Raith Rovers 2 Dunfermline Athletic 0
In the grand scheme of things, bragging rights may ultimately be far less important than three points, but for the Raith Rovers contingent amongst the Stark’s Park crowd of 5114 on Saturday, it didn’t necessarily feel that way at around tentofive.
It’s been too long since these local foes duked it out in a league match, and longer still, just over five-and-a-half years to be precise, since Rovers emerged with a trio of points from one, so it’s understandable that the 2-0 win tasted that bit sweeter than a more run-of-the-mill triumph.
Second half goals from Bobby Barr and Mark Stewart were the difference in a match which was tense, occasionally tetchy and thoroughly engrossing for both sets of supporters, as Raith extended their 100 per cent start to the campaign, to stay top of the table.
Manager Gary Locke selected the same starting eleven which started the previous weekend’s impressive 3-1 win over St. Mirren, which meant another appearance between the posts for Aaron Lennox, as Kevin Cuthbert continued his recuperation from a leg-knock picked up in the opening day win against Ayr United.
However, there was concern in the early stages of the match, with the Antipodean custodian pulling up with a hamstring injury that was seriously hampering his movement and kicking.
Indeed, the problem was so acute that Kyle Benedictus had to take over goal-kick duties for the duration of the match.
At some points, Lennox appeared to be struggling to walk, never mind keep goal, but although he was called into action on a couple of occasions, the performance of his colleagues in front of him, ensured the injured ‘keeper obtained his first clean sheet in a Raith jersey.
Afterwards, an enthusiastic Gary Locke was full of praise for Lennox’s contribution.
“I’m delighted with him,” he said. “He showed a lot of character to get through that game.
“He pulled his hamstring early on, and with Kevin Cuthbert injured as well, it was sods law.
“I was really worried. There were a couple of times when Dunfermline played balls over the top, and you could see he couldn’t come and get them.
“Great credit to him though, he’s a good goalie and he showed that today with a couple of good saves.
“I think he’s got a huge future ahead of him.”
Lennox’s knock came at a time when Dunfermline had started to assert themselves in the match.
Rovers had started well and looked lively, with Ross Matthews knocking over a Barr cross from just outside the six-yard box, but slowly and surely, Dunfermline started to take a grip of proceedings.
The Rovers midfield were struggling against their Pars counterparts, with Andy Geggan doing what he does best, winning challenges and keeping possession, while Joe Cardle and Kallum Higginbotham were also effective, scurrying hither and thither.
However, while their movement and pace were troublesome, actually providing a clear-cut chance for the forward pairing of Gavin Reilly and Michael Moffat was proving to be a greater challenge.
Other than an ambitious blast from distance from Rhys McCabe which went just over, Dunfermline were kept at arms length, thanks to the hard work and industry of Rovers defensive work.
Jason Thomson was his usual, diligent self, while on the other side, Kevin McHattie gave his most assured performance in a Raith strip to date.
Between them, Benedictus and Jean-Yves M’Voto stoutly batted away anything they were tasked with, with the latter eventually being singled out for the man-of-the-match award.
Like all good derby affairs, the first half featured something of an all-in rammy, after the away side took exception to Matthews clobbering into Cardle, but after a few moments of pushing, pulling and presumably some name-calling, referee Alan Muir decided yellow cards for Matthews and Higginbotham would suffice.
It was arguably the highlight of a half which, although a decent spectacle, had somewhat scrimped on penalty box action.
Whilst Dunfermline had been on top in the first period, Rovers looked a different proposition in the second.
Tackles were being snapped into, passes became slicker, while Lewis Vaughan and Declan McManus were combining more effectively, albeit they now had far more to work with.
The team appeared to have been geed up during the interval, something which Locke alluded to after the match.
“I told them to be a bit more positive,” he said. “We let it be a derby in the first half.
“Before the game we told them to stay composed, but I’ve played in derbies myself and I know what they’re like.
“They’re hectic, 100 miles an hour, but once the game slowed down, we passed the ball well, and showed we’re a good side.”
With the game now far more even, the contest had become something of a slobber knocker, with both teams desperate to eke out the first, definitive blow. Thankfully from a Raith perspective, it was the Kirkcaldy club who landed it in the 71st minute.
Dunfermline looked a jaded, tired bunch by that stage, with neither Cardle nor Higginbotham putting in the same legwork as they had earlier in the match, to which Rovers took full advantage.
Vaughan eluded Geggan’s challenge and fed the ball to Barr, who had by now transferred to the right hand side. He cut infield, and after weighing up his options, the winger decided to make full use of the space and time the Pars defence had allowed him, sending a low shot into the left hand corner of the net, which squirmed past David Hutton’s limp grasp.
Despite the slender advantage, the sense was that the game was up for the visitors, and that was confirmed with a little over ten minutes remaining, after a wonderful goal from substitute, Mark Stewart.
Fellow sub, Rudi Skacel picked Stewart out in the middle of the park, and as the Dunfermline defenders backed off, apparently flummoxed about whether Stewart was turning left or right, he instead chose neither, curling a wonderful shot past Hutton, high into the left corner of the net, creating chaotic scenes in and infront of the South Stand.
Rovers comfortably saw out the closing stages, and at full-time, as Locke, no stranger to derby wins throughout the years, celebrated in front of the South Stand, it was clear he knew just how important the win was for those within it.
“It was great, I’m delighted for our supporters,” he said. “For a number of years, Dunfermline have held the upper hand, so I’m thrilled for them.
“It was a great crowd, a great support, and hopefully they’ll come back and support us in the weeks ahead.”
There’s a fair chance they will If the team can retain the same attitude, spirit and performance levels, and despite the season still being in its infancy, it’s encouraging to see the current squad of players, apparently retaining the same canny knack as last term’s, when it comes to drumming up victories.
Saturday’s match at Tannadice against a certain Ray McKinnon’s Dundee United side, promises to be another fascinating fixture.