Raith Rovers 3 Queen of the South 0
It may have come too late to salvage their play-off hopes, but Raith Rovers finally showed their top four credentials with a resounding victory over Queen of the South at Stark’s Park on Tuesday night.
After three previous defeats to the Dumfries club this term - those nine lost points have ultimately proved the difference between the sides - Rovers turned the tables in an emphatic 3-0 win.
The result will probably do more for Falkirk’s promotion hopes than their own - the Kirkcaldy men remain eight points behind fourth-placed Queens with seven games to play.
Nonetheless this was an encouraging result - possibly the best in the league of the season - as Rovers showed a strength in defence and an inventiveness in attack that Queens had no answers for.
Raith boss Grant Murray said: “It was important that we gave a good account of ourselves after losing our last three games against them.
“We’ve had to work hard, especially at 1-0, but the back five were immense and we caused them problems going forward.
“The top four is still a massive ask but we’ll try to win as many games as possible between now and the end of the season.”
It was the on-form strike duo of Mark Stewart and Lewis Vaughan who again did the damage with Stewart grabbing a brace to take his season’s tally to seven - before Vaughan’s late stunner completed the scoring.
As a partnership the pair have now scored eight league goals between them in only five starts together, making them the club’s most lethal double act by some distance.
We’ve had to work hard, especially at 1-0, but the back five were immense and we caused them problems going forwardRaith Rovers manager Grant Murray
Raith made a bright start to the game, fashioning an opening inside 60 seconds as Vaughan’s pass released Stewart in behind the Queens defence, but his hurried shot was sliced well wide.
The striker showed more composure with his next chance as he fired Rovers into an 18th minute lead, pouncing on a rebound after Zander Clark had parried Jason Thomson’s header to lash the ball home via the underside of the bar.
The very fact that Thomson - Raith’s right back - was on the end of a Ryan Conroy cross emphasised the home side’s attack-minded start to the match.
With the pressure now off, Raith now appear to be playing with a freedom they have rarely shown at Stark’s Park in recent times - a lesson for a less cautious approach to home fixtures next season, perhaps.
Queens had hardly featured in the game in the opening half hour but they improved towards half-time with Mark Millar’s powerful 20-yard drive narrowly missing David McGurn’s crossbar.
Raith had more defending to do in the early exchanges of the second half as the promotion-chasing visitors replaced centre-half Mark Durnan with striker Gavin Reilly and started to pile on the pressure.
However, Raith’s well-marshalled defence was rarely breached - only once was McGurn called into serious action as he made an excellent stop to keep out Andy Dowie’s powerful downward header from a set-piece.
A rather weary-looking Grant Anderson passed up a glorious chance to double Rovers lead in the 54th minute as Liam Fox threaded a perfect ball through the Queens defence to put the winger through on goal, but he slipped at the crucial moment and the chance was gone.
In midfield, Ross Callachan was struggling on a rare off-night for the on-form midfielder - tiredness was setting in after five full games in 14 days - and Murray reacted in the 64th minute by replacing him with Martin Scott.
It proved a decisive change as Scott’s energy helped turn the game back in Rovers’ favour and it was from one of his driving forward runs that Raith got the killer second goal with 12 minutes left.
Scott travelled 40 yards with the ball before finding Conroy on the left of the penalty area, who managed to dig out a cross that Stewart met with a delightful glancing header, which he steered in off the far post for his and Rovers’ second.
Four minutes later the points were wrapped up in emphatic style with a contender for Raith’s goal of the season.
Vaughan collected the ball midway inside the Queens half, turned, then weaved his way past three players before sending an unstoppable shot past Clark from 20 yards.
The 19-year-old has certainly made his point since returning to the starting line-up with four goals in five starts following his somewhat strange exile from the team for most of the season.
The significance of this result may not be felt this season, but if Raith can continue to show this form for the remainder of the campaign, then they will have something to build on for next season.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, McKeown, Watson, Barr, Callachan (Scott 64), Anderson (McKay 83), Fox, Conroy, Vaughan (Elliot 87), Stewart. Not used: Hill, Robertson, Matthews, Cuthbert.
Queen of the South: Clark, Holt, Dowie, Durnan (Reilly 55), Higgins, Millar, Kidd (Mitchell 71), Paton, Carmichael, McShane (McKenna 85), Lyle. Not used: Pickard, A.Smith, D.Smith, Atkinson.
Referee: Craig Charleston