Livi got their Ladbrokes Championship campaign off to the worst possible start as Raith Rovers ran out 3-0 winners at Stark’s Park, though few could argue that the scoreline flattered the home side.
Mark Burchill’s Lions enjoyed more possession and had more efforts on goal than Rovers but didn’t have the same cutting edge, not to mention rub of the green, as their opponents over the 90 minutes and were condemned to a losing start to the league season.
Burchill made two changes to the side which saw off Clyde in the League Cup last weekend as Myles Hippolyte replaced Spas Georgiev and club captain Darren Cole came in for his first start of the season in place of Ben Gordon.
It was the Lions who made the brighter start and Hippolyte showed neat footwork to force an early corner. From the corner, Craig Sives peeled away from his marker and bulleted a header goalwards which Kevin Cuthbert did well to parry before the Rovers defence cleared. It was the first of five corners in quick succession as Livi kept their hosts hemmed in.
Typically, after all Livi’s early pressure, it was the home side who forced the breakthrough on seven minutes and there was more than a hint of good fortune about it as a poorly-struck free kick somehow found its way through to the unmarked Mark Stewart and he had time to pick his spot and slot Rovers in front despite the best effort of Lions keeper Darren Jamieson.
Livi responded well to the loss of the opening goal and passed up a golden chance to draw level on 21 minutes when Liam Buchanan beat his man down the right hand side and cut the ball back for Jordan White but last season’s top scorer could only send his shot just wide. The Lions were then denied what seemed a fairly blatant penalty when White was clearly bundled over in the box but referee Mat Northcroft inexplicably failed to point to the spot. Another chance then went begging for the Lions as Danny Mullen fired in a low effort which Cuthbert did very well to tip away.
Livi’s frustrations were heightened on 34 minutes when, having failed to award a far more obvious penalty at one end, Northcroft then pointed to the spot in the Lions box as Sives was penalised for a handball. Not only were the Livi defenders arms firmly by his side but Rovers were allowed at least a 15-second advantage before the ref pulled the play back and awarded the penalty. Ryan McCord sent Jamieson the wrong way from the spot to add to Livi’s rage.
The visitors continued to press for a route back into the game and White held up play well before playing in Buchanan but Cuthbert was equal to his lobbed effort. The veteran keeper came to Rovers’ rescue again soon after as he pushed away a free kick from Mullen to ensure his side went in at the break with a two-goal cushion.
Livi made a change at the interval as Gary Glen replaced Jackson Longridge and the ex-Hearts man was quickly involved as he whipped in a cross which fell for Buchanan but he miskicked his shot and the ball was cleared. A second Livi change followed soon after as Georgiev replaced Mullen.
Glen was becoming increasingly influential and he drove forward before firing in a dipping effort from 25 yards which Cuthbert did well to hold. Raith were content to hit Livi on the counter and came close to a third as Grant Anderson beat the offside trap to run in on goal but his powerful effort came back off the post to safety. The woodwork was then rattled at the other end as Glen thundered in another 25 yarder which took a deflection and looped over Cuthbert only to cannon back off the crossbar. Rovers then made a double change as McCord and Anderson were replaced by Mitch Megginson and Iain Davidson.
Rovers should have killed the game off as Craig Wighton took advantage of a defensive slip to go clear but Jamieson produced a fine save to tip his low shot wide. Livi then made their final change as Jordyn Sheerin replaced Buchanan. The Lions were denied by the woodwork once again in injury time as Darren Cole’s audacious 40-yard effort from the left wide rattled against the crossbar before Rovers set the seal on the victory with the last kick of the ball as Megginson cut inside and placed a shot high into the net to seal a 3-0 win for Ray McKinnon’s side.
So not the ideal start to the league campaign for the Lions but, in spite of the result, there was much in the team’s performance to give encouragement that a decent season may yet unfold. Next up is a double header against Queen of the South, with the Doonhamers coming to Almondvale on league business on Saturday before the Lions make the return journey next Tuesday in the second round of the Petrofac Training Cup.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, McKeown, Bates, Toshney, Callachan, Anderson (Davidson 70), McCord (Megginson 70), Craigen, Wighton, Stewart (Petrie 90)
Subs not used: McGurn, Matthews, Ford, Campbell
Goals: Stewart (8), McCord (35 pen), Megginson (90)
Livingston: Jamieson, Longridge (Glen 46), Cole, Sives, Pittman, White, Mullen (Georgiev 52), Hippolyte, Gallagher, Gibbons, Buchanan (Sheerin 76)
Subs not used: Quinn, Neill
Referee: Mat Northcroft
Match report: Andy Crawford