Queen of the South 2 Raith Rovers 1
If last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Hibernian was a tentative step forward, this 2-1 reverse to Queen of the South felt like a couple of steps back.
Dismissing Gary Locke was never going to be the silver bullet that cured all Raith’s ills, but if new manager John Hughes was under any illusions over the size of the task he faces in the coming months in terms of keeping Raith in the division, then Saturday was presumably an eye-opener for him.
It was the first-half which did all the damage, with Queen’s captain, John Rankin giving the home side an early lead in a half which started poorly and slowly degenerated from there.
Derek Lyle made it two before half-time, but the insipid nature of the performance was the biggest concern, with Raith now on a 16 game sequence without a win, and looking very much part of the relegation hulabaloo at the foot of the table.
Unsurprisingly, John Hughes didn’t tinker too much from the formula which worked so well against Hibernian with just one change, although surprisingly it wasn’t the return of Kevin McHattie to the left-back berth.
Instead, Ross Matthews stepped aside for Iain Davidson, who was tasked with protecting a back four which again saw central-defender, Kyle Benedictus starting on the right, and right-back, Jason Thomson on the left.
Considering the somewhat jury-rigged nature of Raith’s back-four, what they could do without was an injury, so it was a slight concern when Thomson went down in the opening couple of seconds after being caught in the head by a fairly wild challenge from Lyle who led with the elbow, although thankfully he was okay to continue.
The first chance arrived in the fifth minute, when Jordan Marshall and Stephen Dobbie combined with good effect down the left, and it was the former’s cross which found Lyle in plenty of space inside the area, but his downward header lacked gumption and was easy pickings for Conor Brennan.
While Rovers may have been lucky to get away with that one, their good fortune didn’t last long, with their ramshackle start to the match seeing them go a goal down after just eight minutes.
Dobbie was the architect, causing all manner of panic on the edge of Rovers penalty area, as three-quarters of the Rovers backline struggled to prise the ball off his toe.
When it was eventually cleared, it fell only as far as Rankin, and from approximately 20-yards, his shot from the left flew past Brennan and into the opposite corner of the net.
While the point against Hibs had been enabled by their ability to keep the Leith side at arms-length, Rovers were toiling to repeat the trick with Gary Naysmith’s team, with Dobbie, Lyle and midfielder, Joe Thomson, all causing trouble in the game’s early passages.
It almost got worse after 25 minutes, when the Rovers defence again failed to deal with a cross into the area.
Again, Dobbie was the provider, with his free-kick from the left finding Andy Dowie in a yard-too-much of room, although his glancing header went just wide of Brennan’s left-hand post, with the ‘keeper beaten.
Rovers were struggling to create anything in the forward areas, with the narrow midfield meaning any width had to come from the full-backs.
None was forthcoming though, with Thomson looking less assured in the unaccustomed role on one side, while Benedictus appeared willing-but-unable on the opposite flank.
This ineffectiveness, allied with an all-too soft centre which has dogged them for the majority of their current malaise was easily preyed upon by an energetic Doonhamers team.
On the half-hour mark, a long ball forward was again poorly dealt with, as Lyle was afforded oodles of time thirty-yards from goal to bring it down and pick out Dobbie, whose shot was palmed out by Brennan, before eventually being cleared after a melee in the six-yard area.
While the goal was averted, the sight of the Brennan hobbling and in some distress, without a back-up goalkeeper on the bench, was a disconcerting turn of events.
Four minutes later though, came an even bleaker turn of events.
Dom Thomas’s corner from the left was kept alive at the back-post by Joe Thomson, and despite an abundance of Raith jerseys in the six-yard box, Lyle reacted quickest to prod home from close range.
It was a dreadful goal to lose, but it was entirely in keeping with the performance in the opening period, with Raith’s only attempt at goal a Benedictus shot which dribbled apologetically wide of the post as the interval approached.
After a first-half performance which was virtually devoid of positives, a turnaround seemed unlikely, and when Brennan emerged from the tunnel, barely able to walk, never mind run, the immediate concern was of damage limitation, rather than a stirring comeback.
Such was Brennan’s situation, Craig Barr was asked to take up goal-kick duty, but other than a Dobbie ‘goal’ which was ruled out for offside, Raith were dealing with Queen’s efforts far better than during the opening 45.
Not that Raith were peppering Lee Robinson’s goals with efforts, but they did get a foothold into the game after 59 minutes, with a goal from their first attempt on target.
With the ball pinging around the Queen’s box, the ball was cleared to Raith’s left, allowing Davidson to swing in a good cross which M’Voto clattered past Robinson with a fierce header.
Rovers now had their tails up, and a more gung-ho approach was taken by Hughes, with Declan McManus and Ryan Hardie replacing Jordan Thompson and Bobby Barr, with McManus moving to the left, Stewart to the right and Hardie going central.
Chances were still at a premium though, and with 15 minutes remaining, Chris Johnston replaced Ryan Stevenson.
The switches almost paid dividends with ten minutes remaining, with Hardie laying it off to McManus, who dribbled along the edge of the area, before smashing a shot at Robinson which the ex-Raith goalie could only fumble into the path of Johnston, but he made amends by blocking the winger’s close range shot.
Hardie then passed up an opportunity by heading over from inside the six-yard box, as Rovers at last started to exert some pressure.
It was far too little and ultimately too late however, as Rovers notched up yet another defeat, in a season which has featured far too many of them.
Queen of the South: Robinson, Mercer, Brownlie, Dowie, Marshall, Thomas (Carmichael 84), Thomson, Rankin, Jacobs, Dobbie (Fergusson 90), Lyle (Dykes 72). Not used: Hamill, Higgins, Atkinson, Murray.
Raith Rovers: Brennan, Mvoto, Benedictus, C.Barr, Davidson, Thompson (McManus 65), Callachan, B.Barr (Hardie 65), Thomson, Stewart, Stevenson (Johnston 76). Not used: McHattie, Matthews, Roberts, Skacel.
Referee: Barry Cook