Dumbarton 2 Raith Rovers 3
Having qualified for the play-offs last week, the question for Raith Rovers would be whether they could maintain their movitation and momentum in the remaining league games.
In coming from behind to beat a Dumbarton side unbeaten in their previous six at home, the Kirkcaldy side came up with an emphatic answer.
After finding themselves a goal behind following a mediocre first half, Raith upped their game in the second 45, and for a half an hour spell they were simply unstoppable.
Three sublime finishes, with Aidan Connolly at the heart of everything, turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead, and although Dumbarton refused to give up, pulling one back in injury time, Rovers were worthy winners as they extended their unbeaten run to nine games.
After a “calm” half-time team talk, Ray McKinnon was delighted with his team’s second half response.
“We weren’t bad in the first half, but we weren’t brilliant,” he said.
“I said to them to up their game 10 or 15 per cent and we’d get back into it.
“I thought we were excellent for 30 minutes in the second half - we could have run riot.
“I’m absolutely delighted to come back from 1-0 down to take the three points.
“We want to keep the momentum going and finish third if we can. It’s possible.”
McKinnon was enthralled with the performance of Conolly, who scored a stunning goal as well as setting up the other two for Ryan Hardie and James Craigen.
The Raith boss played in the same Dundee United side as his dad Paddy Connolly and can see similarities between father and son.
“It was a brilliant goal from Aidan and he deserved it in the second half because he was a constant thorn in their side,” McKinnon added.
“Paddy scored many a goal like that. His dad was very skilful as well. It’s like father, like son - both technically different class.
“Aidan got’s the bit of magic in his feet and if he can get himself into the right areas where he can hurt teams more consistently, he could be a super player.”
Raith made three changes to the side that started against Queen of the South the previous week with Craigen and Louis Longridge dropping to the bench, while Scott Robertson missed out altogether, along with the suspended Iain Davidson.
Ross Callachan returned from a one-game ban while Harry Panayiotou and Grant Anderson were given their chance in the 11 after featuring mostly as substitutes in recent weeks.
Rovers made a bright enough start but were punished for some wasteful final balls when Dumbarton’s first cross into the Raith box was right on the money.
Rangers loanee Tom Walsh whipped over a pinpoint cross that ex-Raith striker Christian Nade controlled superbly on his chest before stabbing a volley past Kevin Cuthbert from close range.
Rovers almost responded immediately through Hardie who sped straight through the heart of the Sons defence, past several challengers, into a clear shooting position only for Jamie Ewings to thwart him with an excellent save.
Walsh was a thorn in Raith’s side throughout the first half and he fired narrowly wide from 20 yards after cutting inside from the left on 20 minutes.
Raith struggled to get in behind the home defence but a change of formation for the second half, freeing up Connolly to play in the hole between midfield and attack, proved a game changer.
Just four minutes after the break, Connolly picked the ball up in the heart of the Dumbarton half and threaded an inch perfect pass into the path of Hardie who showed great composure to slide a low shot past Ewings into the bottom corner for the equaliser.
Connolly then produced a moment of magic on 61 minutes as he chested a ball down 25 yards out and thumped a spectacular volley high into the roof of the net beyond the helpess goalkeeper.
Rovers were on fire now and showing quality in possession so it was no surprise when substitute James Craigen slotted home a third from 18 yards after another penetrating Connolly run and pass.
Panayiotou should have made it 4-1 in 72 minutes but didn’t get enough contact on a glancing header from Jason Thomson’s cross and the ball drifted harmlessly wide.
Rovers were in control but having lost three goals in the last 10 minutes the last time the sides met at the Rock, the travelling Raith fans were certainly taking nothing for granted in the closing stages.
Those memories came flooding back when, in the second of four minutes of added time, Steven Saunders rose unchallenged to head home a corner kick and reduce the deficit.
There was still time for Dumbarton to launch one more attack, which Rovers frantically defended before being relieved from any further worry by the referee’s full-time whistle.
The Sons certainly don’t give up when seemingly buried in games, making this another notable victory for Rovers, who closed to within two points of third-placed Hibs in the table.
At the moment, Raith are an unstoppable force and their play-off rivals should be worried.