Pride restored as Raith claim big win over Dundee United
Raith Rovers 2 Dundee United 1
Raith Rovers made amends for their Dumbarton horror show with a big win over Dundee United at Stark's Park this afternoon.
The transformation was plain for all to see as the team played with a commitment, spirit and guile sorely lacking in the 4-0 thumping by part-timers, running themselves into the ground to claim three massive points against one of the league's biggest clubs.
The performance and result the previous week had threatened to create a disconnect between fans and players, with those who paid their hard-earned cash to travel through left to question whether there was any pride in the shirt.
It was imperative that the team answered positively, and they did so emphatically, by not only by out-fighting, but also out-playing a United side that were desperate for points themselves after a poor run of their own.
Despite a public lambasting of the team, manager John Hughes put his faith in mostly the same players with Bobby Barr the only victim from the Dumbarton starting XI. The winger made way for Jordan Thompson as Hughes opted for an extra man in midfield.
Just one win in their last 19 games had left Rovers perilously placed just five points from the bottom of the Championship, but if the Kirkcaldy side were looking for pre-match positives then they could be found in their head-to-head record against the bigger clubs they have faced this season.
Apart from the 3-0 defeat at Tannadice in February, the players have acquitted themselves well in these types of games.
There was also the fact that United themselves were in a poor vein of form, with just one victory in their previous nine league games putting some pressure on former Raith gaffer Ray McKinnon.
Much would depend on how the team reacted to the debacle at Dumbarton, and all the criticism that came with it. Would the players go further into their shells, or would they come out fighting?
Perhaps understandably, there was a slight hesitancy and uncertainty to their play in the opening 10 minutes as United set up camp in the Rovers half, and but for a glaring miss at the back post from William Edjenguele, the visitors would have taken the lead.
But once they settled into the game, it became apparent that Raith were more than up to the challenge as they snapped into tackles all over the pitch, giving United little time on the ball, while trying to push forward at every opportunity.
That determination fashioned two huge chances for Raith inside 60 seconds as firstly, on 13 minutes, Declan McManus charged down a clearance, the ricochet sending Ryan Hardie clean through on goal but United 'keeper Cammy Bell made a terrific block.
Raith kept the ball in the United half and McManus held off several challenges at the edge of the box to slip Thompson through on goal, but from an angle, the midfielder poked his effort inches wide.
Rovers kept United at arms length throughout the remainder of the first half, with Jean-Yves M'voto winning every header he challenged for, and bullying the United front line.
It was his equally impressive centre-half partner who opened the scoring five minutes before the break.
Chris Johnston sent an inviting free-kick into the heart of the United box, and Barr showed real determination to shake off his marker, grit his teeth and plant a thunderous header beyond the reach of Bell.
It was a half-time lead Raith deserved, and it was doubled within three minutes of the restart, with another set piece coming up trumps.
This time M'voto got his head to Kyle Benedictus' deep ball, heading across goal where Hardie took advantage of a defensive slip to fire low past Bell from a tight angle, once agian proving his qualities as a finisher.
Rovers now had the bit between their teeth and for a spell, they looked more likely to add to their tally then being pegged back.
However, United started to mount a push in the closing stages and Rovers were fortunate to survive when Pavol Penksa spilled a deflected long range effort from Willo Flood, with the visitors unable to convert the rebound.
A poor defensive header gave the Tangerines their lifeline with 10 minutes remaining as Benedictus made his only mistake of the game, failing to clear the box with a free header, and Simon Murray rolled an effort into the far corner of the net to set up a nervy finish.
Rovers did not simply sit back and try to hang on, in fact they almost restored their two-goal lead on 84 minutes when a short corner routine saw Barr denied his second goal of the game by the base of the post with a glancing header from Johnston's cross.
United threw caution to the wind in the final two minutes, sending centre-half Mark Durnan forward, and the move almost paid dividends when sheer numbers up front allowed the centre-half the space to run clear, but Penksa made a match-winning one-on-one save.
Raith were hanging on in injury-time and a fighting display turned into flared tempers as players got involved in a penalty box brawl as United tried to muscle their way through. Four bookings were shown, two to each side, and the full-time whistle sounded shortly afterwards.
The players simply had to make up for last week, and they did. Let this be the standard every week.
Raith Rovers: Penksa, Thomson, M'Voto, C Barr, Benedictus, Callachan, Johnston, Thompson, Matthews, McManus, Hardie. Not used: McHattie, Roberts, Skacel, Court, McKay, B Barr
Dundee United: Bell, Durnan, Toshney, Murdoch (Coote 68), Murray, Edjenguele, Flood, Andreu, Van der Struijk (Nicholls 55), Robson, Mikkelsen (van der Velden 59). Not used: Dixon, Donaldson, Telfer, Long
Referee: Craig Charleston