Alloa Athletic 0 Raith Rovers 0
Raith Rovers winning run came to a somewhat tedious end with a scrappy goalless draw in Alloa on Saturday.
But while there was understandable disappointment with a performance that failed to live up to recent standards, there was still reason for glasses to be half full as the Kirkcaldy side left a notoriously tough venue with a hard fought point.
The quality of football matched the poor state of the Indodrill Stadium pitch - unfit for purpose when compared to the artificial surfaces at Dumfries and Falkirk - which may have contributed to the lack of creativity on show.
But the big plus for Raith was another clean sheet - their third in four games - as the resolute defence held firm against some significant second half pressure from the relegation-threatened hosts.
He may be part-time and train only once a week with the club, but there’s little doubt that Rovers’ recent improvements at the back have coincided with the return to full fitness Dougie Hill, who was excellent on Saturday.
The centre-back’s no-nonsense style has helped solidify a back four that had been leaking soft goals, while his presence also seems to have brought the best out of Paul Watson and Rory McKeown.
Both have picked up their game since Hill’s return, making some important blocks and interceptions in recent weeks, particularly McKeown, who made his second goal-line clearance in as many weeks on Saturday.
A far bigger test will come at Easter Road next week, but now that Raith are defending better and giving themselves a chance to win games, the spotlight has shifted onto the misfiring forward line.
Saturday’s result continued Rovers’ good run - they now have 10 points from 12 - but the game also exposed a lack of killer instinct in the final third.
Whether it was the final ball or the final shot at goal, the Kirkcaldy side came up short.
After starting their league campaign with six goals in two games, Rovers have struggled to find the net since, scoring only 17 in the following 19 fixtures - significantly less than both Falkirk and Queen of the South.
Rovers current first choice front pairing, Calum Elliot and Mark Stewart, are both putting a shift in and have certainly done their bit for the team during the recent upturn, but their lack of goals is a frustration.
A lack of ruthlessness was evident a minute before half-time on Saturday when a Rovers counter-attack took them into a great position inside the Alloa box, only for Stewart to delay when presented with a clear shot at goal, before Elliot swiped at fresh air.
Games can be won or lost on such moments, but whether it’s a confidence issue or just a lack of natural goal-scoring nous, Raith are just not making the most of these half-chances.
The likes of Ryan Conroy and Grant Anderson are chipping in, but Raith will need their front men to start finding the net if they are to make a serious push for fourth place.
If the answer is not on the bench - and neither Christian Nade and Lewis Vaughan have prolific scoring records - then perhaps a suitable new signing before the close of the January window is needed to freshen up the attack.
Rovers best two efforts during Saturday’s first half came from outside the area.
In the sixth minute, Ross Callachan, who must be due a goal soon, tested Craig McDowall from 25 yards but the Wasps ‘keeper managed to hold his powerful low effort at the second attempt.
Grant Anderson also had a pop from 20 yards midway through the half but his effort was always swerving wide of McDowall’s left hand post.
The best chance before half-time fell to Alloa’s Liam Buchanan, who sent a left foot shot across goal and just wide after breaking Rovers’ offside trap.
Raith’s ball retention deteriorated after the break and they were pinned inside their own half for long spells as Alloa frantically pushed forward in search of a first win in nine games.
Daryl Meggat went close with a 25-yard effort before David McGurn parried a Mark Docherty piledriver from the right side of the box - the Raith ‘keeper perhaps grateful the effort was straight at him.
Grant Murray responded by replacing Elliot with Nade on 63 minutes and the Frenchman almost scored immediately, latching onto a Paul Watson knock-down to fire past McDowall, but Stephen Simmons cleared his effort off the line.
On 74 minutes, a brilliant block from McKeown at the back post denied Buchanan a certain goal, while the Raith left back was in the right place again to clear a Kyle Benedictus header off the line with five minutes left.
Rovers were then relieved in the final minute as Simmons 20-yard effort flashed just past the post.
Raith did not play well, but they battled well, which left boss Grant Murray happy enough to the take positives from the performance.
“We had to do a bit of defending and be strong, resolute and dig in,” he said.
“We created chances in the first half, we had great breakaways but just didn’t make the most of them. I don’t think we tested their goalkeeper enough.
“When we got into the final third we didn’t have the quality we’ve had in recent weeks that won us games.
“I’m disappointed in the end result - but we’ve not lost a goal and we’ve not lost the game so there’s plus points.
“It keeps the momentum going.”