Ross Matthews goal sends Raith Rovers three points clear

Ross Matthews turns to celebrate his winning strike with John Baird (29) and Kieron Bowie (22). Pic: Fife Photo AgencyRoss Matthews turns to celebrate his winning strike with John Baird (29) and Kieron Bowie (22). Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Ross Matthews turns to celebrate his winning strike with John Baird (29) and Kieron Bowie (22). Pic: Fife Photo Agency | jpimediaresell
Airdrieonians 0 Raith Rovers 1

Raith Rovers stretched their lead at the top of League One to three points with their third consecutive 1-0 win over Airdrie this season.

A fourth minute strike from Ross Matthews proved the difference as manager John McGlynn hailed a "professional" performance having contained the Airdrie attack for most of the 90 minutes while carrying a threat themselves on the break.

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From back to front there were no failures in the Rovers side, with everyone playing their part in what could prove to be a significant Saturday the title race, particularly with Falkirk dropping points in a draw at bottom of the table Stranraer.

Steven MacLean, signed on loan from Hearts during the week, made his debut in attack, with his presence, both in the air and with the ball at his feet, giving the Kirkcaldy side a physical edge to the attack they have sometimes lacked this season.

There was also a first appearance in nine months for goalkeeper Robbie Thomson, making his return from an achilles injury in place of the injured Ross Munro, and he could not have wished for a better comeback with a flawless clean sheet.

His defence ensured he barely had a save to make but he showed good handling and commanded his box as Airdrie launched a number of aerial assaults, with a bombardment of long throws and corner kicks which both defence and goalkeeper handled well.

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Matthews was not only the match-winner he was also the driving force behind the performance, dictating the game from the middle of the park, matched in defence by captain Kyle Benedictus, who was first to every ball as he dominated the Airdrie front men all afternoon.

Rovers came out the traps fired up and took the lead in the fourth minute with a move started and finished by a player who is becoming an increasingly influential figure.

Matthews had no right to win the ball as he raced into a challenge, but made sure he did to maintain possession in the Airdrie half, before spreading the play wide.

He then made his way into the box to get on the end of a Kieran MacDonald cross to sweep a finish beyond the reach of Scott Gallacher.

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Kieron Bowie, having been involved in a big transfer move to Fulham during the week, looked threatening in the early stages and after cutting inside from the right, fired a left-foot shot straight at Gallacher from 18 yards.

Airdrie threatened with a couple of shots from distance - Andy Ryan's effort deflected wide off Iain Davidson before Dale Carrick's effort had Thomson at full stretch as it flashed inches wide of the post.

Rovers looked more threatening though, and Gallacher had to be at full-stretch to tip John Baird's chip over the bar, before a four-on-two breakaway, which ought to have been converted, ended with Dylan Tait firing just wide from the edge of the box.

It had been a commanding opening half hour from the visitors, but helped by a series of corner kicks and long throws, Airdrie started to apply pressure towards half-time, with a goal-saving block from Benedictus required to deny Paul McKay.

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In the final minute of the half Airdrie defender Sean Crighton was fortunate that referee David Dickinson only showed him a yellow card for his dangerous lunge on Regan Hendry, the midfielder only avoiding serious injury by seeing the tackle coming and getting his leg off the ground.

Airdrie made a double change at the break to try and get back into the game, but their attacking play was one-dimensional, and up against a Raith defence that remained composed and alert, they rarely looked like getting the equaliser.

Raith also carried a limited threat after the break but substitute Dan Armstrong, making his first appearance in seven weeks, played a dangerous ball across goal that found no takers, while MacLean went close with a 20-yard effort that curled wide.

Rovers only real scare of the second half arrived with six minutes left when Benedictus was beaten in the air for the only time in the match, allowing Calum Gallacher to race onto Andy Ryan's flick at the far post, but on the stretch he couldn't convert.

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Game management came to the fore as the clock struck 90 with Raith wasting precious minutes by keeping the ball in the Airdrie corner flag, but the hosts eventually broke up the park to win one last corner, sending goalkeeper Gallacher up in pursuit of the equaliser.

As he had all afternoon, Benedictus made sure he got his head to the ball first, and when the final whistle sounded just seconds later, he turned to the 500 away fans with fists clenched and was met with an almighty roar.

A moment which highlighted the importance of this victory.