It’s a testament to how low the Paisley side were before he took up the reins last Autumn that they are still not yet assured of avoiding a relegation play-off going into the final game of the season. Nevertheless this emphatic victory, in which Stevie Mallan netted a hat-trick, at least confirmed objective No.1 of avoiding automatic demotion has been accomplished. At the turn of the year few Paisley Buddies could have seen even that modest target being hurdled.
“To do it in that manner and with that kind of performance was outstanding,” reflected a contented Jack afterwards. “For us, from where we were no so long ago – even in March we were five points adrift – to achieve that is outstanding. It’s now in our hands and we’ll go on to our final game at Easter Road and be positive. At this moment in time I’m just really pleased for the players that we’ve avoided that bottom spot.”
His men were utterly dominant from the start, assertive and full of urgency, with the only quibble from the opening 45 minutes perhaps being that they should have translated their superiority into a far greater advantage even by the interval. Their pace down the flanks and invention through the middle had Raith clinging on to their lifeboats from the outset but they simply couldn’t weather the storm of incessant attacks from the Paisley men.
The breakthrough came just before the half-hour mark after a fine driving run from Cammy Smith split open the left flank of the Raith defence and his cutback was met first time by Mallan, who steered it underneath Pavol Penska with aplomb.
Unsurprisingly this drew a response from Hughes on the touchline and it would be fair to say that the gritty determination and pride that he personified as a player were absolutely lacking from his players as a collective in this abject display. “Too many of them think they are better than they really are,” was his damning post-mortem as he bemoaned the absence of fight within their ranks.
Soon afterwards it got a lot worse for them as the nimble-footed Mallan drilled in a free-kick from 25 yards that took such a massive dunt off Declan McManus that when the ball landed in the net for Saints’ second that some credited it as an own goal. It hardly mattered, as the home support exploded into raucous celebrations.
If there was to be any hope of a turnaround for Raith Rovers then a decent start to the second half was imperative – instead they had an atrocious one, notwithstanding Hughes making a triple substitution at the interval. Just three minutes after the restart Gary McKenzie nodded a corner goalwards and sloppy defending allowed Rory Loy to divert it into the net from all of two yards.
Game over, but unfortunately for the now thoroughly disgruntled visiting fans it wasn’t and the now refulgent Saints were not in the mood to ease off. In fact they ground in their superiority in grand style with Mallan completing his hat-trick by playing a one-two with Loy before curling a glorious 30-yard shot past Penska to make it four.
Still Jack’s men poured forward and they thought they had scored a fifth almost immediately courtesy of Lewis Morgan, but the referee’s assistant raised an offside flag as he rolled the ball into the net. However, it was only final humiliation deferred for Raith as, in the closing minutes, Morgan hammered in a volley which Penska got his body to but somehow ended up deflecting it into the roof of the net.