It's now four weeks since this team stormed to the top of the league and they look no more inclined to give up the position now than they did then. People keep lining up to tell us that it won't last but it keeps rolling on another week and along the way this time the old "Manager of the Month always loses the next game" hoodoo was shot to shreds for good measure.
Shorn of the injured Sean O'Connor the manager chose to tinker with the team as little as possible and simply brought returning captain Steve Bowey in, reverting to the 4-4-2 formation which served so well for most of the season. With no obvious width on the left of midfield though that meant "Bowser" having to play a little removed from his most effective position through the middle and a lot of work in isolation for Joe McAlpine. Despite rumours of widespread injury and illness in the Raith camp through the week, the opposition were virtually at full strength. Sean Dennis was missing but Matthais Jack, signed on Thursday, came straight into the team and proved to be the best Raith player by far on the day. Puzzlingly the dangerous John Sutton started on the bench though.
Queens really should have taken the lead inside the first 30 seconds when Paul Burns caught the defence sleeping and nipped in to poke Alex Burke clear on goal. Burke shot early from 15 yards but Gonzalez managed to block and then got up to block again from Bowey's rebound. At the third attempt the defence scrambled clear before Bowey could pounce again. In four minutes Paquito had a run and shot from a dangerous area after Joe McAlpine gave the ball away carelessly but fortunately the effort screwed well wide of target. Seven minutes later, Craig Stanley's header from a left sided Raith corner appeared to strike the post on its way wide of goal.
On seventeen minutes Alex Burke went down under a challenge in the Raith box and appealed in vain for a penalty but Mr Fyfe wasn't interested. To be fair it would have been a soft award. A few minutes later Stanley again fizzed an effort at the Queens goal but Colin Scott was sharp and dealt with it comfortably enough. Raith were beginning to cause problems from corners though and another header was watched carefully past the post by McColligan before Brian Reid appeared to handle the ball on the ground after slipping in the box. However, that too would have been a harsh decision and Mr Fyfe was consistent in turning that appeal down too. A minute later Colin Scott was very sharp to save at Prest's feet as the Argentinean striker burst into the box. Three minutes before the break a number of errors saw Queens end up giving away another corner and this time Jim Thomson had to head Martin Prest's effort away from the line as it drifted across goal.
The home side made their first change at half time with Richard Brittain replacing Ian Brown at the back. The deadlock was broken just three minutes into the half though and it was Queens who grabbed the lead. McColligan won possession in midfield and fed Paton on the right. Paton strode forward before crossing low and early into the area. Goran Stanic had the ball covered easily but appeared to slip and present it straight to Alex Burke six yards out. Burke had the composure to take the ball around Gonzalez before rolling it into the unguarded net.
Burkie rounds the 'keeper and slots home the winner
Raith's response was immediate. Martin Prest broke into the box and fired a shot just wide of the top left corner two minutes later and before they made a double substitution of Sutton and Robb for Brady and Prest. A minute later Brian Reid made a magnificent block of a goal-bound effort in his own box and the tone for the next quarter hour or so was set. The home side threw cross after cross into the box time after time and every time there were the twin towers of Reid and Thomson heading away, blocking, tackling and clearing. On the few occasions they didn't get there Colin Scott was plucking the ball calmly out of the air. It says a lot that in all this time and for all their pressure, I cannot recall Scott making one serious save in that period. In the meantime, Reid also had time on the hour mark to get his head on the end of a Paton free kick which beat Gonzalez but was cleared off the line. Cristian Patino and Joe McAlpine also swapped bookings for throwing the ball away after decisions by Mr Fyfe didn't go their way.
On 73 minutes Gary Wood went down for a free kick at the edge of the Raith box and Paton's direct kick at goal just eluded the top left corner though, to be fair, I think Gonzalez had it covered. Three minutes later Jim Thomson won an aerial battle with three Raith players to clear a dangerous cross out for a corner and, from the resulting kick, Hawley's had a free header at goal from 10 yards but it lacked power and was straight at Scott. John Connolly had seen enough and withdrew Paul Burns to be replaced by Derek Allan in an attempt to shore the defence up still further with 8 minutes left. Two minutes later a Raith attack down the right side saw a shot fired at goal. It was possibly heading just over of its own accord but Scott took no chances and tipped it over.
An open game
However, after withstanding all the pressure, it was the visitors who missed two gilt edged chances to clinch the points in the final three minutes. First Alex Burke was released into the penalty box by a clever McColligan pass and crossed to the back post area where Wood and Bowey were only marking each other ten yards out. They seemed to confuse each other a little before Wood tried a shot at goal only to see it beaten away by the excellent Gonzalez. A minute later Burke stole possession away from Stanic before wriggling clear and crossing for Bowey, again all alone, running into the box. This time there was no confusion and the skipper fired a shot at goal only for Gonzalez to again pull off the save and clear the danger.
However, the chances missed were irrelevant at the end of the day as the final whistle went without further threat from a now disheartened home side. With most of our rivals playing each other today Clyde and Ross County dropped away from the top but St Johnstone, Falkirk and Inverness still remain within striking distance and two of those (St Johnstone and ICT) play on Friday next week whilst we don't play until the Sunday. There's every likelihood that at least one of them will manage the win they need to remove us from the top even if only temporarily. Next up for us is Ayr and a real chance to establish more daylight between ourselves and the relegation candidates. However, Ayr have picked up good points on their travels this season and are sure to be a better side than the one we visited in August.
Photographs - David Gow