Fantastic first half puts Rovers back on track

Raith players celebrate Kevin McHattie's opener against Dumbarton. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Raith players celebrate Kevin McHattie's opener against Dumbarton. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 3 Dumbarton 2

They made heavy weather of it in the end, but Raith Rovers got the win they desperately wanted over Dumbarton at Stark's Park yesterday afternoon.

Rovers' determination to end a run of three defeats was evident as they simply swept Dumbarton aside in a blistering first half with strikes from Kevin McHattie, Ross Callachan and an early contender for goal of the season from Scott Roberts putting them firmly on course for victory.

However, even at 3-0 up at half-time, Rovers could take nothing for granted against the side that pegged them back from the same position last season.

And history almost repeated itself as the part-timers pulled back two goals in the second half, with Rovers only just holding on in a nail-biting finish.

Raith boss Gary Locke was thrilled with the result, and his team's performance - up until Dumbarton's first goal.

"For 65 minutes we were different class," he said.

"We scored three good goals, and could have had five or six, then we got slack and let them back in the game.

"I don't think we were hanging on, but at the same time you get nervous because there's only one goal in it.

"We're a young team and one or two of them have to realise that you can't take your foot off the gas.

"But I'll concentrate on the positives and the most important thing today was to win."

Rovers handed a debut to Hearts and Scotland Under 21 right back Liam Smith, who joined on a short term loan on the morning of the match to provide injury cover for skipper Jason Thomson.

The youngster, who featured in the Europa League for the Jambos earlier in the season, certainly made a positive impression with a composed performance in defence, while his distribution from right back was on point. He looks a quality addition.

With Lewis Vaughan ruled out with a thigh strain, there was also a first league start for Rudi Skacel, who put in a hard-working performance before tiring and being replaced midway through the second half.

The third and final change to the team that started the previous week against Queen of the South saw fit-again first choice goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert recalled in place of Connor Brennan.

Raith set the tempo straight from kick-off and Dumbarton keeper Alan Martin was called into action as early as the third minute, narrowing the angle to deny Callachan after the midfielder had ghosted into space in the penalty box.

There was a huge opportunity for Skacel to open his Raith account on 12 minutes as he stole the ball from last defender to go clean through on goal, but Martin managed to divert his effort past the post for a corner.

The opener was delayed just a few minutes, however, as following good build-up play from Rovers, left back McHattie stepped into space at the angle of the box before firing an angled drive across goal and into the far corner of the net from 18 yards.

Dumbarton were struggling to keep up with Raith's relentless tempo and a powerful 20-yard drive from McManus required a diving save from Martin following another well constructed passing move from Rovers.

The visitors first, and only real chance of the first half came on 32 minutes as Robert Thomson's free-kick sailed straight through the Raith defence and may have been going straight in until it bounced off team mate Daniel Harvie in the six-yard box and looped over the bar.

Just sixty seconds later, Raith doubled their lead as Bobby Barr picked out Callachan in the box and the midfielder showed great composure to work the ball onto his right foot for a shot which took a deflection, hit the post and rolled over the line.

A minute later it was 3-0 as Scott Roberts collected the ball in space 25 yards out and unleashed a stunning strike that flew into the top corner of the net via the stanchion. A breathtaking strike which had Stark's Park in awe.

The reaction of the home fans at half-time told you everything - it had been a great half for Rovers and the second 45 started in the same vein.

Martin was called into a save just 20 seconds after the break to keep out Skacel's piledriver from 20 yards.

There was no sitting back as Rovers continued to push forward and create chances. Jean-Yves M'voto should have made it four on 52 minutes but could only hold his head in his hands as he sent a free header from Barr's corner over the bar from 10 yards.

Martin made his best save of the match on 58 minutes, stretching across his line to claw away Callachan's header from Skacel's cross.

A fourth goal would have buried Dumbarton once and for all, but the game changed following the introduction of Ryan Stevenson from the visitors bench.

The veteran striker immediately made his presence felt with a low 20-yard strike in the 71st minute that left Cuthbert with no chance.

It was enough to set Raith nerves jangling, and six minutes later they were at panic stations as a cross from the left fell kindly at the feet of Thomson to fire home from six yards.

With Raith fans thinking, 'surely not again', Dumbarton started to pile on the pressure, but the Raith defence managed to deal with most crosses into the box.

The visitors hopes of completing the comeback diminished in the 87th minute as defender Gregor Buchanan was sent off after picking up a second booking for wiping out substitute Mark Stewart as he hared down the wing on a counter attack.

Rovers held on for the all-important three points, but the two goals conceded still ended up costing them third place in the table as Falkirk, who beat Ayr 2-0 at home, leapfrogged them on goal difference.

Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Smith, M'voto, Benedictus, McHattie, Barr, Davidson, Callachan, Skacel (Stewart 63), McManus (Thompson 89), Roberts (Johnston 72). Not used: Brennan, Matthews.

Booked: Davidson, Stewart.

Dumbarton: Martin, Pettigrew (McCallum 45), Thomson, Buchanan, Gallagher, Fleming (Stevenson 65), Thomson, Harvie, Barr, Smith, Stirling (Stanton 45). Not used: Ewings, Docherty, Todd, Kassarate.

Booked: Buchanan, Stevenson. Sent off: Buchanan

Referee: Steven Kirkland.

Attendance: 1636.