Elliot double seals extra-time Cup win
Raith needed extra-time to earn a place in the second round of the Scottish League Cup, finally overcoming a skilful and resourceful Forfar Athletic 4-2 after two goals in extra time. A fine 20-yard strike from Calum Elliot and an own-goal from Forfar’s Derek Young proved the difference after a match in which the visitors’ slick pass-and-move style caused Raith problems for long spells.
Although the home side had the edge in terms of overall quality, Raith were made to struggle with Forfar keeping possession and creating several good chances. The second half of extra time saw two gilt-edged opportunities passed up by the visitors, which could easily have taken the match to penalties or saw Raith lose at this first Cup hurdle.
After the false-start of last week’s postponement at East End Park, the competitive season finally got underway today, with Raith’s starting eleven including no fewer than seven new faces from last season. In common with many sides outside the Premiership, the preponderance of one-year contracts and loan deals at this level has required that Raith rebuild. While acknowledging the number of summer changes in his programme notes, manager Grant Murray highlighted the 2014/15 Raith squad’s greater depth and strength in numbers. All of today’s substitutes enjoyed first-team spells last season.
So, farewell then, Joe Cardle, Greig Spence, cup hero John Baird, Gordon Smith, and several others with key roles last term. Amongst those making their competitive debuts for Raith were wide midfielders Ryan Conroy and Mark Stewart, bustling target-man Christian Nadé, and popular goal-keeper Kevin Cuthbert. In only the second minute, Stewart’s cross found Nadé, who’s flashing header was pushed wide at point-blank range by Forfar keeper Rab Douglas.
Raith adopted a 4-5-1 from the off, with Nadé seeking to dominate the two Forfar centre-halves Darren Dods and the youngster Aaron James, with three central Raith midfielders supporting in the form of Liam Fox, Calum Elliot and former Livingston lynchpin Martin Scott. In the opening stages however, while the gameplan looked clear, each of the three midfielders looked to drop deep or play square, with none using pace to support the lone Nadé. For much of the first half, the French Ivorian looked isolated.
Forfar, safely mid-table in last season’s League One, themselves started brightly. Welcoming a host of new faces, Forfar looked sharper and more cohesive for much of the first half. Dale Hilson troubled Raith debutant McKeown at left-back, former Aberdonian Derek Young anchored a versatile midfield, and Danny Denholm showed pace against Raith captain Jason Thomson. Having played one more competitive game than Raith this season, Forfar’s greater understanding paid dividends as the first half progressed.
In the opening exchanges, visiting striker Chris Templeman nearly had sight of goal after centre-halves Watson and Perry hesitated, Husband drove at Cuthbert’s goal from distance, and Denholm had a shot blocked after cutting inside Thomson.
The visitors’ first goal when it came was as incisive as it was straightforward. Following a long spell of possession, the tidy Gavin Swankie jinked across the box from left to right, and played a neat ball inside McKeown, who was caught on his heels. Denholm angled his run and finished beyond Cuthbert. The lead was deserved based on quantity and quality of possession.
Moments later, Denholm delightfully back-heeled a flick over Fox in a defensive position, triggering another Forfar attack – the away side had both momentum and confidence.
Much of Raith’s attacking play in the opening stages as coming from angled cross-field passes from both Fox and Scott. Stewart set off after one like a whippet, his zipped cross finding no takers in front of Douglas’s goal. The opening stages saw both sitting midfielders dropping back toward Watson and Perry to collect possession, leaving Elliot the only central plank between back and front. As a consequence, Raith’s passing too often was long and mis-guided, with Nadé struggling without meaningful service.
Just after the half-hour, Raith were level with a goal which bears positive portents for the coming season. Stewart scrapped for a ball in the final third, Nadé held off two defenders before releasing Conroy, who placed a weighted finished beyond Douglas.
Raith emerged from the half-time interval more composed and more aggressive, winning 50/50 challenges that would have been lost in the opening forty-five. Calum Elliot particularly was given a clear brief to get closer to Nadé – his fizzing cross forcing a low save from Douglas with the half just seconds old. Nadé got his head to a Conroy corner moments later, Douglas stretching to usher to ball over the bar.
Nadé’s physical presence – the striker has never been an out-and-out goal-scorer – will change the focus of Raith’s attack this season. Where previously Raith have utilised smaller terrier-like strikers or angular front-men with aerial prowess, the barrel-chested Nadé seeks to dominate and win the physical battle. Darren Dods felt every one of his thirty-nine years following a clash with Raith’s No.27 under a McKeown long-throw. A well-weighted invitation from Scott allowed Nadé to out-muscle Dods on fifty-four minutes; only a fine low save from Douglas kept Forfar on terms.
Another clash in the Forfar box followed. A clumsy high-boot from Forfar’s Dods caught Nadé, with referee Colvin whistling immediately for a penalty. Elliot coolly slotted home the spot-kick.
