Raith Rovers brought their season to an end on a high note as they travelled to face Livingston and recorded a victory against the Lions for the first time in twelve years on the final day of the First Division season.
The Fifers were ahead twice but saw their lead cancelled out on each occasion as Livi fought back, but the visitors grabbed the decisive winner in the dying seconds of stoppage time.
Livingston captain Liam Fox was given a guard of honour by both sides as he took to the field for the last time after seven years of service to the West Lothian club in front of 1302 spectators.
The game started slowly with both sides scrapping for possession in midfield, and the first real move of any note in the match only occurred after eight minutes, when Kevin McCann’s deep cross found Callum Booth wide inside the penalty area, who drilled back across goal, but the ball was just too much of a stretch for the onrushing Fox who could not meet it with his head.
Joe Cardle then carved out Rovers’ first chance when he darted infield past McCann and curled the ball toward the top right hand corner, but a deflection took it harmlessly high and wide.
Raith had definitely settled into the game better than the hosts, and they began to exert more pressure on the Livi backline. Again, Cardle was the creator as he stood up a long diagonal from a free kick for Brian Graham to latch onto, but the striker’s tame header was easily gathered by ‘keeper Andy McNeil.
The visitors’ pressure allowed them to open the scoring on 22 minutes, as Grant Anderson was sprung free of the Livingston rear-guard, allowing him time and space to drill the ball low to McNeil’s right.
The impressive Cardle, who has endured a turbulent season as a casualty of Dunfermline’s financial woes in recent months, again tormented the defence on 28 minutes when he cut inside past two Livingston players, but his shot from the edge of the box sailed over the bar.
Just as it looked like Rovers may have went in at half time ahead, Livingston were awarded a penalty after Laurie Ellis was judged to have handled the ball. Liam Fox stepped up and made no mistake with the spot-kick, rifling the ball into the roof of the net to even the game at the interval.
Raith should have gone ahead around fifteen minutes into the second half, but a superb string of quickfire saves from McNeil in the Livingston goal kept the scores level. Joe Cardle found himself free inside the box and fired towards goal, only for the Livi goalkeeper to parry the ball back to him. Cardle’s second attempt again could not find a way past, and both Brian Graham and Greig Spence were there to try to force home the subsequent rebounds, with McNeil equal to them all.
Substitute Pat Clarke then provided Graham with his first of the game when his cross was met by the number nine who headed low and hard back across McNeil and into the bottom right hand corner.
As the minutes ticked away, Livingston looked increasingly like they might surrender all three points, but the home fans were sent wild in the 90th minute when McNeil came forward to take a long free-kick from the halfway line. His delivery cannoned off of several bodies before it was bundled home frantically by Iain Russell.
Then, with seemingly no time left for any response, Raith promptly launched the ball forward into the Livingston penalty area as the home side were still re-organising following the late equaliser. For the heroics McNeil had produced to deny the string of earlier rebounds, he became the villain when he hesitated coming to claim the delivery, giving Graham the opportunity to blast the ball into an empty net past the stranded ‘keeper, making it 3-2 with the last kick.
Afterwards, a dejected Richie Burke, said: “That’s very much our season in a microcosm right there. Too many times we’ve given it away right at the death, and when we look back on it there’s sixteen points gone begging because from the 80th minute onwards we haven’t shut the door and been formidable enough at the back.
“It’s been a frustrating season for us. We play attractive football and we hold possession of the ball well. But this game’s about goals and unless we can turn our play and possession into results, it’s pointless.
“The general consensus is that we have a soft centre. We want this place to be a fortress. And I just don’t think we’ve done that, so when you look back, 4th place in the league is probably justified.”
Andy McNeil echoed Burke’s sentiments on his final game for the club before he moves on in the summer, he added: “It was an end of season game. Neither side played particularly well, it was a poor game all round. Our end to the season has been pretty poor, generally. I think once we fell out of that hunt for promotion a few months back, we’ve been really up and down.
“I won’t be here next year, and it depends who the manager brings in over the summer, but I’d expect Livingston to be back in the hunt for the top four at least.”
Raith manager Grant Murray was decidedly more upbeat on his side’s performance, he commented: “This is always a difficult place to come. Since I’ve been at the club, we’ve always found it difficult against Livingston. We just never seem to click, but today I thought we created a lot of chances in the game. When we got ourselves ahead I thought we were very comfortable and had the better of the game.
“It’s great to get a win in the last game of the season, that brings me a lot of pleasure.”
Livingston: McNeil, McCann, Booth, Tena, Barr, Watson, Talbot, O’Brien, Andreu, Fox, Russell.
Livingston subs: Morton, Fordyce, Lander, Jacobs, Jamieson.
Raith Rovers: Laidlaw, Thomson, Donaldson, Mensing, Ellis, Callachan, Anderson, Walker, Graham, Spence, Cardle.
Raith Rovers subs: Clarke, Watt, Vaughan, Main, McGurn.