Unbeaten Cups Run Continues
Raith Rovers went to Easter Road hoping to end a poor run of six games without a win. However, the Rovers were unbeaten in normal time after eight Cup games, losing only to Hearts on penalties. A healthy and vocal Rovers support travelled over the water, hoping for a return to good form despite Calum Elliot joining the injury list and John Baird being cup tied. It was, however, pleasing to see Paul Watson doing some work pre-match. The Rovers lined up 4-5-1, with Spence the lone man up top in light rain and a bit of a breeze.
The home side welcomed three new signings to their squad, which sits 7th in the Premier. In the first minute, the ball was replayed into the box where Collins only had Ross Laidlaw to beat to open the scoring. The young keeper, however, made a great reflex block to deny the Hibs man. The resulting corner was scrambled away and a shot was fired over into the Rovers’ support behind the goal.
Joe Cardle over hit a free kick into the home box then the Rovers opened the scoring. Cardle received the ball wide and, not cutting inside, went down the line before crossing. The ball was half cut out but fell to Kevin Moon, who leathered it low into the far bottom corner from 15 yards. Laidlaw claimed a header from a free kick as the home side tried to equalise. The home side pushed on and the Rovers struggled to handle them, with Watmore making a couple of threatening runs. The Sunderland loanee looked lively throughout and Booth, rightly, received a yellow card for taking him down as the winger got past him. The home pressure paid off in the 13th minute when Sam Stanton fired in a cracking 20 yard shot off the post, with Laidlaw helpless.
The Rovers tried to respond and Spence was booked for a foul on Whatmore. The home side was dictating a high pace but, at times, play was sloppy, although the Rovers continued to work hard. Collins was crowded out in the box then Grant Anderson won a couple of headers, just before Cardle’s curling cross eluded Spence. From a corner, a Hibs man headed over then Donaldson blocked a 23 yard effort from Whatmore.
Around the half hour, the Rovers managed to get a couple of balls into the box, but they were too strong. Callachan skipped down the by-line and snuck a low ball into the six yard box, where Williams got to it just before Spence claimed it at the second attempt. Spence harried the Hibs defence and Callachan almost capitalised, firing a great shot from 22 yards, which was touched onto the near post, bouncing away to safety. The Rovers continued to push but the good spell came to an end when Donaldson took a heavy head knock in the 35th minute. Young Reece was carefully stretchered off and replaced by Fraser Mullen, who went on at right back and Jason Thomson moved to centre half.
After the restart, the Rovers scored a second in very unusual circumstances. A ball back into the box found the inrushing Dougie Hill alone, six yards out, where he acrobatically poked the ball past the exposed Williams. The Rovers fans reacted and then stopped seeing the assistant referees flag up on the far side. However, the well-positioned referee pointed to the centre circle as the Rovers players celebrated and the Hibs and Rovers fans wondered what had happened. From the back of the main stand, it looked offside but talk at the break mentioned a Hibernian head flicking the ball on and there was little reaction from the Hibs side. It was probably the least celebrated Rovers goal in years but it stood. 1:2.
Within a minute, the home side were level again. A deep corner was met by the head of Michael Nelson, who headed powerfully into the net. In the several minutes of added time, the home side gave the Rovers a torrid time and Taiwo had a go from 19 yards, with his effort being headed away by Hill.
The Rovers started the second half well, after Stanton shot wide, with Callachan looking like he was pushing on more from his midfield role. Anderson and Callachan combined well to play in Moon at the near post butWilliams blocked his effort, which rebounded off the Raith man and went wide. Dougie Hill, who had £200k man Collins in his pocket, claimed the ball again and moved forward, resulting in Callachan having another go, although it wasn’t as close as his previous effort.
Just after the hour, Terry Butcher made a double change, trying to get ahead of his former employers. Collins and Harris were removed with Zoubir and Haynes coming on. The former England captain certainly wouldn’t have planned on the Rovers taking the lead for the third time, just moments later. Cardle’s cross found Grant Anderson, whose back header from seven yards found the back of the net unhindered. The Rovers support, only feet away, went wild and Grant scampered away with a Thinkeresque celebration.
Greig Spence was replaced by Gordon Smith and Tiawo was booked for a bad foul on Moon. Liam Craig gifted the ball to Callachan at midfield but Smith failed to capitalise on the home captain’s slip. The home side continued to play high tempo football but, too often, they made mistakes as the home fans got more and more frustrated. A free kick was headed over then Zoubir dragged his effort wide. An over hit forward ball into the box was collected by Laidlaw under no pressure as booing came from the home stands.
Laurie Ellis replaced Dougie Hill in the third alteration to the visitors’ back four of the match. Cardle shot into the side netting and the lively Haynes, up front, barely connected with a dangerous cross and it was another easy collection for Laidlaw. Fox was the third Rover booked for fouling Watmore then Laidlaw pushed away the well-worked resultant free kick. As the home side pushed forward, a looping header took an age to bounce off the bar and clear as everyone looked on.
At the other end, or rather midfield, Smith was played in and ran on from an onside position, looping the ball up and over the outrushing Williams. As the Rovers support tried to suck the bouncing ball into the empty net, a Hibs man managed to hoof it away. As time ticked by, substitute Heffernan was played in but Laidlaw was, yet again, more than equal to the effort, saving well low to the right. Watmore, who’d taken up good positions and not been used as much as he could, switched sides and jinked into the box before being tackled and the well positioned referee awarded a corner.
As the urgency in the home side increased, Callachan almost ran on for another effort but it was Haynes who next had a go. The loan signing from Notts County fired in a low shot, which Laidlaw again saved low, this time to the left. Callachan was booked then Hibs forced three corners and a free kick was played and fired harmlessly over, which proved to be the last straw for many Hibs fans. With three minutes injury time declared, a header in the 48th second of the 47th minute was saved low by Laidlaw and, with the resulting ball upfield in the air, the referee blew the final whistle.
The Rovers fans, staff and players alike celebrated a great result as the home fans and players walked away with their heads down. Applauding the fans behind the goal, the players deserved the ovation they received, particularly Callachan and Laidlaw who were outstanding. Hopefully, Reece Donaldson, who’d done well before being carried off, will also be able to enjoy the result.
Many Rovers’ fans will have been very pleasantly surprised by the performance but the win was deserved and the Quarter Finals await.
Report – John Mainland, Picture – Eddie Doig
Copyright Eddie Doig
Highlights courtesy of the Scottish FA.