Raith Ease Into Fourth Round After Ochilview Victory
Raith Rovers made it safely through to the fourth round of the Scottish Cup, with a deserved 2-0 win over a hard-working East Stirling side at Ochilview.
Grant Murray was forced into one change from Tuesday nights win over Livingston, after Joe Cardle was ruled out through injury. The wingers absence meant a first start for new signing Kevin McCann, who slotted in at left-back, while Callum Booth moved forward to the left-hand side of midfield.
On a bright, but bitterly cold day, Raith almost went in front in the opening few seconds. A long ball forward was misjudged by East Stirling centre-half Chris Townsley, giving Gordon Smith an unexpected opportunity. However, with his back to goal, his overhead kick went wide of goalkeeper Grant Hay’s post.
The early chance aside, the League Two leaders looked composed and organised, although it was Raith who were dominating the early possession. Callum Booth was looking sharp in the unfamiliar left-midfield role, although up front, the pairing of Gordon Smith and Calum Eliott were struggling to make the ball stick.
There was almost quarter of an hour gone before the next chance presented itself. A Booth corner was cleared 30 yards from goal and was met powerfully by Kevin McCann, an effort which Hay did well to beat away. When the ball was crossed back into the box, Gordon Smith rose highest, but watched incredulously as his effort struck the inside of the post, and somehow stayed out.
At this point, Booth was the man who looked most likely to provide the breakthrough, and he was only denied the opening goal by another smart stop from Hay a few minutes later. Kevin Moon somehow managed to play a 1-2 with referee Don Robertson who had wandered into his path, before finding Booth in space at the back post, but his shot was blocked well by Hay.
The same player was again denied by Hay after 25 minutes, when he held the Hibs-loanee’s free-kick from 22 yards.
At this point, it seemed just a matter of time until Raith moved ahead, and only a goal-line clearance stopped them from doing just that a minute later. Paul Watson’s header from a corner made its way past Hay, but was headed off the line by Greenhill. This however, was to be Raith’s last meaningful chance of the half, as East Stirling started to make some headway into the match.
They created their first chance after half-an-hour, when Kevin Moon was shrugged off the ball by Michael Herd on the edge of the box. Composing himself, the forward burst into the area and sent a low shot towards Laidlaw’s right-hand post, which the Raith keeper did well to not only get down to, but to hold.
If that was a warning, then it was one that Raith failed to heed, as they received an even bigger let-off ten minutes before half-time. Kevin Turner’s ferocious drive from just outside the box beat Laidlaw but struck the underside of the bar, and bounced just the right side of the line, before Herd nodded home the rebound, only to be ruled offside by the linesman.
The remainder of the opening period saw Raith toil to stretch the home defence, and it was a frustrated looking Raith side that trooped off at the interval.
If the Rovers fans were concerned at how the game was panning out, then their minds were put at ease 2 minutes into the second-half. Booth picked out Smith on the edge of the box, and the striker volleyed low past Hay for his third goal in three games.
The creator of the first almost added a second, when he get on the end of a sweeping move involving Jason Thomson and Calum Eliott, but his side foot finish lacked the power to beat the East Stirling keeper.
Despite the lead, Rovers were struggling to create any more clear-cut chances. East Stirling’s five man midfield was doing a good job of not only nullifying Raith’s engine room, but also getting forward to support Turner. Other than a penalty appeal after Paul Watson appeared to block a Herd attempt with his arms however, the home side were creating precious little.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, Grant Murray made his first swap, bringing on Greig Spence for goalscorer Gordon Smith, and the ex-Alloa striker got a sight at goal soon after entering the fray, but his shot from the edge of the box ended up way over the bar.
With 10 minutes left however, Rovers got the goal that confirmed their participation in the fourth round. Again it was Booth who was the provider, crossing the ball into Spence, but instead only finding Shire left-back Michael McGowan, who somehow managed to shin the ball off the post, and into his own net.
With the two goal cushion, a weight seemed to be lifted from the Rovers players, who looked like they could extend their lead even further. Calum Eliott was the next to come close, when his shot from the edge of the area curled off the inside of the post, and like Smith’s attempt in the first half, somehow managed to spin away.
The final chance fell to Callum Booth, but that first goal for Rovers remained elusive, when his goal bound effort was impressively tipped over by Hay.
The final whistle meant not only that Raith were in Tuesday’s fourth round draw, but also that Grant Murray’s side have now lost just 2 out of 18 games this season. If that record is to be extended further, then they’ll need to find their best form when they travel to Dens Park to take on Dundee next Saturday.
Rovers gaffer Grant Murray talked to Davie Hancock after the cup win