This game might have had the look of being after the Lord Mayor’s show about it following Friday night’s Championship showdown between Hibs and Dundee United, but in reality it proved to be anything but humdrum. Falkirk consolidated their chances of making the play-off positions at the expense of a Raith side that imploded spectacularly after they had taken an early led.
The post-festive hangover for the Kirkcaldy side and their fans must feel like it has reached throbbing headache proportions after this demoralising reverse made it eight games without a win. On top of a derby loss to Dunfermline last week, this defeat by their immediate rivals in the league table was a hefty blow to their own chances of getting into the promotion mix. Peter Houston’s men have probably played better with considerably less reward on other occasions but yesterday they clinically preyed on the hosts’ shortcomings at the back.
“I’m delighted with the win after a sloppy start,” reflected Houston. “We now have to take this forward. Really this season we haven’t been like that; we haven’t been consistent enough. But the spirit and the effort today was tremendous – as is scoring four goals at Kirkcaldy on any day. I’m delighted for the players.”
It started brightly enough for Raith with new signing Ryan Stevenson along with Chris Johnston looking lively and combining to put them ahead within ten minutes. A nice bit of skill on the edge of the box by the much-travelled Stevenson put Johnston through on goal and his subtle lob was enough to beat the advancing Danny Rogers.
Unfortunately for the hosts this promising opening unravelled almost as quickly as it had been established with defensive frailties to the fore as Falkirk not only regained parity but stormed to a two-goal advantage. A clumsy tackle by Ross Callachan on John Baird gave away a free-kick in an opportune position for the visitors, but even so the strike by Myles Hippolyte from the set-piece was sublime, leaving Raith goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert motionless.
A short while afterwards, Kyle Benedictus was the next to be left looking stranded as an adroit turn by Bob McHugh put him in the clear and he finished with some venom to put the visitors ahead.
In a further setback, Stevenson’s debut for Rovers was curtailed after picking up a head injury, but they continued to look decent when they got the ball to the other end of the park.
Declan McManus, who replaced Stevenson, tested Rogers with a low drive, but the Falkirk ’keeper surpassed this with a wonderful one-handed block from a header by the same player. If he had good reason to feel pleased with himself it was a sorry contrast for Cuthbert who made a complete hash of dealing with a shot by Craig Sibbald as the ball skidded into the net for the visitors’ third.
It appeared that the interval, with its opportunity to regroup, couldn’t come quickly enough for Raith – instead it became a mere punctuation mark on a near calamitous afternoon as within three minutes Sibbald was on the scoresheet again.
Another clean but less than fizzing strike by the highly rated midfielder made its way past Cuthbert courtesy of a deflection off Benedictus.
The home support were not slow in venting their spleen towards Gary Locke and his players and even though the second half had barely got under way a few opted to head for the exits.
These early movers proved to be prescient in a sense as the game, while still wholeheartedly contested, was over. Raith may have plugged the gaps in their defence but there was never a glimmer of a comeback being on the cards.
“You’re not going to win games losing the goals we did today,” sighed Locke. “I’m disappointed with that but we’re not going to dwell on it too much because we have defended well most of the season. It was one of those days for Kevin (Cuthbert) – we’ve all had them. It’s a poor day at the office all round, no doubt about that.”