Falkirk 1 Raith Rovers 0
If you were to compile a full list of Raith Rovers myriad of woes this season, you’d probably need at least a couple of pens and several sheets of A4 paper.
However, a lack of goals, especially on their travels would surely be near the top.
It’s a damning statistic, but Rovers have only bagged two league goals away from Stark’s Park since managing four at the Falkirk Stadium back in October, and that chronic shortage was their downfall again, as they lost out by a goal to nil to a Falkirk side who moved up to second in the table.
Substitute, Lee Miller produced the match winning goal after 71 minutes, and while Rovers started the game reasonably well, manager, John Hughes admitted afterwards that the result was a fair reflection of the match.
“We could have taken the lead," he noted. "We had one or two chances, with Johnston and then Barr hitting the bar, and that would have given us something to hold on to.
“I felt for the first 30 minutes we were more than a match for them, but when Callachan picked up an injury, it knocked us a bit, then they started to take control, and in the second half, they dominated and we were hanging on, trying to make sure we got something from the game, but the inevitable happened and the ball’s in the back of the net.”
Hughes preparation for the game had been hampered by the loss of Jason Thomson and Ross Matthews through injury, although new loan signing from Hibernian, Danny Handling was on the bench.
The loss of Rovers captain meant a return to the starting eleven for Kevin McHattie, who went back to his usual left-back berth, with Kyle Benedictus switching to the opposite full-back position.
In the middle of the park, Iain Davidson was back in the line-up for the first time since the 2-0 victory over St. Mirren, with the combative midfielder tasked with shielding a defence which had conceded four against Dumbarton the last time they were on their travels.
However, they looked far surer of themselves in the opening period of this one, with Rovers chiselling out the game’s first chance in the fifth minute.
Ryan Hardie bullied Peter Grant off the ball on the edge of the Falkirk area, and although a clear route to goal opened up for Chris Johnston, his finish was of the powderpuff variety, allowing Bairns ‘keeper Robbie Thomson to easily scoop up his offering.
The away side had an even better chance a few moments later, when Davidson’s swinging set-piece from the left found Craig Barr inside the six-yard-box, but despite his close proximity to the goalmouth, he could only steer the bouncing ball onto the crossbar from a couple of yards out.
It was a tentatively encouraging start to proceedings, but they had a huge let-off on the quarter-hour mark.
A long throw-in from Myles Hippolyte seemed to catch out the massed ranks of the Rovers defence as it sailed over their heads towards Fraser Aird, who was careering into the box.
Considering his finish for Canada in the recent friendly against Scotland, you anticipated a rippling net was just seconds away, but while his first-time attempt had plenty of gusto, it lacked accuracy, almost skittling over the Raith substitutes who were warming up close to Pavol Penksa’s goal.
The former Rangers winger almost made amends for his error five minutes later, when his whipped ball from the left allowed John Baird to get his toe on the end of it, although Penksa showed a decent pair of hands to smother his effort.
The game had started to seep away from Rovers at this point, as Falkirk began to exert their dominance. Hippolyte and Aird were causing Raith real discomfort down the wings, and the longer the half wore on, the more it appeared Hughes’ men would rue those missed chances in the opening moments.
It was the former of those wide players who created the next opening, as his pirouette away from Benedictus left the Raith right-back on his backside, and while his cross into the middle was a fine one, Luca Gasparotto could only steer his header wide.
With Rovers on the back foot, the half-time interval seemed a welcome interlude.
There was a change in personnel and weather conditions for the start of the second-period, with debutant Danny Handling replacing the injured Ross Callachan, while a rain deluge engulfed the players as they reappeared.
There was no alteration to the balance of play though, with Aird again proving to be a nuisance down the right, ghosting past McHattie and sending in a cross for Baird, who was crowded out by three Raith defenders.
Hardie and McManus were having to make do with the most meagre of scraps up-top, although the on-loan Rangers man did have a sight at goal after Jordan Thompson chipped the ball over the top, but his shot from the edge of the area was blocked by Gasparotto.
As Hughes alluded to after the match, the lack of service to his forwards is severely hampering the side,
“We need to start looking after the ball up top," he said. "It’s coming back at us too often, and if we’re no looking after it, the quality up there has to be better. If you’re playing in your opponents half, then you’ve more chance of grabbing a goal.
If you aren’t, and you’re not clearing your lines, then it’s simple, the other team will play the game in your half, and that’s what happened to us in that second period.”
Falkirk continued to press, and there was a huge let off after an hour, as Lewis Kidd nutmegged McHattie, before playing a low cross to the font post, which somehow stayed out, after a huge melee on Raith’s goal-line involving four players, one of whom was Penksa, who eventually gathered, after Baird somehow failed to force it over the line.
With chances at a premium, Rovers were going to have to take advantage of any which came along, but they spurned their best opportunity a moment later.
Declan Mcmanus did well down the left, but after cutting inside, his shot was blocked, and although it fell kindly for Johnston, his shot from eight yards was instinctively blocked by
From a fairly drab affair, an exciting spectacle had suddenly emerged, and after more good work from Aird and Kidd down the flank, the ball broke to Bob McHugh, who had time to turn inside the area, before cracking the ball off the bar from 12 yards out.
Falkirk then made a change with Lee Miller replacing Baird, and the experienced forward made an immediate impact with 20 minutes remaining.
For the umpteenth time in the match, a cross from the right caused the damage, with Kidd’s cross finding Miller in an alarming amount of space inside the area, allowing him to sweep the ball past Penksa and into the bottom corner.
It was a goal which had been coming, and the team’s failure to deal effectively with cross balls all afternoon, was a source of consternation to the manager,
“We just don’t stop crosses," Hughes said. "I’ve said that since the minute I come in. We don’t put our body on the line to stop them, and if enough of them come in the box, then eventually one of them will go in.”
Even with 20 minutes or so remaining, Raith looked devoid of ideas to win a valuable point, with Falkirk looking the far likelier to score the second goal.
With Ayr and a resurgent St. Mirren now just behind Rovers, the players will need to find the answers quickly, or face the stark consequence of relegation.