Raith lose unbeaten record at Cliftonhill

Albion keeper Graham Bowman dives bravely at the feet of Raith striker Greig Spence. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Albion keeper Graham Bowman dives bravely at the feet of Raith striker Greig Spence. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Albion Rovers 2 Raith Rovers 1

Raith Rovers unbeaten start to the League One campaign came to a stuttering halt in a disappointing 2-1 defeat in Coatbridge.

Albion Rovers were deserved winners but Raith were their own worst enemies in a performance littered with mistakes, the worst of all being goalkeeper Graeme Smith's howling error which gifted the hosts a half-time lead.

Raith's character and resolve has passed many tests already this season, but with key players absent, a trip to the tight confines of Cliftonhill - where a bobbly pitch and swirling wind made for challenging conditions - promised to be one of the toughest examinations yet.

And for the first time this season, Barry Smith's men were found wanting as they saw their lead at the top of the table cut to three points.

With Scott Robertson added to Raith's growing injury list, teenage defender Dave McKay came in for only his second league start in the heart of defence, while Dario Zanatta was rewarded for his recent scoring exploits off the bench by taking Greig Spence's place in the starting XI.

Raith started with Lewis Vaughan in a more central role, deploying Zanatta off the left, but after failing to make any impression on the Albion defence in the opening exchanges, the pair swapped places with Vaughan returning to his customary wide position after 15 minutes.

Indeed, Raith chopped and changed their frontline positions throughout the first half, but without any effectiveness.

The first attempt on goal went to Albion on 16 minutes as Gary Fisher crossed from the left and Sean Higgins got between the Raith centre-halves to glance a header towards goal that was comfortably held by Smith.

Raith's first threat came from a Vaughan corner which Albion struggled to clear before McKay fires a volley over the bar.

After a quiet start, Vaughan sprang into life on 24 minutes coming in off left touchline to fire a low 20-yard short on target which Graham Bowman held low to his right.

Everything was either rushed or forced - it was a turgid watch - but a mistake in the Albion defence almost led to the opener when Zanatta pounced on Daniel Lighbody's poor touch but his trundling effort was tipped wide of the far post by keeper Bowman.

The opener arrived at the other end two minutes later, and it was a gift from Graeme Smith.

The experienced goalkeeper received a pass-back on his six-yard line and had enough time to take a touch and clear, but instead he tried to dribble his way past Alan Trouten, who stole the ball and then rolled it across the line and inside the far post.

While Smith has shown decent form for Raith since joining the club, and played his part in keeping clean sheets, he has has looked cumbersome with the ball at his feet, and his failure to recognise the danger cost his team dearly.

Zanatta deserved his start after impressive sub appearances but perhaps it was the wrong player for the wrong game as the on-loan Hearts youngster was replaced at half-time by Spence, a player who knows what is required in such tough away venues in the Scottish lower leagues.

He led the line better in the second half, but to say Raith's performance improved after the break would be an over-statement.

The mistakes continued, with players consistently either dispossessed or failing to react to second balls, and as a result the best chances fell to Albion on the break.

Raith only managed to fashion one clear cut chance for an equaliser as Liam Buchanan, one of few Raith players to receive pass marks, turned in midfield and slipped in Spence but from a narrow angle the striker couldn't get his shot past Bowman.

At the other end, Smith made a fine save at his near post to deny Trouten a second, while a number of balls were played across the Raith six-yard box without any takers.

Raith were starting to look desperate with teenager Jack Smith, a midweek goalscorer in the development squad, brought off the bench for his first ever senior appearance to try and inject some life into the performance.

But the more Raith pushed forward, the more gaps were left at the back, and Albion eventually punished them with seven minutes left when the passed their way towards the visitors' box with little resistance, before Connor Shields curled a glorious effort beyond Smith from 18 yards.

That looked to be curtains for Raith, but they threw themselves a lifeline in the 87th minute when Jonny Court came off the bench to head Vaughan's free-kick back across goal where Spence nipped in ahead of keeper Bowman to nod over the line from six yards.

But as per the rest of this game, they spent most of the remaining time chasing the ball back into their own half, as Albion fought for their lives to clear any danger, and then kept the ball in the corner flag to wind down the clock.

This was nowhere near good enough but there was always going to be a set-backs in Raith's bid to return to the Championship. It will be their response that defines their season.

Albion Rovers: Bowman, Reid, McLaughlin, Lighbody, Perry, Holmes (McLeish 85), Fisher, Davidson, Shields (Victoria 84), Higgins (McMullin 84) , Trouten. Not used: Hopkins, Watters, Potts, Guthrie.

Raith Rovers: G.Smith, Thomson, Herron, Murray, Buchanan, Vaughan, Barr, Matthews (J.Smith 75), Davidson, McKay (Court 84), Zanatta (Spence 45). Not used: Brian, Osei, Berry, Watson.

Referee: David Lowe

Attendance: 616