It was a match that had everything other than the win needed to give Rangers the Championship title. There were highs, lows, relief and frustration in an engrossing game that was gifted an extra level of drama due to its reliance on events elsewhere.
The often incongruous eruptions of emotions as goal news filtered through from Hibs’ match against St Mirren on the other side of the country acted as a spur to the players on the pitch and tweaked the tension like a temperamental pressure valve.
Even ignoring the part played by the result in Paisley, this match ebbed and flowed, as nerves seemed to stifle Rangers in the early stages and a mental or physical weariness dulled the crispness of the passing and movement, and allowed Raith to peg them back twice and deny them the party the away fans had come along expecting.
“It’s bitterly disappointing,” admitted Rangers striker Kenny Miller. “We have worked hard to get back into the game initially and then get our noses in front twice.
“But it is another three goals lost and an opportunity to win the league obviously gone. Listen, we’ll move on to Tuesday night, look at this game and see where we can get better because losing the amount of goals we are at the moment is not what we are about.”
It was a familiar refrain and one which echoed the sentiments of manager Mark Warburton, who seemed at a loss to explain why a team that had been conceding very few goals have now shipped three goals in each of the last three league games. But Miller found a silver lining in the fact they could now wrap things up in front of a packed home crowd tomorrow night.
“We would have loved to have held on against Raith and won it there but it now gives an opportunity to win it on Tuesday night in front of 50,000 fans, which would be great,” he added. “The fans deserve that after the last four years. They have stuck by the club over that period.”
Defensively vulnerable, they lost the first goal of the afternoon to a cleanly-struck Louis Longridge shot on Saturday.
That was just past the midway stage in the first half and seemed to give Rangers a much-needed kick up the backside. They responded by getting the next two goals, on the half-hour mark and then four minutes later.
Harry Forrester headed in off the inside of the post from a corner kick and then played in Michael O’Halloran for the winger to tap in from close range at the back post.
The lead did not last long, though, with James Craigen belting in a long-range effort to level the scores and cast some doubt on the mental fortitude of the champions in waiting.
Insisting that physical fitness was not an issue, Miller said he could only vouch for himself when it came to the psychological vigour of the side. That’s something you have to ask each individual,” he said. “Obviously, it is a new team and this is the first time we are coming through a period with an opportunity to win things. We are constantly learning and we will get better as a group. There are some massive games coming up, some great ones to be involved in, and only time will tell if we have got that side of it.”
The veteran forward again eased the visitors into the lead, bursting on to a through ball three minutes after the break to slot the ball beyond Kevin Cuthbert in the home goal, and, while Raith never gave up, the Scotland international added another late in the game only to have that one chalked off for offside.
Still clinging on as the game drew to a close, there was anguish on the sidelines and on the pitch as Harry Panayiotou was awarded a penalty, but the emotions turned on their heads as his effort was saved by Wes Foderingham. But with only seconds remaining the Raith substitute made amends when he reacted to end a goalmouth scramble and stab the ball over the line and ensure Rangers would have to wait to get the title party started and leave the ballsy Kirkcaldy side, who have now gone seven games unbeaten, just one point shy of securing a play-off place.
“You don’t want a team coming to your pitch and having a party,” said Raith captain Jason Thomson. “You could tell from the fans that there was something going on – Hibs were getting beaten or Hibs were drawing – and we were sensing that. They probably just wanted to see the game out but we got that wee bit of luck and the goal.
“For the neutral I would imagine it was a great game and it was a good game to play in. Obviously we are disappointed to lose the three goals but I think the manner in which we got the draw is something we can be proud of and it keeps this wee run going that we have been on. We go to Queens next week so, if we can get a result there, that will cement our place and hopefully we can keep that run going into the play-offs.”
Should that transpire, and on this evidence, no one will relish coming up against them with a place in the Premiership at stake.