inspirational figure at Stark’s Park and beyond.
The teams were led out by Ally’s sons, Matthew and Jonny, and in the post-match media briefing Rovers manager Ray McKinnon dedicated the win to Ally and his family.
“It was all about the result today, not the performance, especially with the occasion for Ally,” McKinnon said.
“It’s well documented how I feel about Ally and how much we miss him around the club, and myself personally. We certainly are dedicating that win to him and his family.
“I don’t think we were brilliant by an stretch of the imagination, but we scored two goals and we’ll take the victory.”
McKinnon faced a selection dilemma in the build-up to the match with three key defenders suspended, but his decision to hand Craig Barr his first start of the season despite being “miles” short of match fitness was vindicated as the centre-back played his part in a clean sheet.
The whole back four were excellent, the midfield put in a shift, while up front, a goal and an assist capped an impressive performance from a rejuvenated Mark Stewart.
The deserving man of the match award, chosen by Ally’s sons, went to Aidan Connolly, who scored his first goal for the club since joining from Dundee United, and who was the team’s main creative spark throughout his 82 minutes on the park.
Rovers had a lot of uninspiring possession in the opening exchanges as they kept the ball without really hurting a Livingston defence that held Hibs to a goalless draw the previous weekend.
There was a warning for Rovers on 20 minutes when a neat lay-off from Jordan White found teed up Sam Stanton in space at the edge of the area but the midfielder drilled wide.
A minute later, only a last ditch tackle from Darren Cole prevented Connolly from going on-on-one with Livi ‘keeper Marc McCallum. A fraction later and the defender would have conceded a penalty.
With half an hour gone Raith were still struggling to make inroads with too many forward passes not finding the man.
However, an incisive move almost delivered the breakthrough on 31 minutes as Harry Panayiotou dropped deep to pick up possession, played a one-two with Connolly, then fired an effort off the underside of bar from 22 yards.
With efforts like this, the on-loan Leicester City striker’s first goal cannot be far away.
Raith’s opener arrived on 37 minutes and it was a gift from the Livi defence as defender Cole overhit a pass back to the outrushing McCallum, presenting the razor sharp Stewart with an empty net.
There was almost an immediate equaliser for Livi as White ghosted in behind the defence and tried to lob the advancing Kevin Cuthbert who reached up to make a clawing save just inside his box.
On the balance of play, Raith just about deserved their half-time lead, which they doubled with a piercing start to the second half.
Superb set-up work from Stewart saw him outmuscle his marker to reach the by-line and his low cross put the ball on a plate for Connolly at knock home at the back post.
Raith lost control of the match for a spell as Livi tried to mount a fightback and when Craig Halkett burst forward from defence, only a combination of desperate last ditch defending and point-blank goalkeeping from Cuthbert kept the ball out.
Livi’s spell of pressure also saw White denied a clear shot by Rory McKeown’s last ditch tackle, while the striker also dragged an 18-yard effort narrowly wide.
Raith introduced new Rangers loan signing Ryan Hardie from the bench with 20 minutes to go and he quickly got stuck into the action, only just losing a race to a through ball with Livi keeper McCallum.
A Livi goal would have made for a jittery finish but, in the end, Raith saw out time fairly comfortably to claim an overdue win, an important three points in the race for fourth place, and most of all, a victory for Ally.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Barr, Davidson, McKeown, Callachan, Robertson, Craigen, Panayiotou (Hardie 70), Connolly (Anderson 82), Stewart. Not used: Matthews, McCord, Court, Mackie, Law.
Livingston: McCallum, Halkett, Cole, Gordon, Kakay, Mullin (Sheerin 81), Pittman (Mullen 57), Fotheringham, Stanton, White, Buchanan (Telfer 68). Not used: Currie, Glen, Longridge, Quinn.
Referee: Willie Collum