Raith steady the ship with victory in Airdrie
Airdrieonians 1 Raith Rovers 2
Raith Rovers put their recent form dip behind them to claim a narrow, but deserved win over Airdrie that keeps their outside title hopes alive.
First half goals from Lewis Vaughan and Jason Thomson put the Kirkcaldy side firmly in the driving seat, and although Airdrie pulled one back straight after the restart, Rovers remained focused throughout and fully merited the three points.
It was a particularly good result when put into context as Airdrie had only lost one home game in the league before today, while Rovers had been struggling away from Stark's Park, having taken just five points from the previous 18 available on the road.
The frustrating thing is that, had this level of drive and determination been shown in recent matches, the title race may still be in their own hands, but this victory at least suggests the team won't settle for the play-offs without a fight.
The manner of the victory was pleasing for Raith boss Barry Smith, who got the response he wanted from his players after the recent poor results.
"The boys were excellent," he said.
"They stood up when they had to, and we had some great deliveries into the box, and possibly could've scored another couple of goals."
After the damaging defeats in Ayr and Forfar, the travelling fans were hoping for a fully committed, cohesive team performance.
They certainly got that in the first half as their team pressed forward straight from kick-off and got their reward with two goals, and although the second half wasn't quite as convincing, Rovers still continued to boss the game even after Airdrie pulled one back.
The return of Scott Robertson certainly helped the cause, restoring balance and much-needed experience to the midfield, but every player raised their game, particularly up front where Lewis Vaughan and Willis Furtado looked a promising partnership.
The tone was set in the first minute as Robertson drove forward from midfield to send a 20-yard effort wide of the target.
Rovers continued to play on the front foot and the opener arrived on nine minutes when Furtado's corner was flicked on by Euan Murray at the near post, and Vaughan pounced to lash the ball into the net from six yards for his 22nd goal of the season.
The lead was doubled on 21 minutes, and Furtado was the provider again, sending another corner into the heart of the Airdrie box where right back Jason Thomson climbed superbly to bullet a header past Willie Muir.
Airdrie were struggling to cope with Raith's set piece deliveries and only the woodwork prevented Furtado from adding a third as his looping header from a Vaughan free-kick cannoned back off the crossbar.
Rovers finished the half as they started with Vaughan driving at the heart of the defence and forcing Muir into a good save with a swerving 20-yard drive.
At this point, Raith looked capable of cruising to victory, but things took a different twist after the half-time break as Airdrie scored straight from kick-off.
The ball looked to be heading out of play down the left, but Ryan Conroy did brilliantly to sweep a cross into the box that Scott Stewart headed past Aaron Lennox from close range.
Unlike recent games, where the loss of a goal has resulted in Raith losing their heads, the team's response was to remain calm, and instantly get back on the attack.
Brilliant link-up between Vaughan and Furtado saw the latter go clear through and a goal seemed certain, but his effort was too near Muir who saved with his legs.
Raith kept pressing, and another glorious chance to kill the game off passed by when Furtado's sublime dummy took him clear down the left, but his cross to Vaughan at the back post was slightly overhit, and the striker was denied a simple tap-in.
The failure to kill the game off led to some slight nerves in the closing stages, with Robertson forced to limp off. Raith will hope he can be fit for midweek.
However, Raith remained steely in defence, winning their headers and tackles, which meant Airdrie were unable to mount any sustained pressure, and their hopes of an equaliser died with an injury-time red card for Luke Watt after picking up a second booking for a late lunge on Ross Matthews.
The only down side for Raith was that top scorer Vaughan was a victim of card happy referee Gavin Duncan, who booked the striker for an innocuous foul, which will see him suspended for one match during the run-in after hitting six yellows for the season.
Ayr's comfortable 4-0 victory over bottom of the table Queen's Park kept their six-point lead intact, but Rovers can close that to three when they play their game in hand against East Fife at Stark's Park on Tuesday.
Win that and there is still hope.
Airdrieonians: Muir, O'Neil, MacDonald, Higgins, Brownlie, Watt, Stewart, R.Brown (Hastie 67), Carrie, Conroy, Russell (A.Brown 81). Not used: McIntosh, McGregor, Ferguson, Edwards, Cairns.
Raith Rovers: Lennox, Thomson, Murray, Benedictus, Robertson (Herron 81), Vaughan, Barr, Matthews, Davidson, Hendry, Furtado. Not used: Smith, Spence, Buchanan, Court, McHattie, Zanatta.
Referee: Gavin Duncan.