Sheffield United: Blades emerge from a Stark setting with win

Raith Rovers v Sheffield United. 'Pic : Martyn Harrison.
Raith Rovers v Sheffield United. 'Pic : Martyn Harrison.

Raith Rovers count crime writer Val McDermid and fictional detective John Rebus among their small but loyal band of fans.

But there was no mystery about last night’s result at Stark’s Park.

Sheffield United, who triumphed courtesy of strikes from Kevin McDonald Jamie Murphy, proved too clinical for their enthusiastic opponents.

But Rovers, posing the sternest test of United’s pre-season tour of Scotland, could also take heart from a display which saw them fashion several good position in front of a respectable crowd.

Although no match is without significance, David Weir is concerned with discovering more about the options at his disposal and devising an effective formation than results ahead of next month’s League One curtain-raiser against Notts County.

After a difficult start, which culminated in Greig Spence’s opener for Rovers, United’s new manager will have been satisfied with many aspects of his side’s play including their ability to work possession through midfield rather than resort to speculative balls forward.

However, United’s performance also revealed several aspects still in need of improvement.

The most notable being, during the early exchanges at least, the sight of several promising moves breaking down on the edge of Rovers’ area.

But promising cameos from the likes of Murphy, Callum McFadzean and Febian Brandy ensured United return to England confident progress is being made and with their unbeaten record under Weir’s stewardship intact.

Nearly two decades ago, Rovers were appearing in Europe.

Nineteen years and the calamitious reign of Claude Anelka later, United’s hosts now find themselves residing in the First Division of the Scottish Football League.

Nevertheless, despite the constraints upon the Fife club’s budget, Weir’s former Heart of Midlothian teammate Grant Murray has fashioned a useful squad build on tried and tested journeymen but peppered with precious young talent.

Indeed, the visitors seemed destined to endure a difficult evening when Rovers gained an early lead courtesy of Greig Spence’s early strike before Joe Cardle also went close.

United, though, replied in decisive fashion with McDonald’s low drive restoring parity following McFadzean’s surging run and Murphy applying the finishing touches to a well worked move.

Weir, a defender of distinction with the likes of Glasgow Rangers and Everton, has pledged United will try and pass their way to promotion next term.

There were signs of the considered, thoughtful approach he is attempting to introduce with McDonald, who pounced in the 13th minute, enjoying the freedom of a more advanced role. However Weir and his staff will have taken no pleasure from watching Spence opening the scoring with less than 10 minutes gone after Calum Elliott had wreaked havoc along the flank. McDonald and Murphy saw United wrestle back control and Chris Porter should have scored after escaping his marker’s clutches but instead scooped wide.

Raith: Laidlaw, Thomson, Booth, Ellis, D Hill (Donaldson 65), Fox (G Smith 60), Anderson (Matthews 87), Moon (Vaughan 75), Spence (Callachan 60), Elliott (Trialist 65), Cardle. Not used: Murray, McGurn.

United: Howard, Westlake (Hodder 63), Williams (McGinty 63), Maguire (M Hill 63), Doyle (Whitehouse 52), Porter (Ironside 52), Murphy, Collins (Higginbotham 63), McFadzean (Brandy 56), McGinn, McDonald (J Smith 60). Not used: Willis.

Referee: Steven McLean.