Raith drop to eighth after fifth straight defeat

Another defeat for Raith boss Gary Locke.
Another defeat for Raith boss Gary Locke.

Dundee United 3 Raith Rovers 0

Raith Rovers are now just one place above the relegation zone - and looking nervously over their shoulder - after suffering a fifth straight league defeat away to Dundee United.

The Kirkcaldy side showed no sign of emerging from their winter recession as they conceded three times in a 10 minute spell either side of half-time to end any hope of the positive result the club desperately needs.

Rovers have now taken just five points from 33 since the end of October - an almost identical run to the one that bottom of the table St Mirren started the season with - and which cost their manager his job.

There are now a number of Raith fans calling for the same fate for Gary Locke -- and he will almost certainly be fighting for his job if this wretched run continues -- but the players also have to take their share of the blame after another spineless second half showing.

In three months, the team has plummeted from third in the table, and promotion play-off contenders, to eighth and only protected from a relegation play-off position by four points and a game in hand - which takes place at Stark's Park on Tuesday when Morton visit.

If Rovers lose that one, then they really are in deep trouble.

The first half performance was reasonable - up until losing the opening goal on the stroke of half-time Raith were marginally superior in a poor game - but in a repeat of the previous match, they waved the white flag when the going got tough.

In the end, they finished the match without a single shot on target, and fortunate that the damage wasn't worse.

Locke made just two changes to the side that produced one of the worst performances of the season in the home defeat to Dumbarton last week.

Iain Davidson made a quick return from injury and took his place in midfield, where it was hoped he would provide a much-needed presence, while Declan McManus returned from suspension to partner Mark Stewart up front.

Dropping to the bench were Chris Johnston and Ryan Hardie, despite the latter finding the net in each of the last two games.

Despite the changes, Raith stuck with 4-4-2 - Locke's favoured system but one that has failed to deliver a win since October. It is apparent that Raith need to consider alternative options.

Almost 900 Rovers fans travelled to Tannadice for the brilliant 2-2 draw in August, but the effects of a late kick-off, live BBC Alba coverage, the February weather and poor form saw little more than 100 diehards cross the Tay.

With United also struggling for form of late, despite their lofty league position, it was perhaps no surprise that the opening exchanges of the game were lacking in quality, with neither side displaying much in the way of confident, passing football.

There was a let off for Raith on 18 minutes when a ball to the back post found Simon Murray but rather than shoot first time, he took a touch which allowed Bobby Barr to nip in and clear the ball to safety.

Raith then suffered an injury blow as goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert appeared to pick up a lower body injury. After receiving treatment he tried to play on, but was clearly struggling with kick-outs and was replaced by Connor Brennan on 29 minutes.

Rovers had contained United effectively for most of the first half and heading towards half-time the visitors started to show some life in attack. On 40 minutes, a Kevin McHattie free to the back post was headed back across goal by Kyle Benedictus and McManus looped a header onto the roof of the net.

Raith would have been the happier camp at the interval - but all that changed as United took the lead on 45 minutes with a goal that should have been avoided.

Iain Davidson picked up a booking for a foul on the edge of the area and although Brennan made a good save from Scott Fraser's free-kick, Rovers' defence completely switched off from the loose ball as Paul Dixon crossed to the near post where a totally unmarked Thomas Mikkelson headed home from six yards.

Given the situation Raith find themselves, to display such a lack of concentration in their own box is unforgivable.

Rovers had to regroup at half-time but instead they unravelled.

Four minutes after the restart they conceded again as they were torn apart down the right with Paul Dixon's cross taking a ricochet into the path of Tony Andreu near the penalty spot, who had time to set himself up for a volley which left Brennan with no chance.

Another four minutes passed before United struck again as Murray sent an inviting cross to the back post where Mikkelson was too strong for McHattie as he climbed above the left back to loop a header over Brennan that dropped inside the far post.

Rovers now resembled a ragtag side as they struggled to keep the score down. United rained 14 shots on goal in the second half, with only the outside of the post denying sub Alex Nicholls what should have been fourth goal with his first touch.

Raith's only attempt in second half came from sub Ryan Stevenson but his hopeful 30 yard effort hit the backside of fellow sub Ryan Hardie and went out of play. A moment to sum up the team's current situation.

There is now huge pressure to win in midweek - pressure that the team has put on itself by failing to perform in recent weeks.

After a lengthy post-match discussion with his players, Locke admitted: "Tuesday is huge for us.

"We've got a couple of games in hand and we need to stop the rot.

"Now's not a time to feel sorry for yourself. You've got to stand up and be counted.

"The players are letting themselves down because they are better than what they are showing."

If this side is capable of better, then there can be no excuses.

Dundee Utd: Bell, Dixon, Durnan, Toshney (Telfer 90), Spittal, Murray, Fraser, Edjenguele, Mikkelsen (Nicholls 79), Andreu (van der Velden 76), van der Struijk. Not used: Zwick, Dillon, Murdoch, Robson.

Booked: Edjenguele

Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, McHattie, Callachan, M'voto, Benedictus, Stewart, B.Barr, Matthews (Hardie 61), Davidson, McManus (Stevenson 72). Not used: Brennan, Johnston, Skacel, Thompson, C.Barr.

Booked: Davidson

Referee: Stephen Finnie

Attendance: 5232.