Raith finish year on a high with convincing win over Stranraer

Raith celebrate Greig Spence's opener against Stranraer. Pic: Walter Neilson, Fife Photo Agency
Raith celebrate Greig Spence's opener against Stranraer. Pic: Walter Neilson, Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 3 Stranraer 0

Raith Rovers will head into the new year in fine fettle following a convincing win over Stranraer at Stark's Park in the final match of 2017.

The Kirkcaldy side made it nine home wins from nine in League One this season thanks to goals from Greig Spence, Liam Buchanan and Lewis Vaughan.

Even a late penalty miss failed to take shine from a significant day in the title race, with Ayr's surprise home defeat to bottom of the table Forfar providing an added bonus.

Stranraer came into the match on the back of revelations of financial problems which forced them to ship out three players during the week, including the sale of top scorer Ryan Wallace to Arbroath.

Raith were not without their own selection problems, with four first team players absent through injury, which meant the substitute's bench was almost entirely made up from the under 20 squad. Given their ongoing injury woes, Barry Smith and his players deserve some extra credit.

Also due praise are the ground staff and army of volunteers who laid and removed covers to help ensure the pitch passed a morning inspection. Without their efforts, this would have just been another game in hand, rather than an important three points in the bank.

For all this was a commanding performance, Raith took some time to settle as Stranraer made the brighter start.

Jason Thomson had to leave the field after just two minutes for treatment on a facial knock, leaving Raith temporarily down to 10 men.

This unsettled the hosts and allowed Stranraer to seize the early initiative, with a mistake from goalkeeper Graeme Smith fortunate to go unpunished.

The big stopper, heroic in the previous weekend's win over Arbroath, failed to get sufficient distance on a clearance after leaving his box, hitting it straight at Paul Woods.

With the goal gaping, Smith had to frantically retreat, fumbling the shot from Woods as he raced back to his line before Dave McKay eventually cleared the danger.

After surviving that early scare, Raith took the lead on 12 minutes and never looked back.

Brilliant work from Buchanan forced a loose pass in the Stranraer defence, which he pounced on before hitting by-line and cutting back for Spence to fire home from six yards for his fifth goal in as many games.

Spence then returned the favour to his strike partner on 26 minutes as Rovers went two ahead.

The striker spun his marker on the edge of the box before slipping a pinpoint pass to Buchanan, who controlled it superbly before lashing a finish high beyond Cameron Belford at his near post for his ninth of the season.

Raith should have gone three up on the half hour when Spence broke free down the right and crossed for Buchanan who couldn't beat Belford from close range.

Spence also fired a decent opening into the side net as Raith finished the first half good value for their two-goal lead, albeit Stranraer were far from out of it having enjoyed some decent spells of possession.

Indeed, the visitors started the second half on the front foot and Kyle Turner fired narrowly wide after cutting in from the left.

Raith responded with a couple of corners before Scott Robertson tested Belford with a low effort from the edge of the area which the keeper got down to hold.

The home side continued to attack with purpose, and Buchanan went one-on-one with Belford but his finish was weak, then Spence went through only to cut back on his left foot and scoop the ball over the gaping goal.

Finally, the points were secured on 68 minutes when Robertson's cross was headed against his own bar by a defender, and the rebound fell kindly for Vaughan to nod over the line and end his six-game scoring drought, albeit having been moved into a deeper role in recent weeks.

With the game effectively won, Raith took their foot off the gas in the closing stages and focused on protecting their clean sheet, but there were still something for the home fans to cheer as news filtered through that Ayr had fallen 3-2 behind at home to Forfar after being 2-0 up.

With the match petering out Rovers were awarded a penalty - their first in 57 league games stretching back to April 2016 - when Dario Zanatta was brought down by Morgan Neil as he made a bee-line for goal.

Given their lack of practice from the spot over the past 20 months, it was perhaps no surprise that Vaughan's effort lacked conviction as Belford managed to save his rather tame attempt with his legs.

The full-time whistle followed just seconds later to round off the team's most confident and assured victory for some time.

Raith Rovers: Smith, Thomson, Murray, Spence (Court 72), Robertson, Buchanan (Osei 84), Vaughan, Matthews, Davidson, McKay, Zanatta. Not used: Lennox, Watson, Berry, Bell.

Stranraer: Belford, Robertson, Hamill, Dick, Neil, Bell, Beith, Woods, Anderson (Agnew 72), Turner (Elliot 79), Thomson (Okoh 72). Not used: McGowan, Gray, Scott, McLaren.

Referee: Craig Charleston.

Attendance: 1432