Raith 4 - 3 St Mirren: Rangers loanee Hardie nets hat-trick

THIS was the sort of game that entertains the onlooker no end, but gives both managers recurring nightmares. A defensive masterclass it was not, but afterwards Raith boss Ray McKinnon could still emerge smiling as his side just held on for a vital three points in their quest for the final promotion play-off place while, at the same time, St Mirren's recently rekindled hopes of the same were all but extinguished.

Raith's Ryan Hardie celebrates his hat-trick with the match ball at full time. Picture: SNS

A hat-trick from on-loan Rangers youngster Ryan Hardie, pictured, ultimately sealed it for the Kirkcaldy side, but having held leads of 2-0 and 4-1 at different stages of the game, it said a lot for the haphazard nature of this encounter that they were clinging on grimly at the end.

Raith started this game in electrifying fashion, helping themselves to the lead after just three minutes, with Hardie getting off the mark with a crisply hit effort beyond Jamie Langfield after collecting a pass from Ross Callachan. A short while later the ubiquitous Hardie became provider, sending Mark Stewart clear, and his finish was every bit as sharp as his strike partner’s earlier effort.

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The visitors looked as dangerous going forward as they were rickety at the back, and a driving run by Jordan Stewart that required a point-blank block by Kevin Cuthbert was a signal that Alex Rae’s team still had a collective pulse. Their re-emergence was cemented when Keith Watson bulleted home a header from a Stephen Mallan corner just before the break.

Both sides appeared to have pressed the reset button over the interval however, as in remarkably similar fashion to the first half Raith helped themselves to couple of quickfire goals. Hardie’s second bore a passing resemblance to his first as he latched on to another through ball to beat Langfield again and a couple of minutes later the match ball was his with an easy finish from six yards, having been set up by Aidan Connolly.

Game over this time? Not a bit of it. Instead play became ever more stretched and the defending increasingly ramshackle, especially from the hosts. They allowed David Clarkson too much space in the box, not once, but twice, and paid a heavy price as the veteran striker showed that he still has a nose for goal on both occasions to reduce the deficit to a single goal.