Raith Eliminated After Athletic Defeat
Raith Rovers were jettisoned from the first phase of the Betfred League Cup, after a tepid display against Jack Ross’ Alloa Athletic.
Gary Locke made just one alteration from last weekend’s fine, 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory over Ross County, with Chris Johnston lining up on the left-hand side of midfield in place of Ross Matthews, who dropped to the bench.
Alloa, who were assured of topping the group with just a point, started the match with ex-Rover Greig Spence partnering Jamie Longworth up-front.
To qualify for the second round, Rovers required a win over 90 minutes, or by the means of penalty kicks, but it was never going to be easy against the Clackmannanshire side who had taken nine points out of nine, from their opening three outings.
Despite that, Rovers started the game brightly, and a Kevin McHattie effort from 25-yards bobbled just past Neil Parry’s left-hand post, with the former Airdrieonians ‘keeper struggling to get across.
It was clear from the opening skirmishes however, that Alloa’s lofty position in Group D was no fluke, and they were creating every bit as much as the home side.
Longworth and Iain Flannigan broke through, and with the ball pinging between them, only a great covering tackle from Jason Thomson prevented either of them getting a shot at goal from close range.
Moments later, a low cross into the box from Flannigan was almost steered home by Spence, but Jean-Yves M’Voto made a strong block on the edge of the six-yard area.
Lewis Vaughan had his first sight at goal after quarter-of-hour, when he curled a free-kick past the post, but he was presented with a better opportunity a minute later.
Johnston found some space down the right, and his fine cross into the box allowed Vaughan to swing a leg at it, but he hooked his volley just wide from inside the area.
Rovers were starting to assert themselves now, and the Wasps goalie lived up to his surname as he parried an effort from Johnston into the ground, but he impressed more with the follow-up, spreading himself well to smother McHattie’s close-range attempt.
The match had now settled into a contest that was reasonably even-stevens, but with Alloa looking like an obdurate bunch, you sensed that grabbing the first goal was going to be absolutely vital for either side. Unfortunately, from a Rovers pespective at least, it was the Indodrill outfit who got it with just over ten minutes of the half remaining.
A fine pass by Jon Robertson splintered the Rovers defence all too easily, and Spence held off the challenge of M’Voto, before blasting coolly past Kevin Cuthbert from inside the area.
Rovers were looking second-best at this point, and Flannigan was almost presented with another one-on-one after 40 minutes, with only a perfectly timed sliding challenge from Benedictus denying the winger a clear chance, after another finely judged through ball.
Gary Locke’s team were struggling to gain any type of foothold in the match, although that was exacerbated by laborious attacking play that was all too often grinding to a halt due to errant passes and poor decisions.
Despite being a goal behind, the half-time whistle at least gave Raith a chance to regroup, take stock and start afresh.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, but with Raith shooting towards their own fans in the second period, the hope was that they’d get some close up views of Rovers attacking prowess.
Just like the first 45 though, the front-pairing of Vaughan and Declan McManus were getting very little to work with.
Nothing was coming off for Raith, so much so in fact, that Locke felt the need for two substitutions on the hour mark, with Vaughan and Johnston being replaced by Joel Coustrain and Rudi Skacel.
The Czech debutante had a sniff of goal within a moment of coming on, but his shot from the edge of the area was blocked by Taggart’s back as he jumped towards the shot.
The substitutions geed the crowd up, and their roaring and exclamations were fed on by the players, whose pace of play intensified accordingly.
Bobby Barr and Thomson combined on the right, and the latter’s cross was met by Coustrain, whose shot was blocked by number eight and deflected wide, as the home players screamed for a handball.
The upturn was fleeting however, with Rovers regressing to the pedestrian, flat performance which had preceded the changes.
While Rovers were toiling it wasn’t all their own doing, with Alloa looking strong at the back, while the wily veteran Jim Goodwin was diligently breaking things up in front of them.
With just over ten minutes left, Locke had no alternative but to go for it, with McHattie leaving the field to be replaced by Mark Stewart.
Rovers were starting to turn the screw, but while they were winning free-kicks and corners, the Alloa defence were unruffled by their crosses into the area.
Disconcertingly, Coustrain’s easily-held effort from distance with a few minutes left, was the first time Parry had been called into making a save since he’d stopped McHattie’s effort early in the first-half.
A corner-kick in the last few seconds saw Cuthbert sprint from one penalty box to the other, but his effort was in vain, as the cross was yet again easily dealt with, as Alloa held out for a deserved win.
The defeat meant Rovers finished second in the table, but with eight points, just shy of the required points total to make it to the next round.
Next Saturday sees Rovers starting their Championship campaign, with a trip to Somerset Park to face newly promoted Ayr United.
RaithTV spoke to the gaffer after the 1-0 defeat at home to Alloa
The group stages of the Betfred League Cup reach their conclusion this Saturday, with Raith Rovers knowing that victory over Alloa Athletic will confirm them as Group D winners, and with it, passage into the last-16 of the competition.
They won’t find it easy however, against an Alloa Athletic side who have made great strides in the tournament, leading the table with a maximum nine points from nine.
Their excellent win over Ross County in midweek, means that even a slender defeat on Saturday, would likely see the League One side go through as one of the best runners-up. For Rovers however, it isn’t quite so clear-cut.
If they were to draw, and subsequently lose on penalties, Rovers would, dependent on results elsewhere, probably be eliminated from the competition on goal-difference. A win on penalties, and the bonus point it brings however, would send Raith through, while three points could potentially hand the Stark’s Park team a seeding for the next round.
To achieve that, they’ll need to do what no-one else has achieved this managed, and defeat an Alloa team who have been completely remodelled over the summer by Jack Ross.
Goalkeeper Neil Parry has been signed from Airdrie, while defenders, Scott Taggart, Calum Waters, and Andy Graham have been snapped up from Dumbarton, Celtic and Ayr United respectively.
In midfield, Ross has added former Dumbarton wide man Kevin Cawley as well as central midfielder Jon Robertson from Stenhousemuir. Protecting the back-four in there will be ex-St. Mirren veteran, Jim Goodwin.
Up-front, Alloa can call on the talents of former Raith player, Greig Spence, and he may partner Jamie Longworth after he was acquired from Stranraer.
The changes have allowed Alloa to hit the ground running, with a resounding 4-0 win over Cove Rangers, followed up by a comfortable 2-0 win over Montrose, as well as that 3-2 victory over Ross County.
Raith Rovers have only lost once to Alloa in their last ten meetings, but they have a less than impressive record against The Wasps when it comes to cup meetings. Raith only have one win from six Scottish Cup ties between the pair, while Alloa came out on top by three goals to two the last time they were paired in the League Cup competition back in 2002.
Saturday’s match referee will be Kevin Clancy
Head-to-Head Cup Record Against Alloa:
Raith Rovers Wins: 3 | Alloa Athletic Wins: 5 | Draws: 1
Raith Rovers Goals: 13 | Alloa Athletic Goals: 16
Top Goal Scorers:
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 2 | Kyle Benedictus 1 | Chris Johnston 1
Alloa Athletic: Jordan Kirkpatrick 2 | Isaac Layne 2 | Greig Spence 2
Raith Rovers: 4/6 | Alloa Athletic: 18/5 | Draw: 3/1