Raith’s Run Halted By Ruthless Saints
Raith’s Scottish Cup run was ended at the quarter-final stage today after they went down to a 3-1 defeat, despite a battling display against St Johnstone at Stark’s Park.
Grant Murray made three changes from last week’s starting eleven against Falkirk. Paul Watson made his long-awaited return from injury, replacing Laurie Ellis in the centre of defence. John Baird was cup-tied, so his berth went to Gordon Smith, while Kevin Moon came back in for Lewis Vaughan, as Rovers reverted to the 4-5-1 set-up that worked so well at Easter Road.
Despite having the blustery wind billowing in their favour for the first-half, Rovers were a goal down within three minutes of kick-off, after Paul Watson was penalised for barging into Stevie May on the half way line. Miller’s free-kick was flicked on by Steven Anderson and, despite the congestion in the penalty area, Gary McDonald had more than enough time to sweep the ball past Lee Robinson and into the right-hand corner.
It was the worst possible start for Rovers and any initial fears that the home side may be overpowered by their Premiership opponents started to look justified when Stevie May was given his first sight of goal five minutes later but, after gathering the ball on the left touchline, his ambitious drive from 30 yards sailed well over.
Raith saw little of the ball in the opening spell, although a dangerous looking break from Jason Thomson was unceremoniously ended by Gary McDonald, who earned a booking for a late lunge on the Raith captain.
While St Johnstone had enjoyed the better of the opening twenty minutes, Raith had worked hard to restrict their scoring opportunities. What they’d lacked, however, was that spark of creativity but that was all to change in the 21st minute.
A clearance from Hill was gathered by Gordon Smith who in turn played it to Joe Cardle. He picked up the ball in the centre of the park and headed towards the Saints penalty area, side-stepping one opponent, before unleashing a drive from 30-yards, that flashed past Mannus and into the net via the inside of the post. Grant Anderson may have been the runner-up in the goal-of-the-round competition for his effort against Hibernian but you suspect that Cardle’s magnificent strike may win the prize outright this time around.
The goal seemed to imbue the Raith players with the belief that St Johnstone were there to be got at and while Stevie May and Nigel Hasselbaink, in particular, looked dangerous, Raith were managing to keep them at arm’s length although a Brian Easton shot from distance after half-an-hour caused Robinson some discomfort before sliding past the post.
Raith were starting to take advantage of their extra man in midfield, while Smith was doing an impressive job of holding on to the ball and bringing his team-mates into play. Raith were playing the better football at this stage and were keen to keep the ball on the ground, nullifying the effects of the strong wind.
With just ten minutes remaining in the half, a cross from Cardle was cut out by Steven Anderson. Cardle’s in-swinging corner found Dougie Hill at the back post but the defender put his downward header wide of the post.
It was a poor miss from Hill but an even bigger chance was spurned just a few minutes later. Grant Anderson was brought down on the right touch-line by Easton, an infringement that Craig Thomson decided was worthy of a yellow card. From Cardle’s perfect delivery, Callachan got his header all wrong and, from 6 yards out, he failed to find the target with a free header.
With the wind against them in the second half, the feeling during the interval was that those misses may end up being rued by Grant Murray’s men and, within moments of the restart, those concerns were realised.
Hasselbaink picked up the ball on the right and shrugged off the challenges of first Thomson and then Liam Fox. With a gap opening up in front of him, the Dutchman was allowed to sprint into the box before poking the ball past Robinson. It was a poor goal to lose and, like last week, took the wind out of Raith’s sails, after an encouraging first-half performance.
It was almost 3-1 a few minutes later. Lee Croft’s short-corner found James Dunne at the edge of the box but, despite having plenty of time, he slipped as he struck the ball and the chance went wide.
May then tried his luck for the umpteenth time in the match but the normally prolific front-man put his effort wide of the target.
The Scotland under-21 striker was starting to find gaps between Raith’s midfield and defence and he brought a good save out of Robinson after 55 minutes. His stop rebounded to MacLean but the forward was offside.
Rovers had started to reassert themselves without really troubling Alan Mannus but that changed after 65 minutes, after Lee Croft brought down Liam Fox, with a poor challenge on the edge of the box. Fox took the free-kick himself but although it was well placed into the bottom corner, it lacked the pace to beat the goalkeeper, who gathered at the second attempt.
With 15 minutes remaining, Lewis Vaughan replaced Ross Callachan, as the team moved to a 4-4-1-1 system.
It may have been an attacking change but it was the Saints who almost extended their lead, after James Dunne came within a whisker of replicating Cardle’s strike, with a 30-yard drive that whizzed just past.
The game was effectively put to bed in the 78th minute, however. Croft’s low corner was played to the front post and was stabbed in by Steven Anderson, who exploited the fact that Raith had no-one defending that area.
Greig Spence was introduced for the final 10 minutes but there was to be no grandstand finish for Raith as St Johnstone held firm to book their place in next month’s semi-finals.
Although it was a disappointing outcome, it was a good performance from Raith, who matched the side who currently sit 6th in the Premiership. With an important league match coming up next week against Morton at Stark’s Park, they’ll need to recreate that type of form again as they look to move back up the table.
Words: Shaughan McGuigan Pictures: Tony Fimister
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014