Highland victory sees Raith into fourth round
Raith secured safe passage to the fourth round of this season’s Scottish Cup with a 2-1 victory at Elgin City today, but not without a late scare from the enterprising League Two hosts. Goals from Ryan McCord and Grant Anderson befitted Raith’s superiority over the ninety minutes, putting the Kirkcaldy side into the hat for the Cup’s fourth round draw.
The visitors enjoyed the bulk of possession throughout, and created enough second-half chances to have been clear by the final whistle. Elgin City though, active in the midfield throughout, manfully stuck to their task, and could have claimed a draw with Jordan Halsman’s late goal and Cameron’s last-minute shot demanding a fine save from Raith keeper Cuthbert.
Borough Briggs, the most northerly League ground in the UK, has hosted Elgin City since 1921. This year Elgin fans have had no lack of excitement – the Black & Whites’ last three games before today had seen seventeen goals. Inconsistency has also been a problem, as for several sides in a tight Second Division – despite winning four of the last five, Elgin had gone the previous six weeks without a win. Striker Craig Gunn has twelve goals in an already prolific season. Manager Jim Weir has also brought several loanees, building on ties with his former club St Johnstone – regular keeper Mark Hurst was cup-tied today, with replacement Stewart Black starting only his fourth game of the season. Weir understandably kept the same ten outfield players as started last week’s splendid 4-2 win over East Fife.
For Raith, manager McKinnon played a strong side. Stewart and Daly started upfront, Anderson Robertson Craigen and McCord across the middle, with Benedictus and Davidson flanked by Bates and McKeown – Toshney and Thomson the notable absentees from an otherwise full-strength Rovers line-up. With Raith’s last two games ending with the concession of late goals, Ray McKinnon would demand a full 90 minutes from his squad.
One of the most picturesque football grounds in the UK fell silent before kick-off, for an immaculately observed minute’s remembrance for former player Bryan Thomson – a fitting tribute under the golden leaves of the surrounding woodland and with the waters of the River Lossie swirling past on the ground’s northern side.
Keen to make their visitors uncomfortable from the off, Elgin started brightly. Top goalscorer Craig Gunn was in about Benedictus and Davidson from the opening minutes. Home midfielder Reilly snapped into Scott Robertson twice in the opening stages – whether manager Weir had identified Robertson as a danger man or simply the Elgin man had had twice his normal helping of Weetabix, Robertson had a difficult afternoon with Reilly marking his every move. The former Hibs maestro was given no opportunity to get settled.
Winger Grant Anderson burst forward on numerous occasions in the opening phases of the match. The Raith flying machine took every opportunity to pin his ears back and rampage down his flank, running at his opposite numbers – three times in the first ten minutes, his whizzing crosses flew just beyond Daly and Stewart. Following another break, a niggly foul in midfield allowed Craigen to fire a curling free-kick into Black’s arms from distance.
The signing of Dylan Easton has been a genuine coup for Elgin this season. He was a livewire all afternoon, flitting between midfield and attack, with Raith’s defensive patrols never quite enjoying clear sight of the diminutive centrocampista. His league experience showed with astute passing and his ability to find time on the ball. Bates saw yellow for clattering Easton after the Elgin man robbed Davidson early on. Following another neat Easton turn which bamboozled McKeown, McHardy’s snapshot following a corner was collected by a grateful Cuthbert.
With 25 minutes gone, Elgin were looking bright in attack. McLaren burst through midfield but was let down by his passing. A swirling Easton free-kick was claimed high above his head by Cuthbert.
On the half-hour, Raith’s best chance of the half – Davidson’s headed flick found Daly who’s shot was blocked wide. Stewart scampered after the loose-ball and struck a post from a narrow angle, with Robertson’s blast rising high over Black’s cross-bar.
Seven minutes later, with Raith showing more composure in possession as the half wore on, a penalty gave Raith the lead. Stewart burst down the inside-left channel, with Craigen reaching his cut-back before a stretching Cameron. Referee Salmond pointed to the spot, and booked the Elgin midfielder. McCord placed his finish to Black’s left-hand side, his penalty putting Raith in front.
As the half-time whistle blew, Raith had edged possession and territory, but Elgin’s Easton and Moore were causing concern with high quality intelligent running deep into Raith positions. While goal machine Gunn had been quiet, Raith had by no means cancelled out their hosts’ attacking threat.
The second half began with three excellent chances for the home side. Gunn sprung the Raith defence for the first time, cutting inside Benedictus onto his left foot and forcing a fine save from Cuthbert. Moments later, Easton smacked a drive from distance which gathered speed as it flew narrowly beyond Cuthbert’s left-hand upright.
Released down the right-hand side, Easton rounded McKeown and sent a wicked delivery through the Raith six-yard-box. Top-scorer Gunn was inches away at the near post, and Moore arriving late on the far side stretched agonisingly but couldn’t make contact.
