Sunday stroll for Rangers against off the pace Raith

Lewis Vaughan takes on Haris Vuckic in a rare Raith attack -  Fife Photo Agency -
Lewis Vaughan takes on Haris Vuckic in a rare Raith attack - Fife Photo Agency -

Rangers 4 Raith Rovers 0

Raith Rovers’ dismal performance at Ibrox on Sunday was perfectly summed up by Rangers manager Stuart McCall’s assessment of his own team’s display.

McCall felt Rangers played “okay” and were “sloppy at times” despite cruising to a 4-0 win, which says everything about how far off the pace Rovers were on the day.

Rovers set up to frustrate Rangers but the game-plan was ripped up after just five minutes as they gifted the hosts an easy opener with a free header from a corner kick.

It was a dreadful start that the Kirkcaldy team failed to recover from, according to Raith boss Grant Murray.

“We allowed Rangers to get a foothold in the game,” he said. “We knew they would come at us after losing on Thursday and that it would be difficult, but we had to stand up and have the right mentality.

“But going down after five minutes can put you on the back foot, and it certainly did today.

“We gave a better account of ourselves in the second half but when you lose the third goal it just takes everything out you.”

A lifeless Rovers display bore no resemblance to the gutsy effort that saw them claim a heroic 2-1 Scottish Cup win on their previous visit to Ibrox in February, but Murray insisted that his team is not in holiday mode after dropping out of the play-off race.

“It’s not difficult to get them motivated because, coming to a place like this, they don’t need motivated,” he said.

Next up for Rovers is a trip to Tynecastle to face the league champions – a repeat of this performance does not bear thinking about.

“We’ve fallen out the play-off race, and there’s no-one below us within touching distance, but it’s up to us to finish the season with a winning mentality.”

Raith were without their recent first choice midfield pairing of Liam Fox and Ross Callachan as both were suspended so Kevin Moon and Martin Scott were paired in the middle, while Barrie McKay was unable to face his parent club so there was a recall to the starting line-up for Grant Anderson.

After experimenting, unsuccessfully, with a 3-5-2 system in the 3-1 home defeat to Cowdenbeath in midweek, Murray reverted to a back four, which meant Dougie Hill dropped back to the bench.

However, goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert retained his place after deposing David McGurn in midweek - a decision that has not gone down well with McGurn’s huge fan club among the Raith support, judging by the reaction on social media.

While Cuthbert is an accomplished and experienced goalkeeper, and was certainly blameless in this defeat, the statistics show that Raith have conceded fewer goals with McGurn between the sticks this season.

Cuthbert’s cause wasn’t helped by those in front of him as he was beaten in the fifth minute when Nicky Clark lost his marker with ease to send a powerful header past the Raith ‘keeper from a corner kick.

The goal seemed to drain whatever limited enthusiasm Rovers had for the game as they simply sat back and invited Rangers pressure for the next half hour, leaving Mark Stewart deserted up front.

Raith’s failure to push themselves up the park, or close down in midfield, made it embarrasingly easy for Rangers to dictate play, and after saw Nicky Law and Dean Shiels both fired straight at Cuthbert from the edge of the area, the relentless pressure eventually paid off in 27 minutes as Haris Vuckic ghosted into wide open space 20 yards from goal to curl an exquisite finish beyond Cuthbert.

Raith at last made an impression towards half-time as Rangers took their foot off the gas, and in a rare foray forward some trickery from Lewis Vaughan won a free-kick on the edge of the Rangers box, but Ryan Conroy’s well-struck effort drew a good save from Cammy Bell.

There was some encouragement for the small Raith travelling support early in the second half as a tactical change, pushing Scott further forward in a midfield diamond, saw Raith press the game higher up the park.

And had Conroy managed to steer his 56th minute effort on target, rather than inches wide, after Vaughan teed him up at the edge of the box, then perhaps Raith would have pushed on and made a game of it.

But Raith’s second half efforts quickly ran out of steam and Rangers regained a firm foothold, missing a few chances to completely kill the game, before eventually easing themselves into a 3-0 lead in the 72nd minute.

Clark’s effort was deflected onto the crossbar by Craig Barr, and with the defence painfully slow to react to the rebound, the ball broke to Law who could have sang Louis Armstrong’s ‘We Have All the Time in the World’ before picking his spot from close range.

A double change up front saw Raith swap Stewart and Vaughan for Nade and Elliot for the final 20 minutes but it had little impact on proceedings as Rangers continued to dominate and only a fingertip save from Cuthbert denied Law in the 82nd minute.

The home side did manage to score a fourth two minutes from time as Raith lost the ball cheaply in their own half, and Law steered a well-placed shot beyond Cuthbert from the edge of the area for his second and Rangers’ fourth.

The defeat put the seal on Raith’s miserable league record against Rangers this season, losing all four encounters, conceding 16 goals in the process. Only themselves, and Dumbarton, have failed to collect a single point from the Ibrox side.

Next up for Rovers is a trip to Tynecastle to face the league champions – a repeat of this performance does not bear thinking about.

Rangers: Bell, Crawford, McGregor, Zaliukas, Wallace, Shiels (Black 78), Law, Murdoch, Vuckic, Miller (Walsh 67), Clark (Boyd 78). Not used: Robinson, Mohsni, Sinnamon, Hardie

Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Watson, Barr, McKeown, Anderson, Moon, Stewart (Elliot 70), Scott, Conroy, Vaughan (Nade 70). Not used: McGurn, Hill, Robertson, Matthews, Ford.