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Raith Rovers 0 Dundee 2: McAlister a deadly hitman

REVENGE is a dish best served cold.

Dundee's Jim McAlister, centre, is mobbed by team-mates after he puts his side ahead. Picture: SNS
Dundee's Jim McAlister, centre, is mobbed by team-mates after he puts his side ahead. Picture: SNS

It was fitting then that Jim McAlister's two goals were delivered in near- Arctic conditions at Stark's Park to banish the memory of the last time these two side's met, proving the SPFL Championship leaders have no intention of choking in their race for promotion.

It was Raith Rovers who came out on top on November 30 as Gary Irvine's own goal sent Dundee out of the William Hill Scottish Cup. It was a painful and premature end for a Dens Park side determined to prove their credentials following a season of woe in the SPL last season. As it would turn out, McAlister's pre-match promise of avenging that defeat was one he was to honour to the death, as his strikes took John Brown's men five points clear of second-placed Hamilton Academical, albeit perhaps only for 48 hours.

While McAlister's brace - his first of his career - will be noted as the two defining moments of this match, in truth Raith gave their first footers more than a helping hand to start off 2014 with a bang. First, captain Jason Thomson was dismissed after a second booking on 68 minutes, then goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw's fumble gifted McAlister with his first goal as the game began to ebb away into injury time. It was an unfortunate end for Rovers given their heroic efforts after going down to 10 men, with the defeat putting them 10 points behind Dundee.

"It's hard to take," admitted Grant Murray, the Raith manager. "I was disappointed to lose the first goal the way we did. Ross has great potential but individual errors have cost us in recent weeks."

A late flurry of activity may have decided the match, but the early stages were bereft of creativity, with about as much up top as a Right Said Fred tribute act.

It was probably just as painful on the senses, with 18 minutes having passed before someone registered a shot on target. Dundee's Martin Boyle was the man to break cover, with his header back across goal forcing Laidlaw to leap high to his right to claw the ball away.

Gordon Smith, the former Hearts forward, was the first to try his luck for the hosts as he capitalised on a nudge on centre-half Declan Gallagher to send a swerving shot from 20 yards skittering into the arms of Kyle Letheren on 38 minutes, with the Dundee goalkeeper doing well just seconds later to pluck Calum Elliot's looping header out of the air. That was to be Letheren's last real contribution in the match, the goalkeeper clattering to the ground early in the second half after a Superman-esque flying punch clearance, bringing Reece Donaldson down with him in the process. "He's away to hospital concussed," said Brown. "I think he was knocked out. Hopefully, he'll be fine . . . he's got a thick head."

Despite the enforced departure of the Dundee goalkeeper, it was the exit of Thomson, his second yellow for a rash tackle on Boyle, which would finally bring the game to life. His absence initially seemed to cajole Raith as they pressed high to alleviate pressure on their vulnerable backline. However, just as they appeared to have kept Dundee at bay, Laidlaw flapped and fumbled at a long punt on 90 minutes, batting the ball into McAlister's path on the edge of the area for him to slot home as Rovers defender Dougie Hill tried his best to swat the ball off the line.

Donaldson was then to go within inches just seconds later of levelling, Letheren's replacement John Gibson somehow diverting his goal-bound shot over the bar, before McAlister wrapped the game up by charging from the halfway line on a quick breakaway, rounding Laidlaw and calmly shuttling the ball into the net before disappearing into the warm embrace of his supporters.

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