Relegation fears eased as Rovers grind out vital victory

John Baird slots the ball home for Rovers' winning goal against Queen of the South. Pic: Neil Doig
John Baird slots the ball home for Rovers' winning goal against Queen of the South. Pic: Neil Doig

Raith Rovers 3 Queen of the South 2

There was a sense of relief at Stark’s Park last night as a hard fought win over Queen of the South all but secured Raith Rovers place in the Championship next season.

The victory moved Raith nine points clear of Cowdenbeath with three games left, and with a healthy goal difference advantage over their Fife rivals, the Kirkcaldy side are now virtually safe from any relegation play-off fears, barring some crazy results.

A rollercoaster 90 minutes effectively summed up Rovers’ league season - a great start, a disastrous middle, a red card, before things turned out all right in the end ... Rovers just like to do things the hard way.

John Baird’s winner nine minutes from time could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to the club considering the likes of Rangers, Hearts and possibly Dunfermline will be joining the league next term. Perhaps ‘Bairdy’ will be reminding the board of directors of that when it comes to contract negotiations for next season!

Kick-off was delayed by half an hour as Queen’s faced difficulties getting to Kirkcaldy on time due to long delays at the Forth Road Bridge caused by an oil spill. But when the action did get underway, it was Rovers who produced the slick football, scoring twice inside six minutes to take an early 2-0 lead.

Joe Cardle got things started in the third minute, cutting inside from the left wing, and thundering a powerful right-foot shot past Zander Clark from 20 yards.

Rovers quickly doubled their lead when Cardle’s corner was cleared back to his feet, and his second delivery fell to defender Paul Watson at the back post, who showed the insticts of a striker with a crisp first-time volley.

In a flashback to the early stages of the season, Rovers were oozing confidence and cutting Queen’s to shreds with some sharp attacking football.

Only the woodwork prevented Baird making it 3-0 in the 20th minute when he pushed his way past defender Mark Durnan to smack the base of the post with a left-foot shot from the edge of the area.

At this stage Rovers were well on their way to only their second home win of 2014 - then things got complicated.

Durnan got Queen’s on the scoresheet in the 37th minute, heading home a Chris Mitchell free-kick after Liam Fox had fouled Iain Russell on the by-line. Then in first half injury-time, Durnan struck again, rushing in to head home Mitchell’s corner kick while Raith markers just stood back and admired.

Heads were down as ref Greig Aitken blew his half-time whistle, but after a chat with the manager, Rovers stepped up a gear at the start of the second half.

Reece Donaldson was unlucky to see a goalbound flick from a Cardle corner cleared off the line as Rovers pushed the visitors onto the back foot.

Kevin Moon was replaced by Ross Callachan and the young substitute was to play a key role in the outcome. He almost set up Gordon Smith for the third goal in the 78th minute but the striker headed his cross wide with the goal at his mercy.

Calum Elliot then fired narrowly wide from a tight angle before Rovers got the goal their second half efforts deserved in the 81st minute. Callachan’s brilliant burst from midfield took him past two Queen’s players into the box and he laid the ball on a plate for Baird to sweep home.

A minute later Donaldson was shown a soft second yellow card for what appeared no worse than a mistimed jump into the back of Derek Lyle as he challenged for a header. But Rovers held firm and got their just rewards for showing some fighting spirit.

Raith Rovers: Robinson, Thomson, Booth, Watson, Fox, Cardle, Moon (Callachan 64), Elliot, Donaldson, Smith, Baird (Mullen 83). Not used: Spence, Ellis, Vaughan, Matthews, Laidlaw.

Queen of the South: Clark, Mitchell, Higgins (Holt 90), McKenna, Durnan, Dowie, Burns, McShane, Lyle, Reilly, Russell (Carmichael 88). Not used: Young, Sdierzawski, Kidd, Hooper, Atkinson.

Referee: Greig Aitken

Attendance: 993