St Mirren 1 Raith Rovers 2
Raith Rovers took a giant step towards the promotion play-offs tonight with a hard fought victory at St Mirren Park.
First half goals from Aidan Connolly and Ross Callachan put the Fifers into a 2-0 lead only for Alex Cooper to reduce the deficit just before the break.
Despite steady St Mirren pressure throughout the second 45, Raith’s determination and team work meant they were able to protect their lead to move 10 points clear in fourth place with six games remaining.
They are almost there ... a win at Morton on Saturday would just about clinch it.
Ray McKinnon made three changes from the weekend win over Hibs - all enforced - as Mark Stewart’s current fitness situation means he cannot play three games in a week, while Iain Davidson missed out with knee and hamstring issues; James Craigen and Aidan Connolly the beneficiaries.
Exciting forward Ryan Hardie was also unavailable due to being called up for Scotland U19 duty, so there was a recall for fellow loanee Harry Panayiotou.
There was an early scare for Raith as Kevin Cuthbert came off his line to collect a bouncing ball only for Rory McKeown to nick it past him.
With the ball trickling towards goal and Lawrence Shankland closing in, the left back managed to clear the danger in the nick of time.
Raith were not quite hanging on, but St Mirren pressure had been building when the visitors hit them with a lightning quick counter attack.
A corner kick was cleared and Saints were caught short as Louis Longridge raced up the park, slipped Connolly into the box, and winger sent a sweet finish beyond Jamie Langfield.
The goal knocked Saints flat and Rovers doubled their advantage on 36 minutes as St Mirren defender Jack Baird was short with a back header and Ross Callachan latched on to stroke the ball past Langfield for his second goal of the campaign.
Raith were looking comfortable when a poorly defended long throw allowed St Mirren back into the game two minutes before half-time.
Shankland launched the ball into the box, and defenders seemed to hesitate as it dropped for Alex Cooper to lash home from 12 yards.
The goal put a different complexion on the second half, and St Mirren came out with their tails up, dominating the ball, and pushing men forward.
However, Raith went into protection mode, keeping a compact shape and looking to hit on the break when they got a chance.
Saints lacked the guile to breach Raith’s steady defence, but the big chance they pushed all second half for arrived with 11 minutes left.
Sub Stephen Thompson, just off the bench, won a knock-down to Shankland who turned his marker brilliantly only to fire wide from eight yards out. A gilt-edged chance gone.
There were no more heart-stopping for Raith who continued to frustrate the hosts, and Saints boss Alex Rae let his frustration get the better of him as he was sent to the stand for words said to referee Barry Cook.
The celebrations at full-time among the Raith players and the 152 travelling fans suggested that they knew how big this win was.
It’s full steam ahead on the Raith play-off train ... next stop Cappielow.
St Mirren: Langfield, Irvine, Watson, Gallagher (Thompson 76), Agnew, Mallan, Gow (Stewart 45), Webster, Baird (McAllister 45), Shankland, Cooper. Not used: Wilks, Goodwin, Howieson, Carswell.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Callachan, Toshney (Matthews 45), Benedictus, Panayiotou (Thomas 76), Connolly, Longridge, McKeown, Craigen, Barr. Not used: Law, Anderson, Stewart, Thomas, Court.
Referee: Barry Cook