Raith Rovers 0 Rangers 1
A spirited second half performance from Raith Rovers was not enough to prevent a narrow defeat to Rangers on a bitterly cold Tuesday night at Stark’s Park.
Any points earned from Mark Warburton’s side this season will be considered a bonus, but this may be looked back upon as a missed chance to claim at least a draw.
Andy Halliday’s close range finish on the stroke of half-time gave Rangers the lead their first half dominance deserved, however, the Kirkcaldy side gave a much better account of themselves in the second half, introducing new loan signing Harry Panayiotou from the bench, and with a bit more conviction in possession, they might have got something from the game.
The result means Raith have now gone five games without scoring, and have won just once in 11 league games, which is poor form in anyone’s book, despite the current league position.
There are positives for Ray McKinnon to cling to - defensively Raith remain strong and the work ethic of his team is not in question - but the quality of play in the middle and final thirds must improve.
Rovers welcomed Lewis Toshney back into the fold after an injury lay-off, and the centre-half did a fine job protecting the back four in a surprise midfield role.
However, the star performer and rightful recipient of the sponsors’ man of the match award was youngster David Bates. His timing and reading of the game was impressive for a 19-year-old playing in an unnatural right back position.
Raith’s first half game plan seemed to revolve around getting to half-time at 0-0. The hosts showed very little adventure, putting everyone behind the ball in an attempt to keep Rangers out.
The early signs were ominous as Rovers were pulled all over the pitch by the visitors sharp passing and movement, but as the half wore on the league leaders found it more difficult to pick holes.
Kevin Cuthbert was not called to make a save until the 19th minutes, but it was a fairly simple catch from Barrie McKay’s tame 20-yard curler.
Cuthbert made a much more impressive stop on 30 minutes. Rangers won a free-kick 20 yards out and the Raith ‘keeper did brilliantly to fingertip Halliday’s deflected effort onto the post.
Two minutes later, another free-kick from James Tavernier struck the wall, but Raith couldn’t clear and Martin Waghorn broke on goal only for Cuthbert to race from his line and stop the striker’s attempt with his legs.
While well organised and hard to break down, Rovers were not helping themselves by giving the ball away as quickly as they won it back, and typically, they were punished on the cusp of half-time.
Rory McKeown’s cheap giveaway allowed Rangers to break down the right and Tavernier’s low ball across the six-yard line was fired into the net by the inrushing Halliday.
Raith showed more attacking intent in the opening minute of the second half than they did in the entire first as McKeown hit the by-line and drilled over a low cross which Louis Longridge flicked towards goal, forcing Wes Foderingham into his first, and only save.
Rangers were not performing with the same intensity and McKinnon, sensing an opportunity, made a double change on the hour mark, replacing Ross Callachan and Mark Stewart, who had poor games, with James Craigen and Panayiotou.
The Leicester City youngster showed glimpses of his potential with some neat touches and turns, and most encouraging of all, given the team’s recent scoring issues, he tucked away the only chance he got, albeit the whistle had already blown for a foul.
Toshney had wiped out a Rangers player in winning a header on the edge of the box - a challenge referee Euan Anderson deemed worthy of a foul. It seemed a harsh call, given Toshney took ball first then man, and McKinnon later branded the decision “outrageous”.
Rangers carried much less threat in the second half with a deflected long range effort from sub Dene Shiels that spun narrowly wide as close as they got to extending their lead.
For all their endeavour, Raith just didn’t have the tools to hurt the Rangers defence and the visitors managed to see out time fairly comfortably.
The referee could have handed out red cards near the end, an elbow from Dominic Ball on James Craigen that left the Raith midfielder requiring stitches went completely unpunished, while Louis Longridge was lucky to escape with a yellow for a wild kick on Tavernier.
With a break of 11 days until the next fixture away to Falkirk, and key players returning from injury, Raith have to close the door on their poor run, regroup, and start afresh in their push for fourth place.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Bates, Toshney, Benedictus, McKeown, Davidson, Robertson, Connolly, Callachan (Craigen 60 - Anderson 75), Longridge, Stewart (Panayiotou 60). Subs not used: Thomson, McCord, Matthews, Law.
Rangers: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Danny Wilson, Wallace, Ball, Miller (O’Halloran 64), Zelalem (Shiels 72), Halliday, McKay (Forrester 63), Waghorn. Subs not used: King, Bell, Law, Clark.
Referee: Euan Anderson