Raith 1 Falkirk 2: Old friends settle scores

John Baird scored the winner despite being an unlikely starter for Falkirk
John Baird scored the winner despite being an unlikely starter for Falkirk

Falkirk took maximum points at Stark’s Park after putting everything into the win over Raith Rovers.

It was an old pals’ act with ex-Bairn Mark Stewart scoring for the home side, before Kirkcaldy-born Blair Alston levelled and former Rover John Baird curled in the winner.

Baird was almost left out of Peter Houston’s starting line-up having had neck spasms on Friday after weight training earlier in the week.

“He didn’t feel 100 per cent,” admitted Houston, “but he wanted to play so I had a decision to make.

“But I’m glad he did!”

It was a fiercly contested 90 minutes between the third and fourth placed teams in the SPFL Championship but three points for the Bairns put six points between the sides in the league table.

The Bairns had made the brightest opening and attacked Kevin Cuthbert’s goal with John Baird testing the Raith keeper from distance after a reverse header from Iain Davidson fell short. It was a mistake, but not punished. Similar would be later.

Raith slowly edged into the game and eventually edged the play in their favour as half-time approached.

Danny Rogers had to make a fingertip stop from James Craigen and the Bairns defence were relieved to see Jon Daly miss two gilt-edged chances - unchallenged both times on 14 and 15 minutes.

But they were not as fortunate when it came to another lapse with six minutes to run until the break at a slippery, soaked Starks Park.

The long ball over the top probably lost some pace in the bounce on the sodden turf enough to force Paul Watsoninto a panicked back-pass to Danny Rogers after the defender had initially called the goalkeeper out to claim the ball. Watson in-turn tapped the ball back to the goalkeeper, diverting it from his path and Rogers slipped on the wet turf allowing Mark Stewart to skip in and roll the ball into the net.

A third consecutive clean sheet was gone in an instant, but in little longer, the Bairns were back level.

Bob McHugh, who had an otherwise quiet first half, held off Kyle Benedictus to allow Luke Leahy’s touchline pass to run past him, and the forward caught up with the pass and whipped in a great cross to the backpost. Sliding in to meet it was Kirkcaldy-born midfielder Blair Alston, and he slammed the equaliser into the roof of the net on 42 minutes.

Immediately after the restart Falkirk were unfortunate to take the lead with Bob McHugh racing onto a through ball disguised by a John Baird dummy, but Cuthbert made a crucial save and tipped the low shot into the side-netting.

Raith were restricted to much fewer chances than they’d been afforded in the first half but almost had another on a plate when the ball squirmed from Rogers grasp with Stewart infront of him, but the Bairns keeper recovered quickly.

It’s just as well he did as moments later the Bairns were ahead and it was another error at a back-pass.

Iain Davidson’s ball back to Cuthbert was short and seized by John Baird, but the striker still had plenty more to do than roll the ball into the net like Stewart. He drove froward and, with Bob McHugh charging through to support, curled a lovely finish into the top corner of the net.

It not only gave the Bairns the lead it regained their confidence and Falkirk were steady throughout the remainder.

Aaron Muirhead was called upon to slid in and clear a low drive from Craigen off the line though and as Raith strove for an equaliser Paul Watson pulled up injured and was replaced for the final 15 minutes by club captain David McCracken.

The work wasn’t over for the defence though and Rogers made a point blank save with his shoulder to stop Daly levelling from eight yards out. The keeper made himself big and the ball spun clear after some neat set-up play by Raith’s Craig Wighton. A vital save to end the 90 minutes and earn three points from one of the Bairns’ promotion play-off rivals.