Herron at the double as Raith go five points clear

John Herron (centre) celebrates after firing Raith 2-1 ahead. Pic: George McLuskie
John Herron (centre) celebrates after firing Raith 2-1 ahead. Pic: George McLuskie

Raith Rovers 3 Albion Rovers 1

The pre-match efforts of groundsmen and volunteers to clear snow from the pitch proved worthwhile as Raith Rovers took advantage of their game in hand to move five points clear at the top of League One.

A double from John Herron, who produced a midfield masterclass in his best performance for the club, and a further strike from Jason Thomson earned the Kirkcaldy side a deserved 3-1 win over Albion Rovers on a brutally cold night at Stark's Park.

With temperatures falling below zero at kick-off, a lower than normal crowd of 1294 was perhaps understandable, however, Raith will hope their fans turn up in numbers for the Airdrie game on Saturday with the opportunity to move eight points clear while title rivals Ayr get sidetracked by Scottish Cup duty.

It was particularly pleasing to see Raith firmly on the front foot for the majority of the match while playing some positive, open attacking football, although this was also mixed in with occasional lapses, particularly in defence, which allowed Albion to equalise shortly after half-time.

However, on a night where three points were a must, Barry Smith's men simply got the job done.

“It was a great three points in front of the home fans - and we had to work hard for it," said the Raith boss.

“We had good chances in the first half but only went in 1-0 and, of course it was a test when they equalised but the boys have a winning mentality, that momentum that comes from winning games.

“At this stage of the season the most pleasing thing is always just getting the win.”

Smith named an unchanged side from the 3-1 victory over Queen's Park on Saturday, backed up by a strong bench thanks to the return of Scott Robertson and Ross Matthew from injury, and they picked up where they left off at Hampden with a flying start culminating in the opening goal after just six minutes.

The Albion defence failed to get distance on a clearance allowing Thomson to collect the ball in space before picking out Herron's well-timed run with a defence-splitting pass, leaving the midfielder to coolly slot a low finish past Kieron Wright, who got a touch but couldn't keep it out.

Raith had started like a train but they allowed their early dominance to fade and Albion willingness to close down and harass enabled them to gain a foothold, with Michael McMullin firing narrowly wide from 20 yards after the midfielder intercepted Herron's underhit pass to Bobby Barr.

The home side picked up the pace again towards half-time and were unfortunate not to double their advantage when Willis Furtado almost followed up his Hampden howitzer with another goal of the season contender, but his blistering 18-yard strike cannoned back off the underside of the bar.

Lewis Vaughan then forced Wright to parry an effort wide after playing a neat one-two with Furtado on the edge of the Albion box, while Dario Zanatta had the right back on toast before crossing for Furtado to hook a shot over the bar at the back post as Raith ended the half on top.

Furtado, whose combination of power and poise has made a real difference to the Raith frontline, went close again shortly after the break with a snapshot from 22 yards that drifted narrowly wide.

Raith's defence looked suspect on 53 minutes as Alan Trouten ghosted in behind Euan Murray and crossed for Kane Hester to stab an effort over the bar.

However, the warning went unheeded as Albion turned the home defence again a minute later, this time Ross Davidson easing past namesake Iain Davidson before sending a low ball to the back post where an unmarked Michael Hopkins slotted home.

With plenty time left, and Raith threatening to score every time they pressed forward, there was no need for alarm at this stage, and sure enough the hosts restored their lead on 62 minutes when Davidson's ball to the back post was nodded down by Furtado to Herron, who once again timed his forward run perfectly to fire home his second from close range.

Raith's ropey play in their own half almost cost them again on 73 minutes when Dave McKay allowed a bouncing ball to drift over his foot leaving Hester with a run on goal, but thankfully Thomson had the pace to recover, forcing the striker to take an early shot that Aaron Lennox gathered.

Raith needed breathing space and they finally got it with 14 minutes left as substitute Scott Robertson picked out Thomson as he marauded into the box, and the right back showed strength to hold off his marker and fire past Wright at his near post.

There was frustration for Rovers in the closing stages as chances to further extend the lead were not taken, but that all paled into insignificance compared to the value of the three points.

The result means Raith have now lost just once in 12 fixtures, and have claimed 34 points from 36 home. That is title-winning form.

Maintain it for the final third of the season, and the club will surely be back where it belongs.

Raith Rovers: Lennox, Thomson, Herron, Murray, Buchanan (Robertson 64), Vaughan, Barr (Matthews 80), Davidson, McKay, Zanatta, Furtado (Spence 80). Not used: Smith, Court, Benedictus, Watson.

Albion Rovers: Wright, McLaughlin, McMullin, Baur, Mbayo, McLeish, Davidson, Hopkins (Watters 85), Higgins (Victoria 75), Trouten, Hester. Not used: MacDonald, Guthrie, Gallagher, Potts, Queen.

Referee: Alan Newlands.

Attendance: 1294.