Raith battle past Borderers
A late goal by Pat Clarke enabled Raith Rovers to overcome Berwick Rangers in an absorbing seven-goal Scottish Communities League Cup first round clash at Stark’s Park this afternoon.
On an eerily overcast day that saw a ghoulish fog swirl around the ground, it was the home side who were spooked by opponents who belied their Third division status, taking the lead on no fewer than three occasions during a keenly-contested, and highly enjoyable, cup match.
Rovers enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges and, with barely two minutes on the clock, an in-swinging corner was met with a firm header by Brian Graham. However, the big striker’s effort flew wide of the target.
Any Rovers supporters harbouring expectations of a one-way procession towards the Berwick goal at this point would be sorely disappointed, however, as within a minute Dougie Hill was forced to demonstrate quick reflexes to clear a goal-bound effort from his own goal-line.
With eight minutes played, Rovers defender Laurie Ellis was harshly cautioned for a tackle about 25 yards from goal. Berwick’s Lee Currie took the resultant free-kick, and his shot arched over the wall and into the top corner of the Rovers net, giving McGurn no chance. The goal instilled confidence into the wee Rangers, and for a while they enjoyed a period of possession that left the home side in little doubt that a testing ninety minutes lay in prospect.
Eddie Malone tried his luck with a speculative shot which sailed harmlessly over the bar, before, on 25 minutes, Rovers levelled the score. Joe Hamill’s floated corner kick was knocked back into the danger area by Ellis, and Brian Graham wasted no time in despatching the ball into the net from around six yards.
Graham was clearly in the mood for more goals, and three minutes later brought a fine blocking save from Berwick keeper Bejaoui.
For the remainder of an entertaining first half, Rovers dominated possession, utilising the width of the pitch with some precise passing, although they failed to seriously trouble their opponents’ defence, which, in keeping with their efforts during the opening 45 minutes, remained resolute.
Egged on by their small band of vociferous fans housed high in the main stand, Berwick started the second half on the front foot, and within five minutes of the restart, they regained the lead. Phil Addison took possession of the ball just inside the Rovers box wide on the right, and his scuffed shot deceived a flat-footed McGurn as the ball floated high into the roof of the net.
Rovers then went on the offensive in a bid to restore parity. The Stark’s Park faithful didn’t have long to wait on that score, the equaliser duly arriving on the hour mark. An inviting corner kick by Allan Walker was met by a thumping header by Dougie Hill, which slammed into the net before a black and gold shirt could respond.
Rovers then upped the ante in a bid to take the lead for the first time in the match. A series of corners rained down upon the Berwick defence, although Brian Graham will wonder how one header failed to register. The striker’s effort looked certain to cross the line, but somehow spun off the crossbar to safety as the supporters in the home stand prepared to celebrate.
That missed opportunity would still have been occupying the minds of those of a Rovers persuasion when Berwick regained the initiative with their third goal of the afternoon. Eddie Malone was harshly penalised for a foul around thirty yards out, and Berwick’s Lee Currie demonstrated that his opening goal was no fluke when he sent his free-kick high past McGurn into the Rovers net.
Once again, Rovers sought to haul themselves level, and Grant Anderson made way for Greig Spence. Allan Walker received a yellow card for dissent as the pressure intensified.
Rovers right-back Jason Thomson made a maruading run into the heart of the Berwick defence, and, from his neat square pass, Pat Clarke’s first time shot smacked the inside of the post and out with the keeper well beaten.
Despite this misfortune, Rovers continued to look dangerous from set pieces, and they drew level for the third time from a corner kick after 75 minutes. Hill rose high at the back post to meet Joe Hamill’s cross, and his header fell invitingly for Brian Graham. With his back to goal, the striker showed commendable composure to turn and sweep a shot high into the far corner of the Berwick net.
The match then ebbed and flowed as both sides went in search of a winning goal. With five minutes remaining, a deep cross by Jason Thomson deflected off a Berwick defender, and the ball looked to be headed for the corner of the net before the outstretched glove of Bejaoui touched it round the post.
From the resultant corner, the ball dropped into the goalmouth, and an almighty scramble ended with the simplest of tasks for Pat Clarke, who steered the ball into the net from all of two yards.
Despite the best efforts of Berwick thereafter, the feeling persisted that Clarke’s goal would prove decisive and, sure enough, Rovers managed to hold out and book their place in the second round. The final whistle was greeted with a mixture of joy and relief by those of a Rovers persuasion, and the home side could finally wallow in the fruits of a hard afternoon’s labour for a while. Berwick’s fans offered their players a richly-deserved acclaim.
In truth, this match was possibly a sterner test than many Rovers fans had expected, but credit must go to Berwick Rangers who contributed to what was ultimately an entertaining spectacle for the supporters of both clubs. For the second week in succession, Rovers could reflect on four goals plundered, and, for all harder encounters still surely await this season, this victory will be embraced as a step in the right direction for the campaign ahead.
Report – Donald Ramsay, Photos – Tony Fimister
Live match updates by: Niall Russell & Alan
Photographs copyright Tony Fimister and Ian Martin
The 50/50 draw was made by Reece Donaldson who picked out the lucky ticket number 312330.
The owner of the winning ticket was Fraser Simpson from Kirkcaldy who took home a very healthy prize of £340.