Hamilton Accies slipped to a disappointing defeat against Raith Rovers in their final home match of the season.
A goal in each half from Rangers loanee Ben Williamson was enough to sink an understrength Accies side hit by injuries and isolating players.
Accies were looking to close the gap on their opponents in the hope of sneaking fifth-spot in the Championship table, but Stuart Taylor’s men barely laid a glove on the Kirkcaldy side in the South Lanarkshire sunshine, leaving Accies without a win against Raith in four attempts this season.
It was just their six defeats in their last 20 games, however, and they will now hope to finish a frustrating campaign on a high away to Inverness on Friday night.
The only positive for Accies – who failed to register a single shot on target – was a late debut for 16-year-old defender Sam Nicolson.
Accies made four changes from last week’s win at Morton. Lewis Smith, Josh Mullin, Reegan Mimnaugh and Ellis Brown came in, with injured duo Jamie Hamilton and Andy Ryan ruled out. Club captain Brian Easton dropped to the bench, while Scott Martin was sidelined after being ruled out earlier in the week.
With a handful of players also isolating, Accies handed a number of youngsters a place on the bench, with a first appearance there for 16-year-old Cian Newbury.
Raith named the same side that claimed a last-gasp win over Partick the previous week, with goal hero Poplatnik leading the line once again.
Ethan Ross had the first clear chance of the game inside six minutes when he curled a free-kick straight into the grateful arms of Ryan Fulton.
Moments later Williamson looked to be in on goal when he went down under pressure from Mihai Popescu. There appeared to be a tug on the Raith man as he bore in on Fulton’s goal, but referee Steven McLean – after a long look at his assistant – waved play on and the defender avoided what would have been a red card.
The visitors’ early pressure continued when Reghan Tumuly fired a strike on the angle, straight down the throat of Fulton.
And with 11 minutes on the clock Raith broke the deadlock. After a bit of pinball, Williamson’s header in the box was deemed to have crossed the line, despite the best efforts of Popescu trying to clear it.
Rovers came agonizingly close to doubling their lead after 22 minutes when a sweeping move was rounded off with Sam Stanton teeing up Aiden Connolly for a strike. The midfielder took it first time and his curling strike came crashing back off the crossbar.
Accies responded with a move down the right and Lewis Smith’s cross was a whisker away from the head of Reegan Mimnaugh at the front post. In their next attack, a sizzling low strike from Josh Mullin flashed past Jamie McDonald’s left-hand post and the visitors’ lead remained intact.
The sustained period of pressure continued for the hosts with a few Mimnaugh deliveries from corners forcing the Rovers defense into action. On the one occasion an Accies corner did find its way through six minutes from half-time, David Moyo headed wide from the center of the box.
Raith had the ball in the net for a second time two minutes before half-time when Poplatnik turned home Tumilty’s cross, but the Slovenian striker was flagged for offside and Accies went in at the break trailing by just the one goal.
Early in the second half Accies boss Stuart Taylor’s frustrations got the better of him as he picked up a booking from ref McLean for one complaint too many.
And things only got worse for Taylor in 58 minutes when Rovers made it 2-0. A ball over the top from Ethan Ross was contested by Williamson and O’Reilly on the edge of the Accies box. Williamson outmuscled the Accies defender to gain possession of the bouncing ball and he then kept his composure to calmly slot a low finish past Fulton into the far corner from just inside the penalty area.
Having failed to register a shot on target in the first 45 minutes, Accies went close to testing Jamie McDonald in 78 minutes when Mimnaugh’s corner found O’Reilly but the Irishman headed narrowly wide of the target.
Stuart Taylor eventually turned to his bench with 16-year-old Sam Nicolson coming on to make his Accies debut in place of David Moyo for the final 10 minutes, just shortly after 17-year-old Adam McGowan had replaced Ellis Brown to make his sixth first team out this term.
McGowan almost capped his appearance with a goal, but a late curling effort just missed the target as Raith saw the game out.
Accies now bring the curtain down on their Championship campaign on Friday night when they travel to Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
HAMILTON: Fulton, O’Reilly, MacDonald, Lawson, Popescu, Brown (McGowan 76), Mimnaugh, Smith, Spence, Mullin, Moyo (Nicolson 80).
Subs not used: Hilton, McGinn, Easton, Newbury.
RAITH: MacDonald, Benedictus, Musonda (Mackie 76), Tumilty, McKay, Connolly, Matthews, Ross (Zanatta 64), Stanton, Williamson (Spencer 60), Poplatnik (Varian 76).
Scorers: Williamson 11, 58
Bookings: Matthews, Stanton
Subs not used: Arnott, Young, Thomson.
Ref: Steven McLean
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