Raith Rovers 3 St Mirren 1
Raith Rovers made it two wins from two to stay top of the Championship with a deserved 3-1 victory over St Mirren at Stark’s Park this afternoon.
Reduced gate prices resulted in a boost in attendance and the home supporters were rewarded with a rousing Rovers performance, particularly a high energy first hour where they out-worked and out-classed the Paisley side.
The hosts impressive work rate helped them go three goals up by the 51st minute with Declan McManus’ first two goals for the club coming either side of Ross Callachan’s second goal in as many games.
Former loan striker Ryan Hardie, now farmed out from Rangers to St Mirren, pulled one back for the visitors, who finished stronger, but Rovers were able to resist late pressure to hold onto their two-goal advantage.
Boss Gary Locke said: “We made it difficult for ourselves towards the end but for 65 minutes we were different class. On another day we could have scored a few more goals.
“Credit to St Mirren they put bodies forward and big Sutton came on and caused us a few problems, but I thought the boys showed their determined side to see the game out.
“I fully expect them to be up there challenging this season so for us to beat them 3-1 is a fantastic performance.
“But as I said last week, it’s only a good start. We haven’t achieved anything and we’ve got to remain grounded.
“It’s two good victories against two good teams, but there’s a long, long way to go.
“I’ve been in football long enough to know that things can quickly turn.”
Rovers had to call on back-up goalkeeper Aaron Lennox for the first time as experienced number one Kevin Cuthbert failed to recover from an injury picked up against Ayr the previous week.
The young Australian, on loan from Aberdeen, made an excellent one-handed save early on to keep out Lawrence Shankland, and apart from one or two uncertain moments at cross balls, the ‘keeper had a good debut.
McManus gave Raith the half-time lead but the striker could and should have had a first half hat-trick.
He broke the deadlock on 16 minutes as Lewis Vaughan clipped the ball over the Saints defence for his striker partner to run through and with Jamie Langfield caught in no mans land McManus coolly lobbed home.
It was a lovely finish but the Raith striker proceeded to pass up a number of golden chances, firing wide from 12 yards on 24 minutes after being set up by the adventurous Kevin McHattie, then missing the target in another one-on-one with Langfield five minutes later after Vaughan again played him in behind the away defence.
He also twice fired straight at Langfield from good positions in the box to the exasperation of his team mates, albeit the striker’s overall performance was contributing to Raith’s impressive display.
St Mirren could have had a penalty on 33 mintues when Rangers loanee Jordan Thompson misjudged a dropping ball and clattered Stephen Mallan in the box. Referee Kevin Graham decided it was a coming together rather than a foul.
Ross Matthews then blocked Andy Webster’s header on the line, with Callachan completing the clearance, as Saints threatened from a corner kick in the latter stages of the first half.
Rovers put the game beyond the visitors with two goals in the space of two minutes early in the second half.
A lightning counter attack from a Saints corner saw zippy winger Barr turn defence into attack before crossing to Vaughan at the back post, whose knock down was fired into the net from close range by Callachan, who at 22, now appears to be finally fulfilling the potential he has shown in recent campaigns with an impressive start to the season.
Raith were then gifted a quick third as Webster left a ball to Langfield, who was painfully slow to react, and McManus nipped in to touch the ball past the ‘keeper and roll into the empty net. The striker’s movement is razor sharp.
Saints threw on John Sutton in an attempt to get back into the game but it was another ex-Raith forward, Hardie, who handed Saints a lifeline on 64 minutes, hooking home a volley after the Rovers defence failed to deal with a long throw.
Saints had chances to reduce the deficit further and really set home nerves jangling, but Sutton passed up the best opportunity when he headed wide from just two yards out with 15 minutes left.
The Buddies were raging with the referee again on 77 minutes when he appeared to miss a Kyle Benedictus handball as he challenged for a header with Sutton in the box. It looked like a let-off for Raith.
Saints finished the match with four strikers on the park while Locke, with no defensive options on the bench, could only opt for fresh legs, rather than shoring things up, with Skacel, Roberts and Stewart replacing a tiring Vaughan, McManus and Thompson.
Despite some late Saints pressure, Raith held on to their two-goal advantage to retain their place at the top of the Championship ahead of Hibs on goal difference.
Can they stay there? It’s still early days but Raith appear to be heading the right direction under Locke.
A derby win over Dunfermline next week, and this season could really take off.
FFP MAN OF THE MATCH: Declan McManus - two goals and deserved more. Caused the Saints defence all kind of problems with sharp movement. Linked well with Vaughan, who was also excellent.
Raith Rovers: Lennox, Thomson, McHattie, Callachan, M’voto, Benedictus, Vaughan (Skacel 72), Barr, Matthews, McManus (Stewart 78), Thompson (Roberts 84). Not used: Cuthbert, Johnston, Osei, Coustrain.
St Mirren: Langfield, Naismith (Sutton 56), Irvine, Webster, Mallan (Clarkson 84), Gallagher (Walsh 23), Hutton, Baird, Morgan, Hardie, Shankland. Not used: Gallacher, Gordon, O’Keefe, McDonald.
Referee: Kevin Graham