Raith came close to extending their lead in the following minutes – Conroy’s fine side-footed half-volley going narrowly wide following Stewart’s first-class cross on the run, Nadé’s flicked header had Douglas looking on anxiously, and an Elliot cross was well-held in a crowd by the Forfar keeper. With the tide turning in Raith’s direction, Forfar’s Dick Campbell made a triple substitution which reaped dividends within minutes. Introducing pace and verve in the form of James Dale, Omar Kader, and Gavin Malin, Forfar upset Raith’s tempo and suddenly were able to stretch the game on both flanks. After a Kader break, a high swinging cross evaded Cuthbert with Denholm stealing in the score his second.
As expected for so early in the season, spaces opened in the final fifteen minutes. With a wet pitch soaked with more second-half rain, the ball raced across the turf as the newly invigorated Forfar front four sought a winner. Swankie hooked a shot over from twenty yards, Kader linked with Malin to give Hilson a sight of goal, and Swankie again was unlucky when a stray touch from Jason Thomson nearly left him with only Cuthbert to beat.
In the final moments, a superb driven cross by Elliot found the gap between Douglas and the onrushing Nadé, Scott steered a volley just over from a Conroy corner, and a Nadé header was booted clear by a tiring Dods.
The match went into extra-time, with Forfar’s fresher legs suggesting that, although Raith had shown greater quality in possession and had created the better chances overall, the visitors still had plenty to offer. Former Spartans midfielder Omar Kader was catching the eye, a quick and willing runner with good awareness of colleagues around him. His through-ball nearly released Swankie soon after the re-start; Watson heading back to a grateful Cuthbert.
For Raith, substitute Grant Anderson shot straight at Douglas, Jason Thomson scurried down his flank to fire over an inviting cross, and McKeown and Elliot fashioned a centre which Douglas did well to gather.
One of Raith’s few genuine moments of quality put the home side’s noses in front shortly before the interval in extra time. McKeown fed Nadé who cut inside, teasing and twisting, and creating space for Elliot. With little back-lift, Elliot smacked a stinging twenty-yard drive into the corner of Douglas’s net.
Forfar came again in the second period. Swankie volleyed straight at Cuthbert from a Kader cross, when a cleaner connection would have left the Raith keeper with much to do. The Forfar frontman held his head, realising a golden chance had been wasted. Moments later, Malin released Swankie, whose reverse-pass invited Denholm in on Cuthbert. The forward, on a hat-trick, somehow dragged his shot wide of the home keeper and his left-hand post – a real let-off for Raith and the last opportunity Forfar would have to take the tie to penalties.
In the final moments, a twisting run from substitute Lewis Vaughan gave rise to a frantic clearance from the Forfar rear-guard; and with right-back Dunlop beaten by a through-ball, Grant Anderson fired in an excellent driven cross that was thumped past his own goal-keeper by the retreating Young.
A disappointing end for Forfar, who contributed much to an entertaining cup-tie. For Raith, many of the relationships in key areas evidently still have to fully develop. Down both flanks and between the centre-halves, there were nervy moments which would have been exploited by higher-grade opposition. Much to ponder for manager Murray for Tuesday’s rearranged cup-tie at East End Park and next week’s commencement of the league campaign, at home to Dumbarton.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014
Niall spoke to Grant Murray after the cup game win.
Ally Gourlay caught up with Grant Anderson after his 100th appearance.
After monsoon-like conditions at East End Park forced the cancellation of last week’s Fife derby, Raith Rovers season will finally get underway this Saturday, when they welcome Forfar Athletic to Stark’s Park.
Saturday’s League Cup first round tie will be just the fourth time the two clubs have met in cup competitions, with the last coming in 1997, when Raith prevailed 5-0 in the second round of the same tournament.
Their first encounter in a knockout competition was in the first round of 1926-27 Scottish Cup, which Forfar won 4-2. However, the Angus side’s involvement in the cup would be short-lived, as they were eliminated at the next stage 3-0 by Mid-Annandale.
This will be Forfar’s second visit to the Kingdom this season , and Dick Campbell’s side will be hoping to bounce back after they went down 2-1 to East Fife in last weekend’s Petrofac Training Cup tie. Jon McShane and Ewan Moye’s gave East Fife a two-goal lead, and despite Dale Hilson halving the Methil side’s advantage, Gary Naysmith’s men clung on to eliminate their League One opponents.
Ex-Dundee United forward Hilson is amongst a number of new-recruits who have signed up at Station Park this season, with Dick Campbell concentrating predominantly on bolstering his midfield options. To that end, he’s recruited former Livingston man Danny Denholm, as well as Stephen Husband from Dunfermline. The experienced Derek Young has also signed up, after leaving Queen of the South at the end of last season.
Forfar’s last win at Stark’s Park was a 2-0 Second Division victory nine years ago, but the two teams recent head-to-head couldn’t be any tighter, with four wins and two draws each.
Saturday’s match referee will be Brian Colvin.
Head-to-Head Cup Record:
Raith Rovers wins: 2 | Forfar Athletic wins: 1 | Draws: 0
Raith Rovers goals: 9 | Forfar Athletic goals: 5
Raith Rovers: 1/2 | Forfar Athletic: 5/1 | Draw: 3/1