Raith back on top after victory at Hampden

Willis Furtado's long range strike hits the back of the Queen's net. Pic: Ian Cairns
Willis Furtado's long range strike hits the back of the Queen's net. Pic: Ian Cairns

Queen's Park 1 Raith Rovers 3

Raith Rovers are back on top of League One after a 3-1 victory over Queen's Park at Hampden.

Without a win in three, all Raith really wanted from their trip to the national stadium was to get back to winning ways, but Ayr's defeat at home to Alloa provided the added bonus of a return to the top of table.

The top two have traded places throughout the season, but Raith now have the chance to open up a five-point gap with their game in hand at home to Albion Rovers on Tuesday night. It is a game they can now approach in confidence.

After failing to hit the net against Stranraer and Alloa, any questions about Raith's capabilities in the final third were answered emphatically with three goals in a devastating 15-minute spell putting them out of sight in the first half.

Queen's reduced the deficit to 3-1 before half-time, and the hosts put up more of a fight in a goalless second half, but Raith were able to snuff out any threats of a comeback and, on another day, they could have had added a couple more to their tally.

Barry Smith made changes up front in a bid to get the attacking spark back. Greig Spence dropped to the bench, replaced by the returning Dario Zanatta, who took his place on the wing, which meant Willis Furtado moved into a centre-forward role.

The changes certainly made a difference with Zanatta picking up where he left off before his Hearts recall, providing a real attacking thrust down the left, while Furtado's pace and power brought a new dimension to the front line.

Another change in midfield saw John Herron come in for only his second start since the end of November, with Ross Matthews missing out having picked up an injury in training. Having now overcome his injury problems, Herron's sprightly performance was a reminder that, when fully fit, he brings a lot to the table.

Rovers looked up for it right from the start, with Zanatta winning two corners inside the opening three minutes.

However, one punt up the park almost led to Queen's opening the scoring in the sixth minute when Iain Davidson was caught under the ball, allowing Aidan Keena to race through but Aaron Lennox was quick off his line to narrow the angle, and turn his shot wide for a corner.

The next half hour, however, completely belonged to Raith as they pressed forward at will, scoring three times to effectively seal the points.

The opener arrived on 15 minutes from a Lewis Vaughan corner which was missed by everyone at the near post and fell to Euan Murray in the centre of the box. The ball arrived at his feet at pace but the defender did well to steer his effort into the net for his first goal for the club.

Raith struck again just three minutes later through Furtado - and what a way for him to open his Rovers' account.

Herron won the ball in midfield and slipped a pass through to the striker's feet. With two defenders for company, Furtado showed great pace to sprint between them before looking up and firing an unstoppable effort from 25 yards into the roof of the net.

If this is a sign of things to come from the Frenchman, then the January arrival could prove to be a difference-maker in this neck-and-neck title race.

Rovers dominance was draining confidence from the Queen's ranks, and the third was handed to them on a plate on the half hour mark when defender Lewis Magee fresh-aired his attempted clearance from Bobby Barr's cut-back, leaving Liam Buchanan with the simple task of firing home from six yards.

At this stage it seemed as if Raith would go on to repeat their previous visit to Hampden in September by scoring five, or more, and only the woodwork prevented Furtado making it four when he controlled a ball 12 yards out, swivelled and shot against the inside of the post, the ball rolling along the goalmouth before spinning over the touchline on the opposite side.

Surprisingly, the next goal arrived at the other end, with Queen's reducing the deficit out of the blue and against the run of play.

Aidan Keena, on loan from Hearts, who had impressive touches throughout, collected the ball in space on the left, cut inside, and fired a 20-yard shot which deflected off Dave McKay, catching out goalkeeper Aaron Lennox as it spun into the net at his near post.

The goal gave Queen's a lifeline for the second half, and had they scored again from a couple of promising attacks after the break then things may have got uncomfortable for the visitors, but in truth, there was more chance of Raith adding to their score.

On 49 minutes, Buchanan turned brilliantly in the box and drew a save from Michael White, while the 'keeper also had to dive bravely at the feet of Barr as the winger looked to pounce on a spilled cross.

There was a test for Lennox on the hour mark when Sean Burns fired a free-kick into his near post, but the Australian 'keeper was equal to it, palming it wide.

There was another glimmer of an opening for Queen's on 69 minutes but a brilliant last-ditch block from McKay prevented David Galt getting a clear shot on goal from 12 yards.

The fingertips of White prevented Raith adding a fourth in the closing stages as he diverted a close range Buchanan snapshot wide of target.

By full-time, news had filtered down to the pitch that Rovers were back top of the table, which added extra vigour to the victory celebrations.

The last time Raith won this league under John McGlynn nine years ago, it was clinched at Hampden thanks to Ayr dropping points at home to Alloa.

There's a long way to go yet in this title race, but let's hope it's a good omen.

Queen's Park: White, Millen, Burns, MAgee, Cummins, Fotheringham, Leitch (Gullan 38), McVey (Mortimer 66), Keena, Docherty (Donnelly 83), Galt. Not used: Orr, Summers, Nimmo, Mortimer, Stott.

Raith Rovers: Lennox, Thomson, Herron, Murray, Buchanan (Hendry 87), Vaughan, Barr, Davidson, McKay, Zanatta (Spence 81), Furtado. Not used: Smith, Court, Benedictus, Watson, Berry.

Referee: Graham Beaton

Attendance: 777