The miracle of successive promotions may still materialise for John McGlynn’s side, who have earned the right to host Dundee on Wednesday night in the first leg of their Premiership play-off semi-final, with the second leg to come next Saturday evening.
James McPake will be almost as happy as McGlynn. While the Dundee manager did not get what he said he desired in the shape of extra-time and penalties, Raith have endured what proved two punishing extra games compounded by the Fife derby element of the fixtures.
McPake had added that he wanted both sides to kick each other black and blue. What he would not have expected nor welcomed were casualties among the winning team's coaching staff.
Raith manager John McGlynn presented himself in front of reporters afterwards sporting a nasty-looking gash above his left eye, sustained in the aftermath of Gozie Ugwu’s decisive second goal.
Meanwhile, on-loan Rangers winger Kai Kennedy was missing due to a hamstring tweak with McGlynn all but ruling him out of the Dundee tie. Centre-half Iain Davidson also came off towards the end. “We have to assess our injuries,” McGlynn said. He described as “a blow” the prospect of Davidson being absent against his former club. “That wouldn't help us at all.”
As in the first leg, the teams struggled to break each other down. But Lewis Vaughan’s cheeky finish after 63 minutes, when he pounced on the rebound after Owain Fon Williams saved Reghan Tumilty’s deflected shot, finally prised open the tie. Dunfermline were unable to find the response required.
Being a lot better than when they lost here recently 5-1 was not sufficient. They will harbour regrets at the way a season of considerable promise has spluttered out somewhat. Manager Stevie Crawford later confirmed he will be up for the task of trying again for promotion next season after a few days’ break to recover.
Dunfermline cannot expect to have prospered having failed to score a goal in 180 minutes of play-off action. They had their chances here but ran out of steam long towards the end.
It’s just under a quarter of a century since Raith were last in the top-flight, as hard as that is to believe. Rectifying this situation remains in their own hands. McGlynn again won the tactical battle. He made substitutions at the right time, with Ugwu coming on for Jamie Gullan to make the game safe with a fierce drive with two minutes left.
“Big Gozie couldn’t have hit it any better," said McGlynn. "At that point Dunfermline were throwing the kitchen sink at us. The best way to defend that is score another goal and we did."
The hosts were then able to see out the three minutes of added time with less anxiety than might otherwise have been the case.
Assistant manager Paul Smith spent the time dabbing his brow with a handkerchief. Not because he is of a particularly nervous disposition but because he cracked his head open in the celebrations following Ugwu's explosive late strike. Goalkeeper coach David McGurn pushed into McGlynn as they exploded from the dugout and the manager’s trademark tinted spectacles turned into a dangerous instrument – for him as well as Smith.
“My glasses have stabbed Paul in the eye,” reported McGlynn. “Paul's got stitches and I've got a cut myself. Goalkeepers, ken what I mean? Honestly...”
With the coaching staff seemingly intent on performing a Keystone Cops routine on the touchline, the Raith players were rather more on point. They closed out the game with relative ease although Dunfermline substitute Declan McManus did pull a shot wide of the far post when he might have done better. It was the closest Crawford’s side came to an equaliser.
There was a lot of heart from both sides but precious little invention. What there was had to be relished – they were like glimmers in the dank November-like mist.
Dunfermline enjoyed the better of the opening half. A neat Kevin O’Hara flick was rendered redundant after the linesman’s flag thwarted Craig Wighton, who was through on goal. Wighton also carved out a chance for himself when he drove at the home defence just before the half hour mark but took the ball slightly too wide. It meant Jamie MacDonald, who had narrowed the angle well, could block the striker’s shot at his near post. It was Dunfermline’s best chance of the afternoon.
There was some on-pitch comedy of the sort displayed on the touchline. A long clearance hit Raith skipper Kyle Benedictus on the back as he turned in expectation the ball would carry through to his goalkeeper. O’Hara eagerly picked up the rebound and took a touch before letting fly at goal. His effort was too straight. However, home hearts were in mouths when MacDonald briefly fumbled the ball before retrieving it from between his legs.
Benedictus was the heart of another dangerous moment for his own side. He took a wild swing at O’Hara’s cross and sliced the ball over his own bar. His expression of relief – hands on hands, blown out cheeks – illustrated just how close he had come to inadvertently handing the visitors the lead.
The first goal after 63 minutes was a product of the hard-working Vaughan’s alertness. He pounced after Tumilty’s deflected half-volley was well saved by Fon Williams. The striker lifted the ball over the stricken goalkeeper and then tapped into the net, with some Dunfermline players appealing for offside.
Ugwu sealed a semi-final place for his side when he sprinted clear of the defence after latching on to a long ball and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.