Raith Rovers 0 Falkirk 2
Raith Rovers crashed to their first league defeat since March 1, going down 2-0 to Falkirk after a flat performance at Stark’s Park this afternoon.
Despite plenty possession, Raith lacked the cutting edge to puncture the visiting defence, and Falkirk made them pay with two clinical finishes against the run of play.
Other than Bobby Barr, who carried a lone threat with his penetrating runs, Rovers’ game lacked spark or invention - a fact acknowledged by manager Gary Locke afterwards.
“It was a frustrating game,” he said. “When they scored both their goals we were the team on top.
“We played okay but it was a bit flat in the forward third - we weren’t as sharp as we have been.
“We’ve got to lift ourselves and go again. We don’t become a bad team overnight.”
Locke made three changes to the side that lost to Forfar in the Irn Bru Cup last week.
Dropping out were injured pair Jean-Yves M’voto and Mark Stewart, while Rudi Skacel returned to the bench.
Jason Thomson and Jordan Thompson returned to the side from suspension and international duty respectively, while there was a recall for Lewis Vaughan up front.
The opening period of the game lacked tempo but Raith were the brighter team and Declan McManus had a chance to head his side in front on 10 minutes but failed to connect properly with Barr’s cross and the ball looped into the grateful arms of Danny Rogers.
Raith continued to hold the upper hand and should have taken the lead on 21 minutes when Vaughan whipped a free-kick to the back post where Davidson headed wide with the goal gaping.
Raith had defended well up until this point with Davidson and Benedictus looking a strong partnership, but one breakdown in communication on the half hour mark was all it took for the visitors to grab the lead.
A poor clearing header from Ross Matthews fell straight to Mark Kerr and the Falkirk midfielder threaded a ball between the centre-halves to John Baird, who still had plenty to do, but after taking a good first touch, he clipped a neat left-foot finish beyond Connor Brennan.
Not for the first time since leaving Stark’s Park, Baird had come back to haunt his former side with the type of lethal finishing that made him a hero among the Rovers faithful.
Thereafter, Raith never looked like recovering the game as they attacked Falkirk without the conviction required to break down a stubborn rearguard.
The service to the front men was poor with McManus often asked to challenge for high balls against big centre-halves, while Vaughan, usually so effective as the link between midfield and attack, was having an off day.
With Raith failing to create any chances of note, there was no way back after Falkirk grabbed a second goal with 19 minutes left.
Rovers’ midfield failed to track substitute John Rankin, who ran from deep to cut back the ball back for Tom Taiwo to blast home.
Locke introduced three attacking subs - Skacel, Scott Roberts and Joel Coustrain - and even threw Benedictus up front for the last 10 minutes, but it made little difference.
There were loud appeals for a penalty in the 86th minute when Davidson collapsed under a clumsy challenge from Lee Miller, but after ref Euan Anderson turned it down, he then booked the Raith defender for his protests.
And with that, the game was gone, along with Raith’s long, proud unbeaten league record.
It was a disappointing way to relinquish it, particularly since Falkirk’s performance, while solid front to back, was not quite up to the standard they set last season.
Raith are still third in the table, but will feel they could have taken something from the game had they hit top gear. With an in-form Queen of the South up next, the Kirkcaldy men will need to get back to their best quickly.
Raith Rovers: Brennan, Thomson, McHattie, Callachan, Benedictus, Vaughan (Skacel 68), B.Barr, Matthews (Coustrain 73), Davidson, McManus, Thompson (Roberts 57). Not used: Cuthbert, Stevenson, Thorsen.
Falkirk: Rodgers, Kidd, Leahy, McCracken, Taiwo, Kerr, Baird (Miller 69), Sibbald (Craigen 72), Hippolyte (Rankin 60) Gasparotto, McHugh. Not used: McMinn, Austin, Shepherd, Watson.
Referee: Euan Anderson