Having survived an onslaught from their hosts, and against the early run of the play, Raith extended their lead. On fifty-three minutes, Raith gained a corner following Craigen’s shot at goal. McCord’s inswinging centre fell to Stewart who prodded at goal; Daly controlled the deflection and offered Anderson the chance to strike from 16 yards – the winger picked his spot through a forest of legs, finding the bottom corner of Black’s net. While the goal was well-taken, the finish was unfair on the hosts, Elgin having had their best spell in the ten minutes since the half-time interval.
Anderson’s afternoon was to end in unfortunate fashion minutes later – clutching his hamstring following a quick turn, the Raith wingman pounded the turf in frustration. Anderson was substituted at the next break in play, and hobbled gingerly down the tunnel at full-time.
As the skies opened on the hour-mark with already heavy turf beginning to cut up in places, so did the midfield – both sides found space in the central third to drive forward. Although part-time, Elgin’s stamina and pace held up well as the match moved into its final quarter – Cameron, Moore, and the diminutive Easton each held possession well and looked to advance, bringing their full-backs into play and looking to isolate Benedictus or Davidson against Craig Gunn.
Stewart raced after a through ball, squaring for Daly to shoot straight at Black. At the other end, Cameron forced a tremendous block from Cuthbert after being released by a fine ball through midfield. McHardy’s towering header was well-held by the Raith keeper under pressure in a crowded penalty area.
With twenty minutes to go and with a two-goal advantage, Raith lowered the tempo and began a spell of possession designed to tire their opponents. Craigen and Robertson passed and moved well, McKeown and Bates both created options wide, and substitute Callachan – introduced for Anderson – used fresh legs to stretch Elgin down their left flank. The hosts kept trying to force the pace – introducing midfielder McLean and bruising winger Mckenzie both to some effect, but Raith managed to keep Elgin’s quality of possession to a minimum. In a twenty minute spell following the hour-mark, a rasping drive from Gunn collected well by Cuthbert was all the home side could show for their determined running.
The match appeared to be drifting toward a conclusion – McKeown bursting down his flank and spinning inside Cooper and Mckenzie with an exaggerated flick with Stewart firing just wide the only attack of note. Easton was withdrawn following an excellent performance with a minute to go, his replacement Halsman making his way inconspicuously forward while the 853-strong crowd applauded Easton’s high-quality endeavours.
Within moments, and perhaps with his first touch, sub Halsman brought Elgin right back into it with a controlled finish past Cuthbert from a flighted cross. The goal was no less than Elgin deserved, but put all Raith fans on edge – having conceded late equalisers in two previous games, could this tie be heading for a replay?
In a match where both goal-keepers were excellent, the final say fell to the Raith keeper Cuthbert. With Elgin throwing men forward, and Raith’s defence falling back inside its own box, Cameron’s snapshot was well blocked by Cuthbert sharply down to his left-hand side.
Within minutes, referee Salmond brought proceedings to an end – frustration for the home side and no little relief for Raith following Halsman’s late goal. While the victory was merited and fully deserved over a ninety minutes where Raith were the better side notwithstanding Elgin having the game’s most notable performer in Dylan Easton, Raith will need greater levels of concentration with next week’s visit to Starks Park of league leaders Rangers and following Friday night trips to Greenock and to Dumfries.
© Eddie Doig
RaithTV spoke to the gaffer after the cup win at Elgin
Raith Rovers make their bow in this season’s Scottish Cup competition on Saturday, with a trip to Borough Brigg’s, to take on Jim Weir’s Elgin City.
The Black and White’s reached this stage of the tournament thanks to a 1-0 win over Spartans in the Third Round, a victory which came courtesy of a last-minute Archie MacPhee goal last month.
It’ll be the first time the two sides have ever met in a competitive match at Borough Briggs, with the only other meeting coming at Stark’s Park over ten years ago in a Bell’s Cup tie. Scott Crabbe put Raith ahead mid-way through the first-half with a fine strike from 25-yards. However, the lead didn’t last long, with Mark Booth equalising from the edge of the penalty area a few moments later. With no further scoring in the regulation 90 minutes, the game went to extra-time, which was only four minutes old, when Paul McManus tapped home to put Gordon Dalziel’s side 2-1 up. A Stuart Cumming own-goal with 11 minutes remaining eased Rovers through to the next round.
If Ray McKinnon’s men are to make the next round, then they’ll have to overcome a team who have yet to lose a home match this term. Their six wins and a draw at the Brig’ has helped lift them to third in the League Two table, while their current form has seen them win four of their last five outings.
Much of that is down to the goal-scoring form of Craig Gunn, who has already amassed 13 goals this season, while the signing of Dylan Easton from St. Johnstone can only be seen as a coup, with the 21-year old looking exceptional since signing in October.
Saturday’s match referee will be George Salmond.