Raith Rovers 1, Cowdenbeath 3
One team fighting for their survival in the Championship; one team who realise their season is as good as over.
That was certainly how it looked on Wednesday evening at Stark’s Park as Raith Rovers slumped to defeat at the hands of their Fife rivals.
It seemed like Saturday’s loss at Falkirk, which effectively ended their slim hopes of a play-off place, had knocked the wind out of the sails of the Raith players as they turned in a listless, sloppy display, handing Cowden the three points without them having to play all that well.
Manager Grant Murray decided to make some changes to the team, including a return to action for goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert after several months, and also switched to a 3-5-2 system, with Dougie Hill coming in to partner Paul Watson and Craig Barr at the back.
Full backs Jason Thomson and Rory McKeown were given a more advanced role and it certainly looked an adventurous line-up - but it just didn’t work.
After an impeccably observed minute silence for former chairman Turnbull Hutton, everyone was hoping for a game fitting to his memory, but despite an encouraging opening period, in which Lewis Vaughan came closest with a header over the bar after a quick break, Rovers found the visiting defence a tough barrier to penetrate and more often than not, any promising situation broke down before it reached the penalty area.
Not that Cowdenbeath offered much going forward either, apart from a couple of long range shots which went well wide, but, just as the match was becoming bogged down, the visitors took the lead on 33 minutes.
And it was a personal nightmare for Raith midfielder Martin Scott, who dithered on the ball while last man and was dispossessed by Colin Nish. The veteran striker showed good pace to race into the box and then great composure to loft the ball over the advancing Cuthbert into the far corner.
It was a goal out of nothing but it gave Cowdenbeath a huge boost and not long after, a combination of good goalkeeping and luck kept Nish from doubling the lead after a crazy scramble in the box.
The home fans were understandably becoming restless and it was clear that the system wasn’t working, with too many players looking like they weren’t sure what they were supposed to be doing, and the half time whistle brought a few jeers and an expectation that the second half could only get better.
And certainly that seemed to be the case in the early stages, with Raith upping the tempo and looking far more dangerous going forward.
But then, just after the hour mark they contrived to self-destruct again.
There didn’t seem much danger when Robertson broke down the right but he was allowed to work his way into the box and send in a low cross which fell for Nish completely unmarked and he couldn’t believe his luck as he stroked the ball into an unguarded net.
There wasn’t a Raith player within 10 yards of the scorer as again defensive frailties came back to haunt them.
Rovers brought on Kevin Moon and Christian Nade for Scott and Vaughan to try and change things but there was a lethargy about the team and they struggled to create any clear chances.
Any hopes of a comeback were ended 10 minutes from time when from a corner, Nish was again able to get free in the box and knock the ball home from six yards to complete his hat-trick, prompting an exodus from the South Stand.
Raith did manage a late consolation when Mark Stewart redirected a Nade header into the roof of the net but it was too little too late and barely raised a cheer among the home support.
With difficult trips to Rangers and Hearts to come before the final home game against Livingston, Rovers’ season is in danger of ending on a low note.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Barr, Watson, Hill (Anderson), Thomson, Scott (Moon), Callachan, Conroy, McKeown, Stewart, Vaughan (Nade). Subs not used: Elliot, McKay, McGurn, Matthews.
Cowdenbeath: Thomson, Brownlie, Armstrong (Adamson), O’Brien, Toshney, Marshall, Robertson, Wedderburn, Oyenuga (Buchanan), Higgins (Miller), Nish. Subs not used: Kane, Johnston, Sneddon, Hughes.