Defence impress as Raith break Arbroath record

Raith celebrate after Jason Thomson (left) put them 2-0 up. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Raith celebrate after Jason Thomson (left) put them 2-0 up. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 2 Arbroath 0

Raith Rovers finished the first quarter of the season five points clear at the top of League One after a solid 2-0 home win over Arbroath.

It was an important and significant victory for Barry Smith's men as they instantly bounced back from their first league defeat a fortnight ago, and in doing so ended the visitors' long unbeaten away record stretching back to September last year.

It was far from straightforward as Arbroath certainly put up a fight - as you would expect from any Dick Campbell side - but a steady performance front-to-back, and a sprinkling of Lewis Vaughan magic, was enough to earn a deserved victory.

Raith welcomed back Scott Robertson and Iain Davidson from injury, while there was another start for teenager Jamie Watson, who slotted in at right back for the second week in succession following his first senior start against St Mirren the previous week.

The 18-year-old hardly put a foot wrong in a sturdy showing and along with the recent contributions of Dave McKay and James Berry, the youngsters from Craig Easton's development squad are certainly stepping up to the mark.

In opting for five across midfield and Greig Spence as the lone striker, manager Smith adopted a similar shape to the one deployed with great success in the Irn-Bru Cup victory in Paisley the previous week, while perhaps also paying respect to Arbroath's formidable away form.

It meant Liam Buchanan had to settle for a place on the bench, but with Bobby Barr and Vaughan providing plenty support from the flanks, and John Herron doing likewise through the middle, Raith's attacking threat was far from diminished.

However, it was Arbroath who were on the front foot in the early exchanges, forcing a first minute corner kick which found Thomas O'Brien unmarked at the back post and his volley brought out a fine save from Graeme Smith at his near post.

There was controversy at the other end five minutes later as Vaughan prodded the ball past goalkeeper David Hutton only for Spence to race towards goal and touch it over the line from barely a yard out. However, the celebrations were cut short when a very late flag from the assistant referee signalled offside.

Most of the early play was in the opposite direction and Arbroath went close on 13 minutes when Ryan McCord knocked a ball across the six-yard line and a last ditch interception was required from Euan Murray to prevent a certain goal.

McCord, back on his old stomping ground, saw a goal-bound volley blocked on 16 minutes, then sixty seconds later, the woodwork came to Rovers' rescue as Danny Denholm met a McCord free-kick six yards out and smacked the bar.

After that let-off, Raith started to take more of a grip on proceedings, with Robertson, Ross Matthews and Herron beginning to pull the strings in midfield.

The home side were just looking for a spark, and not for the first time, it came from the irrepressible Vaughan on 32 minutes.

The little magician drifted in off the right wing to collect a pass from Iain Davidson, and after turning his man and making a bee-line for the box, he only had one thing in his mind as he took aim and sent a measured shot low into the bottom corner from 22 yards.

That's 17 goals in 16 games for the gifted 21-year-old, and most of them from the edge of the box, or further. He may be currently doing it at League One level, but he is easily Raith's brightest home-grown prospect since Colin Cameron, who went on to ply his trade in the English Premier League, as well as international level.

The goal gave Raith an extra spring in their step and Vaughan turned creator as the home side doubled their lead five minutes later.

His wicked corner kick delivery was met by the head of Jason Thomson, who glanced home his fourth goal in six games from six yards. The former captain is another player enjoying a purple patch as he made the switch to left back without the slightest impact on his game.

Now 2-0 down despite their decent start, Arbroath resorted to kicking everything that moved. The visitors had been frustrated by Davidson's aggressive, but effective defending throughout the first half and McCord picked up a booking for a late lunge of frustration on the Raith defender.

Vaughan was also the target for a thuggish challenge from Colin Hamilton that sparked a melee among both sets of players. Hamilton was booked, along with Davidson, who raced 30 yards to make his point to the offender.

Davidson had been a constant target of the small but loud band of Arbroath fans in the corner of Main Stand throughout the first half, and his 2-0 gesture as he walked down the tunnel only incensed them more as stewards moved in.

Raith initially started the second half as they finished the first as Thomson surged down the left and crossed for Vaughan who sent a cheeky flick towards goal that had Hutton scrambling as it landed on the roof of the net.

But with such a long and proud unbeaten away record on the line, Arbroath were never going to accept defeat and they threw caution to the wind, often leaving just one man back as they pushed bodies forward in search of a way back into the game.

However, they came up against a Rovers defence that simply refused to break, with Davidson and Murray excelling as a centre-back pairing, while goalkeeper Smith was there when called upon, diving to hold a McCord effort after the midfielder had engineered space for himself in the box.

While the defending was imperious, if there was any frustration with Raith's second half display it was that, given the number of opportunities to outnumber the visitors on the counter attack, they really ought to have added to their tally.

They did have their chances but a last-ditch tackle from O'Brien denied Spence a certain third while youngster Watson made a lung-bursting run from right back which ended with a thumping shot that Hutton parried at full stretch.

Matthews also let fly with a thunderbolt from 25 yards that the Arbroath 'keeper did well to glove over the bar, while another disallowed goal saw Murray denied, heading home Vaughan's corner after the linesman ruled it had drifted out of play.

Buchanan was introduced for the last 15 minutes and he came as close as anyone to scoring the third with great skill in the box taking him between two defenders before forcing a one-handed save from Hutton at his near post.

In the end, while scrappy at times, this was the required response to the defeat at Albion Rovers, with imperious defending, non-stop graft in midfield, and a touch of class up front earning a hard-fought three points.

Overall, with 22 points from a possible 27, and one of the best goals for and against records in the country, Raith can be hugely satisfied with their opening quarter of the season.

Maintaining it through the tough winter months will be the next test of this squad's title mettle.

Raith Rovers: G.Smith, Thomson, Watson (McKay 88) Herron, Murray, Spence (Buchanan 75), Robertson, Vaughan, Barr, Matthews, Davidson. Not used: Brian, Osei, Court, Zanatta, Berry.

Arbroath: Hutton, Gold, Hamilton, Little, O'Brien, Whatley, Swankie, Yule, McCord (Hester 66), Denholm, Linn (Skelly 82). Not used: Prunty, Henry, Trialist.

Referee: Barry Cook

Attendance: 1827