Divine Intervention Eliminates Raith
Raith Rovers exited the Scottish Cup at the quarter-final stage for the second consecutive season, after going down 1-0 to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, in Tuesday night’s rearranged clash.
After Saturday’s game had been deemed a washout, manager Grant Murray made one change from the side that won 2-0 at Livingston, with Christian Nadé coming back in at the expense of Lewis Vaughan, who dropped to the bench.
Both teams lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Marley Watkins partnering recent acquisition, Edward Ofere up-front for Inverness. The Nigerian forward had already proven how impressive he was in the air on his debut, with a well-taken headed goal against Motherwell, and the movement of Watkins and the power of Ofere would prove to be a constant thorn in Raith’s flesh all evening.
Neither side started the match in a particularly impressive manner, with both protagonists sloppy in possession and struggling to string together too many consecutive passes. Predictably, Inverness were the first to threaten, when Graeme Shinnie made headway down the left-hand-side, before launching a cross towards Greg Tansey who nodded wide.
Craig Barr was only making his second appearance of the season after his long injury layoff, but he was in the thick of the action, and impressing, in the opening exchanges. After a Raith foray forward broke down, a long ball forward found Ofere up against Barr one-on-one, but the former Inverness defender timed his challenge well to toe-poke it away from the forward.
Ofere went close again, heading over a Tansey cross in the opening period of a match that had started in a fairly low-key tempo, and whilst Inverness were on top, David McGurn in the Raith goals had yet to be tested.
Most of Inverness’ play was coming down the wings, and although Ofere was winning his fair share of headers, the central defensive partnership of Barr and Paul Watson were proving to be an astute one, blocking shots and generally showing a good understanding, despite the pairing being such a new one.
Raith hadn’t been seen too much in an attacking sense, although Mark Stewart had seemed the most eager to get involved, charging hither-and-tither in a quest to gain possession. It was his burst down the left-wing that produced Raith’s first chance, spotting McKeown in the six-yard-box, his low cross was a good one, but David Raven deflected it out for a corner.
At this point, the away side were seeing a reasonable amount of the ball, but unlike the previous round at Ibrox, they were struggling to piece together too many pieces of incisiveness. Stewart was coming deep, while Christian Nadé was slightly isolated up-front, with the wide men, Barrie McKay and Grant Anderson both tied up with more defensive minded duties. As a result, Inverness started to exert more authority on proceedings, the longer the half wore on.
Watkins pulled a shot wide after McKeown did well to shepherd him outside after being left one-on-one, then David Raven blasted a half-volley from inside the box well over the bar. While the chances up until that stage had been more of the half variety, ICT spurned their most clear-cut opportunity just before the interval.
A long ball to Shinnie saw him with just McGurn to beat, and while he was under pressure from the backtracking Liam Fox, his finish allowed McGurn to save with his legs. As the ball was deflected away for a corner, the set-piece eventually found Danny Williams, whose shot from distance deflected off the crossbar and over McGurn’s goal. With the momentum all in ICT’s favour, Crawford Allan’s whistle brought some relief to Raith.
If Raith were to squeeze through against the team that’s currently third in the Premiership, then they were going to require a reasonable amount of luck to do so, and they received a massive dollop of it, right at the start of the second period. A cross from Raith’s right-hand-side was right on Watkins foot, but from underneath the crossbar, he somehow thumped it over.
McGurn then had to look lively to tip a Watkins header over, as Inverness continued to impress down both flanks.
Despite that, Raith weathered the early second period storm, and eked out a half-chance of their own, thanks to good hassling from Nadé and Grant Anderson, who contrived to pressure the ICT defence into conceding a corner just before the hour mark. From McKay’s delivery, Anderson tried an impudent backheel flick, which was headed clear.
The respite was fleeting however, and in the 61st minute, Inverness took the lead, and while it was thoroughly merited, it was a poor goal to lose. A corner was drifted into the back post, and Danny Devine managed to lose his marker, to easily nod home off the inside of the post. After all the good work that had went in to keeping parity, it was a disappointingly soft goal to lose.
Raith now had no option but to push one or two more bodies forward, and good work by McKeown saw him reach the bye-line, but with only Stewart to aim at, the forward’s effort was crowded out from close range.
