Raith off to winning start on new astroturf pitch

Dave McKay leaps on Kevin Nisbet after the striker put Raith 2-0 ahead. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Dave McKay leaps on Kevin Nisbet after the striker put Raith 2-0 ahead. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 2 Stenhousemuir 0

Raith Rovers christened their impressive new astroturf with a solid, if unspectacular, 2-0 win over Stenhousemuir at Stark's Park.

The newly-promoted visitors proved to be awkward opponents, with the woodwork twice coming to Raith's rescue, while it took a contentious penalty kick decision to get the home side off the mark midway through the first half.

Rovers will, however, take encouragement from aspects of the performance, particularly a first clean sheet of the season, a double for striker Kevin Nisbet, while Nathan Flanagan also delivered a sprightly display on his first competitive start following a back injury.

The winger was the only change from the side that drew 1-1 at Stranraer in the season opener the previous week, replacing teenager Euan Valentine, who dropped to the bench.

On-loan Rangers goalkeeper Kieran Wright kept his place despite dislocating a finger in training with his parent club during the week, which meant trialist Ben McKenzie, who was at East Fife last season, was left on the bench.

Raith were without injured trio Robbie Thomson, Chris Duggan and Lewis Vaughan, while Iain Davidson remained suspended.

In terms of its appearance, the new £700,000 pitch certainly lived up to its claim as being among the best in the country, and the ball ran well too, with few complaints from the players despite the watering system yet to be in operation. Once the sprinklers are installed, it should be an excellent surface to play football on.

Rovers were looking to make a positive impression in their first proper home match of the campaign, and Flanagan provided an early spark on the left with some neat turns and touches, although clear openings were few and far between.

The opener arrived on 24 minutes as referee Mike Roncone pointed to the spot after Nisbet was tackled in the act of shooting. Stenny protests were waved aside - the visitors were adamant the ball had been played - but Nisbet kept his cool to send Smith the wrong way.

The Warriors could have levelled within two minutes when defender Jesus Garcia Tena got on the end of a free-kick from the left but his close range header was straight at Wright.

Raith were fortunate to keep their lead on 36 minutes when winger Alan Cook found acres of space down the left and his overhit cross flew over the head of Wright and crashed back into play off the crossbar. The rebound was blasted over the bar.

AS IT HAPPENED: Relive our live updates from the game here: https://www.fifetoday.co.uk/sport/football/raith-rovers/live-raith-rovers-v-stenhousemuir-1-4782484
Rovers diced with danger in the early stages of the second half as some sloppiness in possession, coupled with sitting back, allowed Stenny to set up camp in their half.

The home side perked up on 55 minutes as Nisbet and Buchanan linked well on the edge of the box, with the latter sending a powerful volley towards goal from 20 yards, which was straight at Smith, who held.

Buchanan again fired straight at Smith after racing onto a Flanagan cutback, while Kyle Benedictus was just too high with a header from a corner.

At the other end, Colin McMenamin's deep cross caught Wright in no mans land but the angle was too tight for Cook at the back post, who could only find the side-netting.

Raith were far from comfortable at 1-0 and they had an almighty escape on 68 minutes when Alan Reid's cross was met by Mark McGuigan but from close range the striker could only divert the ball onto the post, when it looked easier to score.

After that let-off, Rovers raced straight up the other end and Flanagan set up Buchanan who trundled an effort beyond Smith only for Garcia Tena to pop up on the line to boot the ball to safety.

Buchanan had put in a lot of work for little reward and was replaced by Lewis Milne with 15 minutes remaining as Raith looked for something different in pursuit of a killer second goal.

Almost immediately, Flanagan sent a free-kick to the near post, where the ball broke to the feet of Dave McKay but the big defender was denied by Smith at his near post.

The goal was only delayed by a matter of seconds though as the ball was returned to the box by Milne, and Nisbet powered home a header.

The two-goal cushion allowed some confidence to return to the Raith performance, with some of the more free-flowing moves coming in the final 10 minutes.

Still, Stenny could have set up a nervy finish had substitute Bobby Vaughan made a better connection with a free header just six yards out, but his effort drifted harmlessly wide.

Raith sub Milne came close to adding extra gloss to the winning scoreline as he found space in the box, side-stepping the goalkeeper, only to send his effort against the top of the crossbar.

The jury is still out on this season's Raith side and whether it has enough depth and quality to make their status as the only full-time team in the division count.

However, this was a step in the right direction.

Raith Rovers: Wright, Watson, Murray, Benedictus, Gillespie, Buchanan (Milne 74), Matthews, Wedderburn, Nisbet, Flanagan (Valentine 88), McKay. Not used: Trialist, Stevenson, Berry.

Stenhousemuir: Smith, Reid (Trialist 85), Donaldson, Neill, Garcia Tena, Trialist, McMenamin (Vaughan 79), Dickson, McGuigan, Duthie, Cook. Not used: Sinclair, Kemp, Johnson, McMinn.

Referee: Mike Roncone

Attendance: 1415 (42 away fans).