Dundee United 2 Raith Rovers 0
Barry Smith may have lost out to Dundee United in his first competitive start as Raith Rovers boss, but there were more than enough crumbs of comfort in the performance, to ensure he wasn’t too downbeat in the post-match press briefing.
A peach of a strike from Paul McMullan in the second half, was followed up by a James Keatings penalty in a 2-0 win for Ray McKinnon’s home side, but it was far from smooth sailing for the Terrors, with Rovers matching them for large swathes of the opening hour, as well as creating the better of the chances.
“We’re all disappointed with the result, but there were certainly a lot of positives to take from it," Smith said.
"I think if we’d taken the wee opportunity early on, then maybe it would have changed the game.
“As much as United had good possession, they didn’t really break us down that often, which shows that we’re working on what we’re trying to do, in terms of being difficult to break down, but we move forward.
“It’s a tough game, United are a good team and they’re expected to win the Championship this year, so we’ll take it on the chin and move on.”
Smith made just one change from the 3-0 win over Dunfermline, with Aaron Lennox, as expected, donning the gloves as youngster Rory Brian returned to the bench.
Underlining the rebuilding job Ray McKinnon has undertaken over the summer, United featured six debutantes in the starting eleven, with a further three on the bench, including Sam Stanton after his loan switch from Hibernian was rubber-stamped earlier in the day.
It was a sparsely attended Tannadice which welcomed the two teams onto the park, but the bulk of the fans almost had something to celebrate in the opening seconds, when McMullan dribbled into the area from the left-hand side, and despite Jason Thomson’s best efforts, he was still able to bring out a save from Lennox at his near post.
If anyone believed it was an early indicator of a chance laden half, then they were sorely mistaken though, as the early back-and-forths between the teams were more akin to a pre-season affair.
United were enjoying the lions-share of the ball, with they weren’t doing very much with it, other than a Billy King shot which slid harmlessly passed Lennox’s right post.
ndeed, if there was a note in the Guinness Book of Records about the most throw-ins in a half of football, then this one would surely have had a chance of besting it, such was the inaccuracy of the passing on show.
Rovers had done a fair job of rebuffing the home team’s efforts though, and they started to get their foot on the ball as the game progressed, with Bobby Barr getting a sight at goal in the 24th minute, but as befitted the quality up until that point, he dragged his shot wide.
However, Raith should have been one up just before the half-hour mark.
Goodness knows what United ‘keeper, Deniz Mehment was intending, but he certainly made a hash of it, rolling a pass straight to the feet of Greig Spence 25-yards from goal.
He looked up and squared it to Liam Buchanan, and with only Mark Durnan ahead of him it seemed a certain goal, but his lofted finish was kept out by an exceptional diving header from the United centre-half.
The same player then spurned Rovers next chance, albeit a far tougher one, when Barr’s accurate cross from the left found him in bags of room, slap-bang in the middle of the penalty area, but he tamely nodded past the post.
It was a frustrating day for Buchanan, with the majority of Raith’s good chances falling to him, but you get the impression Smith expects good things from the former Livingston man.
“I’d no problem with Liam today," he said. "He was in the positions to miss them, and it’s important that he keeps on doing that in terms of taking up those positions.
"We’ve created opportunities against a really good team, so there’s a lot there we can work with.”
The impression was that the home side would surely improve shooting towards their home fans in the second-half, and they certainly started brighter, with Keatings quickly forcing Lennox into action with a shot on the spin, quickly followed by a glancing header from McMullan which was guided over the crossbar.
Rovers were anything but on the back foot though, and they created another good opening after 55 minutes, when Buchanan’s perfectly weighted pass split the United defence, allowing Euan Murray to gallop into the penalty box, but his finish was deflected into the air and eventually cleared.
However, despite Raith’s best endeavours, they went behind in the 59th minute. It was Scott Fraser who did the majority of the damage, swivelling away from Benedictus down the right,
before sending a cross into the area which Scott Allardyce laid off to McMullan, who curled an exquisite finish past Lennox from 20 yards.
Smith’s men should have been back on level terms within five minutes though, when Barr picked out Vaughan in the penalty box, but his header lacked sufficient pace to beat Mehmet who gathered comfortably at his right post.
Rovers were winning plenty of corners, and getting into decent positions out wide, but if there was a disappointment with the performance, it was the lack of quality from the final ball which saw much of the good work unravel.
Stanton was introduced with a little over 20 minutes remaining, and he immediately made his presence felt, winning the penalty which handed United an unassailable advantage.
His directness took him into the Raith penalty area, and while Iain Davidson pleaded his innocence, his awkward looking challenge on the midfielder was probably rightly penalised by referee, Steven McLean, allowing Keatings the straightforward task of slotting home the penalty.
Ross Matthews and Yaw Osei were late introductions to the fray, but other than a Buchanan chance which Mehmet appeared to save with his nose, Rovers rarely threatened to get back into it.