Celtic Ease Through With Dominant Showing
In the end, it wasnt enough. Not Grant Murray’s tactics, nor the endeavours and efforts of the players, nor even the fans who had every digit crossed. It just wasn’t enough, to repel a Celtic team who recently qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League.
Raith started with Allan Walker wide right and Stuart Anderson and Joe Hamill in the middle of the park. While Pat Clarke was expected to support Brian Graham up front, his day however, would involve supplementing the midfield rather than the lone front man. At the back, Laurie Ellis and Simon Mensing were at the heart of a back four who knew they would, in all probabbility be under constant pressure.
Up front for Celtic Tony Watt partnered Gary Hooper, who scored all four the last time the two sides met in September.
It said everything about the differences between the sides that Celtic had conceded the same amount of goals in 180 minutes against Barcelona than Raith had in two games against Wick and Deveronvale, but as the crowd packed into Stark’s Park for the game, they did so with hope that a huge upset could be on the cards.
It took Celtic just 4 minutes to force their first corner, an outswinger by Charlie Mulgrew that was met by Victor Wanyama but his effort was over the bar.
Raith’s first real chance was offered up to David Smith who was gifted possession by Wilson and Kayal but his ball into the box had only Brian Graham waiting for it and the chance was spurned.
Wanyama was already starting to dictate the play in the middle of the park, and a move involving him, Commons and Mulgrew ended with a cross from the Celtic defender striking the hand of Raith left back Eddie Malone but as the referee waved play on the chance was cleared away.
The early part of the game involved Raith being camped squarely inside their own half, and any attempt from the home side to play the ball up to Brian Graham was being snuffed out by the Celtic defence. However the deep defending from the Raith side was restricting Celtic to half chances. Indeed, despite their domination of the territory, all Celtic had to show was a low drive by Mulgrew that McGurn dealt with competently.
The closest they came to a goal in the first half was the 35th minute when a Mulgrew corner from the right was flashed across the face of goal but despite a host of attackers waiting for the ball inside the 6 yard box, no-one was able to get the final touch and the ball appeared to strike the back post and was eventually cleared.
Any Raith possession could be counted in seconds rather than minutes, and it was obvious that if Raith were to get anything from the game then they’d have to do better with the ball in the short periods that they were in control of the football.
The half time whistle came as a relief to the Rovers fans although Celtic had been restricted to half chances, and despite the lions share of possession they hadn’t really eked out anything clear-cut. The home side however, had done nothing in an attacking sense.
The second period began with Rovers creating their first half chance of the game, Allan Walker’s cross from the right was aimed towards Brian Graham but he was crowded out by Kelvin Wilson.
Celtic went right up the park and fashioned their first proper chance of the game, Adam Matthews picking the ball up wide on the right and cutting inside before blazing a shot just over the bar.
Celtic fans were up in arms in the 49th minute when they adjudged a challenge by Mensing on Commons to be a foul just inside the box. The referee waved play on however and the danger was cleared. The momentum was still with Celtic however and a header from Tony Watt went just past McGurn’s right hand post.
Raith’s first shot on target came in the 53rd minute, Eddie Malone was brought down by Kayal, 28 yards from goal and Brian Graham’s direct free kick was palmed out with some difficulty by Zaluska.
Raith’s more attack minded start to the second half was undone in the 57th minute however when the away side were awarded a penalty kick. Kris Commons’s gained possession just inside the Raith penalty area and as Simon Mensing jockeyed him inside the area he seemed to just connect with the Scotland internationals leg and the ref awarded the spot kick. Taking it himself, Common’s sent an emphatic left foot shot, low past McGurn into the left hand side of the net.
Celtic made 2 substitutions on the hour, Scott Brown and James Forrest coming on for Tony Watt and Beram Kayal. Rovers made their first switch 5 minutes later, with Grant Anderson replacing David Smith.
Despite the attacking change from Grant Murray, the game was still almost exclusively being played towards the Celtic supporters behind McGurn’s goal. With just over 20 minutes remaining Gary Hooper showed great footwork, evading 3 challenges inside the box and forcing the Rovers number 1 into a good save, his palmed stop went back into a busy penalty box however and Scot Brown somehow managed to sidefoot his effort wide with the goal gaping.
On 74 minutes Grant Murray committed his hand, replacing Stuart Anderson with Greig Spence and the diminutive striker was immediately involved in the action, picking up the ball deep inside the Rovers half and feeding Pat Clarke, who was upended by Wanyama, who picked up a booking for his foul. The free kick came to nothing however.
Just as Rovers committed more men forward, looking for an equaliser, Celtic finished the game off. In 83 minutes James Forrest dinked the ball over Laurie Ellis, and sprinted into the box, as David McGurn came out to narrow the angle, the Celtic substitute toe poked the ball past the keeper and into the net, despite the attempts from Ellis to clear it off the line.
Within moments it was three. Hooper and Stoke combined on the edge of the box and as the chance seemed to be going astray, Joe Ledley tee-ed up Charlie Mulgrew who placed the ball expertly past McGurn into the top left hand corner.
The last chance for Raith came in the 83rd minute when Greig Spence picked up possession but his early drive from outside the box went just wide.
The full-time whistle signalled Celtic’s passage into the quarter finals while Raith were left to think about what might have been. Their defensive game plan worked in the first 45 minutes, with Celtic restricted to half chances and long-range efforts. Their downfall was that in the short periods where they did have the ball, they too often gave it back immediately to their more illustrious opponents, resulting in almost constant pressure that was always going to be difficult to resist. With that said it’s difficult to remember Raith defending better this season, and Simon Mensing richly deserved his sponsors man of the match award.
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Photographs copyright Tony Fimister
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