Fox then started and finished a move, slipping a fine pass through to Anderson, who used his pace down the right to good effect, the cross was only headed as far as Fox, whose half-volley from 25-yards floated over Esson’s bar.
Barrie McKay was the architect of the next chance, excellently evading two challenges before sending in a low cross, but although the ball pinged and fizzed around the penalty area, it frustratingly failed to fall to a Raith player.
Grant Murray freshened things up in the latter stages, bringing on Lewis Vaughan for Anderson, before swapping in Ryan Conroy for Liam Fox, but there was to be no grandstand finish, as Inverness held firm to take their place in the semi-final line-up, where they’ll play either Celtic or Dundee United.
Rovers return to league business this Saturday, when they travel to Palmerston Park to take on James Fowler’s Queen of the South side.
Raith Rovers head to the Highlands this weekend, knowing they’re just 90 minutes away from their second Scottish Cup semi-final in five years.
They face a tough task however, as standing in their way is John Hughes’ Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the team who currently reside third in the Premiership, just four points behind second placed Aberdeen.
Inverness reached the quarter-finals by disposing of two Premiership sides on the way, in St.Mirren and Partick Thistle. They were taken to a replay by the Saints, after Josh Meekings equaliser restored parity in Paisley, after Marc McAusland had opened the scoring in the fourth round tie. The replay was a more one-sided affair though, with goals from Gary Warren, Greg Tansey, Danny Williams and Graeme Shinnie, handing the Caley Jags a 4-0 win.
Their fifth-round tie against Partick Thistle was a tighter fixture, but a blistering performance in the first period was enough to see them through. Marley Watkins and Greg Tansey gave Hughes’ men a 2-0 advantage at the interval, and although Lyle Taylor pulled one back for Partick, Inverness held on for a quarter-final berth.
Raith Rovers passage to this stage has seen them drawn away from home in every tie, and while the results from the early stages make the outcomes sound quite comfortable, they were anything but.
Linlithgow Rose were aggrieved to be on the wrong end of a 2-0 result in the third round back in November. Only a fine performance from David McGurn in the opening 45 minutes at Prestonfield kept the scoreline blank, but second-half goals from Ryan Conroy and Paul Watson, saw a relieved Raith through.
The fourth round tie away at Stirling Albion was a more open affair, with both teams spurning chances in the early stages. However, a strike a minute before half-time from Barrie McKay, and an excellent long distance effort from Grant Anderson, again saw Rovers advance by two goals to nil.
It was the next stage of the competition which saw this Rovers team carve out their own piece of club history, by becoming the first Raith team since 1959, to defeat Rangers at Ibrox. Ryan Conroy put them on the way with a sumptuous free-kick, before Haris Vuckic brought the scores level against the run of play. However, a late Christian Nadé goal from close range, deservedly put Raith into the draw for the last eight. Making it yet further in the competition however, will take an even bigger performance than the one the team produced at Ibrox.
Inverness have only lost twice at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium this season, to Partick Thistle and Aberdeen, with both defeats coming in December, and only two teams have conceded fewer goals at home in the Premiership this term, in the Dons and Celtic.
Rovers will also need to put an end to a bleak run of form against ICT, which has seen them go 16 matches without a win. Raith’s last victory against Inverness was at Saturday’s venue, when goals from Jay Stein and Ivan Mballa, sealed a 2-1 victory back in October 2000.
The referee for Saturday’s match is William Collum.
Head-to-Head Record at Inverness:
Inverness Caledonian Thistle Wins: 8 | Raith Rovers Wins: 2 | Draws: 1
Inverness Caledonian Thistle Goals: 26 | Raith Rovers Goals: 11
Inverness Caledonian Thistle: D-W-W-D-D-L
Raith Rovers: D-D-W-D-L-W
Biggest Home Win: First Division 12/01/2002 Inverness Caledonian Thistle 5 Raith Rovers 0
Biggest Away Win: First Division 25/09/1999 Inverness Caledonian Thistle 0 Raith Rovers 2
Top Goalscorers In All Competitions:
Inverness Caledonian Thistle: Billy McKay 10 | Marley Watkins 8 | Greg Tansey 6
Raith Rovers: Ryan Conroy 9 | Christian Nadé 7 | Mark Stewart 4
Inverness Caledonian Thistle: 1/3 | Raith Rovers: 9/1 | Draw: 9/2