At 19:44 tonight, moments before kick off in Raith's league match against Queen of the South, Raith TV commentator Davie Hancock informed fans that their first choice goalkeeper for the night Jack Leighfield had pulled up in the warm up and that the Doonhamers would be forced to field 16 year old Charlie Cowie in goals. The Rovers support were already in a confident mood: Queens were bottom of the league and missing key players. After scoring five goals away to Alloa surely they could pick up three points at home against a team fielding a schoolkid in goals?
The opening minute of the game would be as good as it got for Rovers. The quick interchanges fans have become accustomed to resulted in the ball bouncing about in Cowie's box and after half hearted appeals for a handball it bounced out for a corner. It was a menacing start for the home side but that was as good as it got.
Queens quickly seized the initiative while Rovers opted to lump long balls up to Manny Duku to little effect. On 17 minutes, the visitors grabbed a deserved lead after the home side invited pressure on to themselves: the ball wasn't properly cleared by the defence and Connor Shields drilled a low shot passed Robbie Thomson to give them a lead. It was a deserved reward for the away side.
Raith struggled to find any rhythm in the game as fans asked why we weren't peppering shots at the inexperienced keeper. The tactic of short corners saw two incidents which epitomised the night for the McGlynn's men: one was played to Ethan Ross who ran into the box only to play a gentle ball right into Cowie's gloves. The second was where the ball immediately went back to Armstrong who immediately fell foul of the offside trap.
The second half was very much the same story. The plucky Dumfries side frustrated Rovers while exposing both their lack of ideas and ability to handle the footballing basics. The clock whittled away with the hosts still failing to create any chances of meaningful quality. Fans unrest continued to grow as a bad first half performance turned into a terrible 90 minutes.
McGlynn and Smith brought on Lokotsch, Spencer and Ugwu in an attempt to freshen up a stale attack but nothing changed for the home side. The surrender was complete when Reghan Tumilty was caught in possession allowing for a ball to be squared in front of goal to Goss who wheeled away in celebration.
The referee blew for full time shortly after. Of course, this isn't the first time where the club has put in performances below a suitable standard. It's firstly important to show a degree of humility: Queen of the South fully deserved the 3 points in a performance which was incredibly well organised and full of grit and determination. Their game play was founded around finding spaces when Rovers had pressed and putting pressure on the likes of Mendy and Tumilty. It would be a disservice to the opposition to roll out clichés like "they wanted it more" when the reality is their players put in a perfect performance.
Ayo Obileye put in an assured performance at centre half along with Gregor Buchanan. Each of these players have received a degree of criticism this season but both ensured that Cowie's goalmouth was well protected throughout the 90 minutes. The reality is that George Galloway could have been in nets for the visitors tonight and they'd have kept a clean sheet. Shields, Fitzpatrick and East all put in excellent performances going forward where they created numerous chances throughout the game. It spoke volumes that one of the most interesting points of discussion for home fans was the appearance of two fire engines on Pratt Street: it really was that dull.
For all the criticism tonight, it's important that the players don't lose focus. Paul Smith has always maintained throughout his press duties that the squad have a simple mantra: don't get too high when we've won and don't get too low when we've been beaten. Tonight is only the second time in the league Rovers will need to test the later half of that mantra. A derby against Dunfermline looms on Saturday and a repeat performance doesn't bear thinking about.
With a game like this, it's probably easier to find three things we learned so without further ado:
Captain Fantastics: Rovers lacked leadership to seize the initiative tonight
Throughout the 90 minutes of tonight's game, one of the key focal points for Queen of the South was Willie Gibson. At 36, Gibson had a torrid time against Daniel Armstrong when the two sides met at Palmerston but looked a completely different player tonight. Throughout the game he would act as an outlet to hold up the ball and brought others into play in transitional plays when the Doonhamers were counterattacking.
It was exactly the type of character Rovers needed in their squad tonight. Rovers fans, myself included, have lavished praise on the attacking options available in our squad. When it works for these players, it's a joy to watch. But tonight, it wasn't one or two having an off-day it was 7 or 8 of our team. You'd have struggled to pick a man of the match from the 14 players who were featuring for the club.
Too often passes which rushed out of the field of play. On top of this, players would try to take on too much of the responsibility at points: you'd have some trying to take on two or three players when passes were available. Tonight, Rovers missed two hugely experienced players who could have had a huge impact.
Left back Kieran MacDonald is the first player at the club to have tested positive from COVID. His presence at left back was sorely missed: previously before we've noted how he can bring a symmetry to the starting 11. The move would have allowed for Frankie Musonda to shift into a more central position.
Another key figure missing was Iain Davidson. Davo is a player who has divided Rovers fans since he initially signed for the club - in the past I've been hugely critical of him but I feel the last two seasons he's been excellent as an elder statesman for the club. While he can cut a hugely frustrating figure at times, you would always be assured that he'd relish games like tonight.
Tonight was simply a case where both teams were dealt injury problems and our opposition handled theirs better.
De Ja Blues: Rovers have faced two opponents twice and have been stopped both times
Tonight's match was eerily reminiscent of our fixture up at Inverness back at the tail end of November. On that day, Rovers went into the game in good form but were beaten by two goals in a match where they struggled to create any chances of meaning. Additionally both games are the second occasion where Rovers have faced their opposition and failed to come away with anything following good performances in the first instance.
This was something many Rovers fans were quick to point out both on the Raith TV chat board and on Twitter. With the second round of fixtures upon us, is it something we can expect to see more of moving forwards: will be a busted flush after sweeping sides away in our first introduction?
It's worth mentioning, in both games Rovers have lacked symmetry in their defence. Both performances also saw our midfield fail to ever show meaningful impetus. As mentioned earlier, you can usually rely one of Hendry, Tait, Armstrong or Ross to come up with a moment of magic but tonight not one of them was capable. At points, it felt like the game was passing by with misplaced passes as the confidence sapped from the squad. The reality is that Queen of the South's pressing tactics paid huge dividends.
While tonight's performance is disappointing, I don't feel that Rovers should be written off as being an easy team to beat. Queens created a lot of their chances on the break but Saturday will be a completely different proposal against a Dunfermline team who will be expected to attack from the word go.
Gozie Ugwu's cameo shows he deserves a proper chance
Credit to Gozie Ugwu: he has had to wait patiently behind Manny Duku and Lars Lokotsch to make his first competitive start for the Rovers but tonight gave him a chance to introduce himself. Unfortunately, it coincided with one of the most forgetful performances seen by the club in recent years.
The former Ebbsfleet forward tried his hardest to get involved in the game playing on the left of a front three. In the limited time he came on, he looked the most lively of the attacking trio and caused more problems than any other player going forward throughout the full 90 minutes. While he didn't create any chances in the limited time, it still showed that he should be looking for more game time.
Ugwu arrived at the club in the summer along with Duku and Musonda from the English non-league. McGlynn will be hoping he can have a similar impact to both of those players. Last season at Ebbsfleet he scored 15 goals in 38 games for a club who were relegated. A visit to former club Dunfermline Athletic on Saturday awaits on Saturday and the 27 year old might be justified in asking for a starting position given the lack of attacking threats displayed tonight before he came on.