Rays of optimism for Rovers despite friendly defeat

Raith new boy James Craigen turns away from Hearts defender Blazej Augustyn. -  Credit -  Fife Photo Agency -
Raith new boy James Craigen turns away from Hearts defender Blazej Augustyn. - Credit - Fife Photo Agency -

Raith Rovers 0 Hearts 2

Raith Rovers first outing under new manager Ray McKinnon ended in a 2-0 friendly defeat to Hearts at Stark’s Park on Tuesday night.

Last season’s Championship winners arrived in Kirkcaldy in fine fettle following a recent tour of Ireland that included wins over Bohemians and Shelbourne.

Rovers, on the other hand, were kitting up for the first time following the postponement of Saturday’s warm-up match against Brechin City.

The difference in fitness and class was evident, but aspects of the Raith performance certainly provided some cause for quiet optimism.

During a goalless first half a Raith side featuring five new signings competed gamely with their Premiership opponents.

McKinnon sent his team out in a 4-3-3 formation with winger Grant Anderson pushed up front due to an injury to Mark Stewart.

Players were quick to close down the men in maroon, with a midfield three of Ross Callachan, James Craigen and Ryan McCord providing good energy and covering plenty ground.

A new-look defence, with former Dundee team mates Lewis Toshney and Kyle Benedictus reunited as a centre-half pairing, restricted the visitors to very few chances.

Rovers also showed composure in possession, using the lush new Stark’s Park pitch to play a patient passing game.

Playing as the deepest of the front three, Lewis Vaughan picked up where he left off last season - the ball glued to his feet during some exciting runs.

Dundee loanee, Craig Wighton, had a quieter debut, but showed glimpses of class with his close control.

However, for all Raith’s efforts, Neil Alexander in the Hearts goal was not required to make a save of note.

Hearts set the early pace and Gary Oliver struck the post with a 20-yard effort on 23 minutes.

The closest Rovers came before the break was from a Vaughan set-piece delivery but Anderson, unmarked six yards out, couldn’t get a decisive touch.

There was an amazing let-off for Raith inside a minute of the second half as Benedictus deflected a cross towards his own goal and the ball rebounded off the crossbar.

The Hearts breakthrough came on 55 minutes as Oliver’s 22-yard strike took a wicked deflection off Benidictus and looped over a helpless Kevin Cuthbert.

The traditional raft of substitutions followed to kill the tempo of the game, as Hearts made nine changes, and Raith made seven, including the introduction of former Hibs and Kilmarnock midfielder Euan Smith, listed as a trialist.

The match was petering out when one of Hearts’ replacements, Jamie Walker, cracked a stunning long-range effort into the top corner to seal the win.

It’s early days for this Raith side and there’s plenty to work on, but first impressions are encouraging.

Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, McKeown, Toshney, Benedictus, Callachan, Craigen, McCord, Wighton, Vaughan, Anderson.

Subs: Petrie, Ford, Bates, Trialist, Laidlaw, Megginson, Robertson, McGurn, Matthews.

Hearts: Alexander, Robertson, Smith, Augustyn, McGhee, McKirdy, Oliver, Anderson, Delgado, El Hassnaoui, Nicholson.

Subs: Howlett Mundle, Hamilton, Jones, McLean, Pallardo, King, Fox, Walker, Reilly, Sow.

Attendance: 1983