Renewed hope for Raith as victory closes gap on Ayr

Dario Zanatta curls home Raith's second against Queen's Park. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Dario Zanatta curls home Raith's second against Queen's Park. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 2 Queen's Park 0

The League One title is still Ayr United's to lose, but there is renewed hope for Raith Rovers after favourable results this afternoon.

Ayr, who were five points clear at the top of the table before kick-off, went into their home match against Stranraer knowing a win could clinch the title if Raith slipped up at home to bottom of the table Queen's Park.

The Kirkcaldy men ensured that would not be the case, claiming a fine 2-0 win at Stark's Park thanks to a pair cracking first half finishes from Bobby Barr and Dario Zanatta.

But in an unexpected boost, they also closed to within two points of the league leaders, who fell to a 2-1 defeat at Somerset Park while top scorer Lawrence Shankland was also sent off and will now be suspended for the crucial final two games, pending any appeal.

The surprising turn of events means Raith can now reclaim top spot, for 24 hours at least, if they take three points from their penultimate league fixture in Stranraer next Saturday, with Ayr not playing until Sunday after their trip to Alloa was moved to accommodate BBC Alba.

Barry Smith rang the changes after the draw in Arbroath the previous week, five in all, with Graeme Smith replacing the injured Aaron Lennox in goals, while captain Kyle Benedictus missed out altogether with an injury. Ross Matthews, Regan Hendry and Willis Furtado all dropped to the bench.

Kevin McHattie was brought in for only his 10th appearance of an injury-hit season, and looked more like his old self, particularly during a sprightly first half, while Zanatta was also recalled to the starting 11 to good effect along with John Herron and Lewis Vaughan, who returned from a one-game suspension.

The changes certainly had the desired effect in a dominant first half as Raith got their reward for playing attacking football on the deck, with the passing and movement more reminiscent of early season form, and certainly much improved on recent performances.

The tone was set inside the opening minute as intricate build-up play ended with Liam Buchanan forcing Michael White into a reflex save from his close range volley. From the corner, Jason Thomson ought to have scored but glanced his header wide from six yards.

Raith got the goal their positive start deserved in the ninth minute when Thomson flighted a cross to the back post which Barr watched all the way before side-footing a terrific volley into the far corner of the net.

Rovers continued to play some lovely football without much of an end product until Zanatta fired a stunning second on 39 minutes, jinking past his man before curling a 20-yard effort in the top corner after more good work from Thomson down the right.

Buchanan went close to making it three on the stroke of half-time as his header from Thomson's cross smacked off the crossbar before referee Alan Newlands called a halt to a satisfying opening 45 minutes.

Putting together a complete 90-minute performance has been something Raith have struggled with at times this season, and they were unable to match the heights of the first half display in a somewhat subdued second 45.

There was sloppiness straight from the restart when Herron, still struggling with a back injury picked up late in the first half, gave the ball away allowing Queen's to mount an attack that ended with Smith making a one-handed save to tip over Anton Brady's 16-yard volley.

Ross Matthews came on for Herron, who sat on the bench with an ice pack on his back, but Rovers were still searching for the fluency of the first half when a free-kick into their box found Adam Cummins unmarked but he headed wide.

If the football wasn't up to the first half standard, Raith at least remained workmanlike and they came close to a third on the hour mark, hitting the bar for a second time as Barr crossed for Vaughan to head against the goal frame from six yards out.

However, the home side had an incredible let-off five minutes later when another free-kick into the box caused carnage, and with Queen's players seemingly queuing up to score, Smith made an incredible save, before Euan Murray followed up with a goal-line clearance as the danger was cleared.

Queen's had looked a poor outfit in the first half, but they were a different prospect now as they continued to apply pressure, with Aidan Keena blasting narrowly wide after a corner dropped at his feet, while a backpedalling Iain Davidson was relieved to see his back header land on the roof of the net after looping over Smith.

Raith's determination not to concede ensured that they survived the scares, and avoided an uncomfortable end to the match, while the supporters left the players in no doubt over the events at Somerset Park with loud cheers greeting Stranraer's late winner.

A win at Stair Park next weekend will make things very interesting ...

Raith Rovers: Smith, Thomson, McHattie, Herron (Matthews 50), Murray, Robertson, Buchanan (Hendry 82), Vaughan (Furtado 82), Barr, Davidson, Zanatta. Not used: Brian, Spence, Court, McKay.

Queen's Park: White, Millen, Gibson, Fotheringham, Cummins, Magee (Leitch 47), Brady (Donnelly 70), McVey (Orr 78), Keena, Galt, Burns. Not used: Docherty, Mortimer, Ruth, Miller.

Referee: Alan Newlands.

Attendance: 1391