Cove Rangers 2-0 Raith Rovers

Barry Smith refused to use his side's injury situation as an excuse for the 2-0 defeat.
Barry Smith refused to use his side's injury situation as an excuse for the 2-0 defeat.

There's no doubt that the gap between top Highland League sides and those in Leagues One and Two is nowhere near as wide as it used to be.

Cove Rangers are the reigning Highland champs, and have pushed Hearts, Inverness and Cowdenbeath all the way in their previous opening three Betfred Cup league games.

They're a tidy outfit, with some decent players, so their defeat of an injury hit Raith Rovers side wasn't a massive shock in the grand scheme of things.

But that doesn't, and shouldn't, mask what was an all round below par performance from the Kirkcaldy side.

The game meant nothing in terms of the cup, but gave Rovers a chance to go into the league opener with a spring in their step.

Instead they looked flat and failed to ever really lay a glove on their hosts.

It was frustrating given the standards set in both the Hearts and Inverness games.

Manager Barry Smith was given some relief from his pre-season injury woes and welcomed Chris Duggan back into the starting 11.

The former East Fife striker started the game well and looked to link up with his midfielders.

But, typically given Raith's luck at the moment, he broke down after barely 10 minutes and was replaced by Liam Buchanan.

By this point in the game Cove had already taken the lead, Daniel Park knocking home a rebound into an empty net after Mitch Megginson had hit the post.

There was still more than enough time for Raith to get back in the game but they failed to really ignite.

Instead it was the hosts who looked more likely to net next.

Blair Yule and Megginson both went close to making it 2-0 while Raith were too often guilty of wasting possession and failing to break down the home defence.

Euan Valentine replaced Ryan Stevenson at the break as Smith shuffled his pack - but they were almost undone from the kick off when Masson was afforded a free header inside the box which he failed to take advantage of.

Raith went into the game with injury problems, they had increased when Duggan needed to come off, and got even more serious when 'keeper Robbie Thomson pulled up.

He was replaced by young Sam McGuff but not before making an excellent stop from Megginson.

Cove wrapped up their win in the closing minutes when a through ball was caught up in the swirling wind and deceived the young goalie, allowing Masson to take advantage.

It was tough on the 'keeper, but he responded well and did enough to see Paul McManus's effort into the side netting.

Raith had a late chance to take a consolation goal back home with them when Buchanan was tripped in the box by Harry Milne.

Buchanan stepped up to take the spot kick himself but watched on in misery as his effort clipped the outside the post.

It summed up what was a frustrating afternoon all round for the side.

Boss Smith said: "After two very good performances prior to this game we thought we were going in the right direction.

"But that's given us a lot to think about going into the league season.

"Injuries are really hitting us sorely at the moment.

"We thought Chris was fully fit after coming off against Hearts and Robbie's was unexpected.

"It doesn't make things any easier but that is no excuse for our performance."