THE SAFEST best in Scottish football right now is for matches involving Raith Rovers to feature goals at both ends.
Eight times this season Raith have scored three or more goals in a game, and eight times they have conceded the same amount – sometimes in the same match!
They are losing goals as quickly as they are scoring them, and while it’s made them an entertaining team to watch, it’s costing them the chance to climb the first division table.
Raith’s three strikers have 34 goals between them, Brian Graham with over half of them.
With firepower like that Rovers should be up challenging near the top of the table. Unfortunately, they are being weighed down by their defensive problems.
This was never more evident than at Firhill on Saturday.
Away to the league leaders, a team that had a 100 per cent record at home with eight wins out of eight prior to Saturday, Rovers were expected to struggle.
However, they took the game to Partick, dominated for large spells, did what no other team had by scoring twice at Firhill, and according to some home fans, gave the most impressive away performance of the season.
Yet it wasn’t even enough to earn Rovers a draw because they lacked the basics in defending.
Greig Spence was rewarded for his supersub role against Morton the previous week with a return to the starting line-up and he repaid Grant Murray’s faith in the 12th minute.
He was alert to Joe Hamill’s quickly-taken free-kick, the Thistle defence was not, and he coolly dinked the ball past out-rushing goalkeeper Graeme Smith.
With Allan Walker and Hamill pulling the strings in midfield Rovers were looking like a team capable of inflicting further damage - but the match changed course in the 21st minute.
A high punt forward from the goalkeeper wasn’t dealt with by the Raith centre-halves and Stuart Bannigan fired a low shot past Ross Laidlaw at his near post – a soft goal and Rovers conceded another before half-time.
Dougie Hill’s weak clearance fell straight to Steven Lawless on the 18-yard line whose first time shot was heading straight into Laidlaw’s arms until the hapless defender stuck out a leg and diverted it into the top corner.
With their resplendant red strips and willingness to give gifts to Thistle, all the Raith defence was missing was their Santa hats and beards.
Going forward, Raith were an altogether different proposition, particularly during an impressive second half.
With Graham’s splendid hold up work and Spence’s willing running, supported by a positive midfield, there was plenty attacking flair on show.
For a period of 20 minutes or so Thistle were under the cosh. On 56 Spence raced clear only for Smith to save and Graham knocked the rebound just wide.
Graham went even closer four minutes later heading Jason Thomson’s cross against the inside of the post before the ball rolled agonisingly along the line.
An equaliser was on the cards and it duly arrived in the 81st minute, through sheer persistance, as Graham smashed home from close range after he and Walker had struck either post amid a goalmouth scramble.
A draw was the least Rovers deserved for their contribution, but the loss of a late goal from a corner kick for the second week running meant they left with nothing.
Raith have scored five goals in two weeks but collected just one point. It’s clear where the current problems lie.
Murray’s dilemma is how to sort his leaky defence without compromising Saturday’s entertaining attacking football.