Raith Knocked Out After Penalty Drama
The League Cup third round draw takes place on Thursday, but it will do so minus the name of Raith Rovers, who were eliminated in the cruelest possible manner, after an evening of high drama at Stark’s Park.
Manager Grant Murray made just one change from the weekend draw with Dundee. Liam Fox came back in for Saturday’s man-of-the-match, Lewis Vaughan, allowing Calum Elliot to move forward to partner Gordon Smith up front.
You could sense straight from the kick-off that the home side were up for the challenge from their Premiership opponents, as Fox and then Cardle immediately closed down their Hearts counterparts, earning a throw in and a huge roar from the home fans in the opening seconds.
It was the former Livingston captain Fox who had the first attempt at goal, but his 25 yard effort was never troubling Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald.
Hearts first attempt was more dangerous. Jason Holt cut in and sent in a shot that zipped across the turf, but David McGurn handled it comfortably.
The most noticeable thing about the early exchanges was that all the play was coming down Raith’s right hand side, a situation that hasn’t often been the case this season. Whether Grant Murray had specifically singled out left-back Kevin McHattie as a potential weak link is unknown, but the defender was being given a torrid time by Grant Anderson. Time and time again the Rovers winger took the ball around him, but his crosses were proving less successful than his dribbling ability, and Rovers were unable to make the most of the situation.
Perhaps still in a daze from how often Anderson had turned him, McHattie even had the misfortune to take a throw-in backwards, meaning referee Brian Colvin had to blow for those rarest of offences, a foul throw.
The game was now starting to settle down, and for the first time in the match, Hearts were starting to move the ball around quickly, with Jamie Walker, Jason Holt and Callum Paterson in particular looking dangerous.
Raith however were closing down quickly, allowing Hearts very little room, or time on the ball, meaning that crucially, the away side were rarely enjoying sustained periods of possession, and were struggling to create opportunities.
Rovers on the other hand were making the most of their time on the ball, and another run from Anderson after 18 minutes was ended in a crude manner by McHattie, who earned a booking for his misdemeanour.
While the game was engrossing, chances were few and far between. Cardle got on the end of a Smith pass but his effort was turned around the post by MacDonald. It was to be the last piece of action for the Hearts keeper, as he pulled up taking a goal kick shortly after, and was replaced by Mark Ridgers.
Grant Anderson had been considerably quieter since he’d been clattered by McHattie, and as a result, Raith’s creativity had dwindled. Twice in as many minutes, misplaced passes in midfield allowed Hearts the opportunity to break, and the second of these saw Paul Watson booked, after he fouled Patterson on the half way line.
The final action of the half saw Calum Elliot testing Ridgers from 30 yards, and the replacement goalkeeper almost allowed the swerving strike to creep in, but he did just enough to push it back out.
The second half started in much the same vein as the first, as Anderson picked up the ball and drove straight at the Hearts defence before being fouled by Danny Wilson, who became the second Hearts player to receive a caution for fouling the winger.
After 49 minutes the deadlock was broken, and if ever a goal was worthy of being described as a stramash, then this was it. Calum Elliot beat two men down the right hand side, before hitting the by-line and sending in a low cross. Amongst a blurred menagerie of swinging limbs, Joe Cardle had one attempt, Gordon Smith had two, one incredibly kept out by Ridgers, and eventually, just when it seemed the ball was being kept out by some kind of witchcraft, Liam Fox managed to slot the ball into the side of the net via the aid of a defection. It was a lead that was thoroughly deserved.
Smith then saw a header blocked, and Ridgers had to dive at Cardles’s feet, but the ebb of the game was starting to turn against Rovers. Whether Hearts had moved up a gear, or Raith were simply panicking slightly, something had changed. Tackles were being missed, players weren’t being closed down, and poor decisions were being made. All three of these things were in evident for the Hearts equaliser on the hour mark.
Jamie Walker ran into the Raith penalty box and rode two challenges, which although hadn’t dispossessed him, had at least forced him wide. Jason Thomson then lunged in, despite the player appearing to be going nowhere. Referee Brian Colvin rightly pointed to the spot, allowing Jamie Hamill to place his penalty in the bottom right hand corner.
Raith immediately had a great chance to go back in front, but Smith crashed his back post effort wide of the goal after a flick on from Cardle.
Play was now swinging from end to end but the next piece of action, and the most controversial, occurred in the Hearts penalty area on 72 minutes. Dougie Hill and Jamie Hamill went eyeball to eyeball in the 6 yard box, a situation that surprisingly ended with Hamill on the ground, despite no obvious contact or motion towards the Hearts player from Hill.
Brian Colvin however, decided that Hill had done enough to warrant a red card, and suddenly the momentum had swung towards the Midlothian side. Laurie Ellis was immediately brought on for Smith, as Raith went 4 4 1.
Hamill, who recovered quickly and required no medical attention, was then greeted with a chorus of boos and cat calls every time he touched the ball, which was frequently, as Hearts started to take advantage of their numerical superiority.
With just over 5 minutes remaining, Lewis Vaughan replaced the exhausted looking Anderson.
As you would expect, Hearts were dominating possession, while Raith were struggling to keep a hold of the ball with just Elliot as an outlet. Despite this Hearts had limited sightings at goal, other than a shot in the final minute, which McGurn did well to tip wide.
Extra-time brought more of the same, with Hearts having the vast majority of the ball, pinning Rovers back. They were defending manfully however, with Laurie Ellis using his experience to cajole and direct his team-mates.
Murray made his final change on 98 minutes, replacing Kevin Moon with Ross Callachan.
By this stage Raith were looking happy to take the game to penalties, and for the first time in the match, McGurn was being kept busy. He had to repel two efforts from Walker and come for a number of crosses, as the Rovers players retreated further and further. What brief respite they were getting was coming from the inventiveness of Vaughan, and the industry of Elliot, who held the ball up well and managed to carve out a couple of half chances in the final 30 minutes.
The full-time whistle meant that the game was going to penalties, and while Paul Watson’s was successful, Hearts first, taken by Danny Wilson, went high over the bar.
Lewis Vaughan then sent his wide, allowing the pantomime villain of the piece, Jamie Hamill to bring the scores level.
The next four spot-kicks were all buried with aplomb, but Liam Fox then saw his effort well saved by Ridgers, meaning that Kevin McHattie had the chance to win the match. It perhaps epitomised his night, that his poor effort was kept out by McGurn.
Jason Thomson was next. but his strike hit the bar and went over. Jason Holt couldn’t do any better however, dragging his shot wide, and the shoot-out continued.
Joe Cardle and David Smith both found the net, before the unfortunate Ross Callachan saw his attempt kept out by Ridgers. Brad McKay successfully scored with his, putting Hearts through to the next round, and bringing an end to a match that had gripped everyone in attendance long into the night.
While the game was very much a case of what might have been for Raith, there were far more positives that negatives to take from it. Rovers were the dominant side with 11 men, and must take encouragement from that, considering Hearts current form in the Premiership.
Raith will be hoping to recreate that type of performance on Saturday, when they travel to Greenock, to face Morton.
Report: Shaughan McGuigan Pictures: Tony Fimister
Photographs copyright Tony Fimister 2013
Davie spoke to Grant after the penalty shoot – out defeat to Hearts