Livingston 0 Raith Rovers 2
Grant Murray’s faith in his squad was fully justified on Saturday as his much-changed Raith Rovers side ran out comfortable winners away to bottom of the table Livingston.
The Raith boss made four changes to the team that lost for the first time in seven games at home to Rangers the previous week, most notably bringing Craig Barr into defence for his long-awaited debut after an injury-ravaged season.
The midfield was also given a makeover with Barrie McKay and Liam Fox recalled after spells out the side, while up front the only enforced change saw Lewis Vaughan handed a first start since September in place of the suspended Christian Nade.
The team line-up was certainly a gamble that paid off on Murray’s part.
It was heart-warming to see Barr’s name on the team sheet - he deserves the chance to kick-start his Raith career after a gruelling battle back to full fitness following knee surgery - but dropping the sturdy Dougie Hill for a player who hadn’t played a single minute of first team football in 10 months could have back-fired.
However, after an understandably nervous start, a muscular-looking Barr advocated his place in the side with a solid performance that helped the team to a welcome clean sheet.
Arguably, Murray’s biggest risk, however, was the decision to leave his top scorer, Ryan Conroy, on the bench.
With second top scorer Nade also missing, and a front two featuring Mark Stewart, who had scored once in his last 17 appearances, and young Vaughan, who has been completely out of the first team picture, the big question before kick-off was where Rovers goals would come from?
However, the answers were delivered emphatically inside 21 minutes as the freshened up Kirkcaldy outfit struck twice to take firm control of the game, proving that Murray was right to tinker with his side after the lethargic display against Rangers.
Another who was entitled to feel vindicated on Saturday was Vaughan, who has looked disheartened in recent weeks, but his well-taken goal, and overall effectiveness as a conduit between midfield and attack made his lack of first team opportunities all the more puzzling.
Rovers were good value for their 2-0 win - they could have scored a few more were it not for Livingston ‘keeper Scott Jamieson and the woodwork - but they were a little slow to react defensively at times, allowing Livingston 13 goal attempts, something they will not be able to afford to do against Inverness this weekend, who will have the quality to punish any hesitancy.
The game may have taken a different course had Livingston taken advantage of a poor headed clearance from Rory McKeown in the fourth minute, who presented the ball straight to Ibra Sekajja in the box, but fortunately the striker shot straight at David McGurn.
That miss was punished by Rovers in the 15th minute as Ross Callachan stepped onto a McKay lay-off, took aim from 25 yards out, and swerved a stunning effort beyond the reach of the diving Jamieson.
Rovers doubled their lead six minutes later as Vaughan started and finished a flowing counter-attack move, feeding the ball to the wing, before timing his run into the box perfectly to sweep home McKay’s inch-perfect cut-back.
It was a release of months of frustration for the wee man and his roar of delight as the ball hit the net could be heard above the noise of the celebrating travelling fans.
Rovers survived some pinball in their own box, with McKeown making up for his earlier error with a goal-line clearance, before McKay carved open another chance, this time clipping the ball over the top for Stewart to race clear, but his goal-bound effort was deflected just wide by the tip of Jamieson’s outstretched boot.
Stewart came even closer to ending his goal drought early in the second half as his powerful 18-yard left-foot blast from Callachan’s defence-splitting pass had Jamieson beaten all ends up.
It was a quality strike that deserved a goal, but such is life for Stewart at the moment, that it rattled off the underside of the bar, and rebounded to safety.
The striker can’t buy a goal, but he should take comfort from the fact that this was the most dangerous he has looked throughout a game for a number of weeks.
Livingston improved as the second half wore on and had two chances in quick succession as Raith went to sleep around the 65-minute mark.
The hosts were afforded too much space at the edge of the box and McGurn was called into action to parry a powerful 20-yard strike from McKenna. Seconds later, half-time sub Myles Hippolyte, unmarked, headed over from six yards.
Had that gone in, Rovers could have faced an anxious ending, but they saw the game out comfortably in the end, particularly after Livingston went down to 10 men as Jason Talbot picked up a bad head knock after the hosts had used all their subs.
With Falkirk and Queen of the South both drawing, the victory allowed Rovers to claw back two points on their rivals for fourth spot, although this remains a tall order.
Perhaps more importantly, it means Raith can go to Inverness on Saturday full of confidence, which they will certainly need to be if they are to reach their second Scottish Cup semi-final in five years.
Livingston: Jamieson, Keaghan Jacobs, Sives, Gallagher, Talbot, Kyle Jacobs, O’Brien (McKenna 45), Mullen, Praprotnik, White (Glen 74), Sekajja (Hippolyte 45). Not used: Walker, Beaumont, Pittman, Rutherford.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, McKeown, Barr, Watson, Callachan, Anderson, Fox, McKay (Conroy 74), Vaughan (Scott 86), Stewart. Not used: Hill, Moon, Robertson, Matthews, Cuthbert.
Referee: Don Robertson