THIS was a belated very happy new year for Raith Rovers. Inactive since December 29 following a raft of postponements and seemingly floored by the coronavirus, John McGlynn’s side marked their return to action by delivering one of the shocks of the Championship season.
Facing a Hearts side lording over a perfect league record at home – six games, six wins – Raith showed there had been no lasting ill-effects from their long lay-off as they enhanced their own promotion prospects with a victory, a first on this ground since 1993.
Racing into a 3-0 lead after 52 minutes, the visitors had to withstand the expected late Hearts onslaught that arrived after Liam Boyce’s header had given Robbie Neilson’s men a dose of renewed optimism.
An injury-time goal by Boyce again made the conclusion a fraught affair, with referee John Beaton playing nine minutes of injury time.
A stunning save from Jamie MacDonald, the former Hearts goalkeeper, from a Steven
Naismith volley ensured Raith would get the win their battling efforts merited.
With the dust still settling, Hearts manager Robbie Neilson was shown a second yellow card and a red for protesting with Beaton long after the final whistle had sounded. Remarkably, the teams will now do it all again at Stark’s Park on Tuesday.
McGlynn said: “I’m very proud of the boys for that performance. More so because of what we’ve been through in the last weeks but even regardless of that. To come here under any circumstances and win and score three goals is fantastic. It’s an amazing effort from each and every one of the players.
“Only having one day of training is never ideal going into a game like this. So I have to compliment the players for that. I thought we were lethal and used our opportunities very well. And we’ve even missed a penalty. So I’m absolutely delighted.”
Hearts still preside over a six-point lead at the top of the Championship but Neilson admitted they were below par for long spells. He said: “To be honest we were not at the races for about the first 50 or 60 minutes. We didn’t look like we had the spark that we normally have.
“I thought we were sluggish in possession and I thought we defended very poorly at times. Their striker, for want of a better term, bullied the central defenders and when you do that it gives them a link up the pitch. It has to be better.”
Raith had only returned to training on Friday following the Covid-19 outbreak that led to the postponement of their match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle last weekend.
Within five minutes, however, they were in front. Hearts didn’t deal with a corner and Gozie Ugwu cleverly back-heeled the ball beyond the goalkeeper to give the visitors an unexpected lead.
The visitors ought to have been two ahead after 25 minutes. Dan Armstrong drew a lazy tackle from Stephen Kingsley and Beaton gave the penalty.
Craig Gordon, though, made a brilliant diving save to push away Regan Hendry’s effort. That offered respite to Hearts but another penalty in the first minute of the second half left them up against it, substitute Manny Duku scoring with his first touch of the game after Michael Smith had fouled Kai Kennedy.
Regan Tumilty then turned in a third goal for Raith from close range, leaving Hearts with a mountain to climb.
They did get one goal back when Boyce glanced in a cross from Josh Ginnelly, and then a second in the first few minutes of injury time, again from the Northern Irishman.
Raith, though, dug deep to hang on for a famous win.