RANGERS maintained their eight point gap at the top of the Championship as they ground out victory at a bitterly cold Stark’s Park.
Andy Halliday nicked the only goal of the game a minute before half-time, scrambling the ball over the line from a James Tavernier cross.
With Hibernian winning against Morton it was an important result for Mark Warburton’s side but one that could have been more comfortable as both sides failed to take their chances in a stuffy encounter.
Martyn Waghorn took just four minutes to test the Raith backline, driving in from the right flank and forcing Cuthbert to save at his feet. He couldn’t steer the subsequent lose ball home. Minutes later Halliday, deployed in a more forward role, burst into the box and put too much on the ball to see his shot rocket wide.
Aidan Connolly had the visitor’s first attempt on goal 12 minutes in, reaching the by-line to square a fizzing ball. Wes Foderingham was forced to gather to avoid further danger.
It was Tavernier who started Rangers next move on 19 minutes, he tore down the right to cut inside and place the ball in Kenny Miller’s tracks. The veteran striker laid a cute ball off to Barrie McKay and his curled shot from the left of the box required a save out of Cuthbert.
It was turning out to be a slow burner of a game but Gers very nearly opened the scoring through Halliday just before the half-hour mark. They got their chance when Lewis Toshney felled Miller 25 yards out. Tavernier skipped over the ball to allow Halliday to whip a left foot around it and a deflection saw the keeper scrambling to palm it behind.
Moments later Gedion Zelalem found Waghorn but he drilled his shot right into the cupped arms of Cuthbert. The South Shields-born forward followed that up with a superb effort, after taking the heat out of a Rory McKeown’s clearing header from a McKay cross. Waghorn powered a driven shot through the bodies but it was always climbing and shaved the crossbar.
Tavernier attempted to dig an audacious one out with six minutes to the break. The right-back lifted a strike from 30 yards out but it bounced well wide.
Eventually a minute before half-time Rangers had their goal. Miller dinked a reverse pass to Tavernier, who had burst down the right to reach the by-line. The defender sent a square ball to the near post – Halliday was there to meet it and he bundled the ball over the line before trotting off to celebrate.
It was the home side who had the first say of the second period and they nearly netted an equaliser with it. Louis Longridge turning to fire at Foderingham from close range a minute into the half.
Both teams struggled to create much as the half ticked by and with 25 minutes left to play Warburton introduced Michael O’Halloran for his Gers debut. He was joined by Harry Forrester as the manager looked to inject more attacking impetus into the game.
Raith had the ball in the back of the net on 73 minutes through Harry Panayiotou, Rovers’ new signing from Leicester City, but the flag was up. Dean Shiels was adjudged to have been fouled in the build-up that saw the loanee slot the ball into the far corner beyond the outstretched Foderingham.
O’Halloran turned on the burners for the first time with seven minutes left to play as he blazed down the right. He charged into the box and whizzed a dangerous ball across the face of goal but no one was there to connect. A moment that probably summed up the Light Blues evening.
RANGERS: Foderingham, Tavernier, Kiernan, Wallace, Ball, Zelalem (Shiels 72’), Miller (O’Halloran 64’), Halliday, McKay (Forrester 64’), Wilson, Waghorn
Subs not used: Bell, Law, Clark, King
Goals: Halliday 44’
RAITH: Cuthbert, Bates, Davidson, Benedictus, McKeown, Callachan (Craigen 60’) (Anderson 75’), Toshney, Robertson, Connolly, Longridge, Stewart (Panayiotou 60’)
Subs not used: Law, McCord, Matthews, Thomson