At the time of year when neighbours are welcome visitors to bring in the New Year, Dunfermline found Raith Rovers hospitable hosts as they first-footed and were allowed to leave with all three points.
Nicky Clark was granted the freedom of Stark’s Park to head in his 11th-minute opener and, as is often the case, the first goal in this raucous Fife derby proved key. Though Lee Ashcroft added a second for the Pars in the 77th minute, Rovers appeared to have long run out of ideas as their local rivals jumped from ninth in the Championship table to sixth with a seventh match undefeated.
“I thought we thoroughly deserved it,” beamed Dunfermline manager Allan Johnston. “In the second half we totally dominated it and could probably have scored another three or four with a wee bit of quality. I thought the boys were excellent.
“The league’s really tight and it’s important you put a run together, which we’ve managed to do lately. There’s still an opportunity to finish in the top four. That’s where were aiming for.
“We know it’s going to be difficult. There’s a lot of quality teams in this league, but we think we’ve got the squad capable of doing it.”
Raith, who had drafted in Ryan Hardie on loan from Rangers on New Year’s Day, also completed the capture of former Hearts attacker Ryan Stevenson only two hours before kick-off and named both on the bench.
However, it was Dunfermline who had built up an early head of steam in attack by the time they found the net after just ten minutes. Kevin Cuthbert, who had beaten away Kallum Higginbotham’s fiercely-driven free-kick, produced a magical diving save from Lee Ashcroft’s towering header, but from the resulting corner there was nothing the Rovers keeper could do to keep the Pars at bay.
Higginbotham drove over the set-piece and Clark sprinted from a cluster of players at the edge of the box to nod in unchallenged from eight yards out. Ross Callachan, who seemed to be Clark’s designated marker, lay prostrate on the ground and appealed to referee Don Robertson but the official was unmoved.
The goal sparked Raith to life and they swarmed forward at every opportunity. Three chances in three minutes indicated the match swinging back in their favour but Chris Johnston, Jason Thomson and Kevin McHattie could not find a solution to the profligacy of Raith’s run of just two goals from their last seven matches.
The home side opened the second half in determined mood, but it was the Pars who should have added to their lead before they did. Once more, Higginbotham was the creator with a magnificent backheel to Clark eight yards out, but with the goal gaping the former Rangers striker instead struck Cuthbert’s outstretched leg. Clark was again wayward when he screwed another shot wide in the 69th minute when teed up by Michael Moffat’s flick.
However, the second goal finally came with 13 minutes remaining and it allowed them to revel in what remained of a fiercely-contested match. Again Higginbotham was at the heart of it all as he conjured up every trick, feint and skill in his repertoire. When his corner was returned to him, the attacker drove his cross back into the heart of the box and Ashcroft bundled in from close range.
“The first goal’s always crucial in a derby and I think you saw that,” said Raith manager Gary Locke. “In the period before half-time and after half-time, I thought we were the better side but in that period you’ve got to score.”