Benedictus Winner Sends Raith Through
Hamilton Academical may be sitting in fourth place in the Premiership table, but they were bundled out the League Cup by Raith Rovers on Tuesday evening, after a late goal from Kyle Benedictus saw Rovers into the next round, after a nervous, tense and exciting affair
Rovers boss, Ray McKinnon made two changes from the weekend’s 3-0 victory over Alloa Athletic. Kyle Benedictus returned from suspension and partnered Lewis Toshney in the heart of the defence, with Iain Davidson moving into midfield, replacing the injured Ross Callachan. Craig Wighton dropped to the bench, meaning there was a start for Mitch Megginson who started wide on the left, with James Craigen taking up a central role.
For the away side, there was a return to Stark’s Park for Christian Nade, as he led the line on his own.
The match started at a whirlwind pace, with Raith straight on the ascendency. Jason Thomson advanced forward down the right hand side, and did well to win a corner-kick after just two minutes.
Ryan McCord’s set-piece was flicked on at the front-post, teasing Michael McGovern, who unwisely elected to charge into a group of players, failing to deal with the cross in the process. Amongst a flurry of limbs, Davidson got the final, vital touch, poking the ball into the now unguarded net to put the Championship side a goal up.
Hamilton looked rocked by the early goal, and Raith were almost two up a moment later, when Mark Stewart led a breakaway, slipping a through pass between the Hamilton line to Grant Anderson who had made headway down the right. However, with just McGovern to beat, the Northern Ireland international narrowed the angle, making a good stop with his legs.
Still Raith kept coming, and another corner-kick from the right, found Lewis Toshney in a few yards of space at the back post, but while his half-volley ruffled the rigging, it was only the side-netting.
It appeared that Ray McKinnon had specifically asked his side to target Hamilton’s left-hand side, with Anderson, Thomson and McCord, all taking it in turns to try their luck against Hamilton’s left-back, Antons Kurakins. Anderson popped up again after 20 minutes, taking the ball for a run before setting up McCord infield, but his 25-yard attempt was no trouble for McGovern.
Hamilton had rarely been seen in an attacking sense at this point, and it took them until the 25th minute to register a shot. A long ball up towards Nade was well won by the former Raith man, and his nod down was picked up by Ali Crawford, who shimmied himself into a shooting position, but his effort from distance was straight at Kevin Cuthbert.
The away side had at last started to settle, and while their diagonal passes to the overlapping Ziggy Gordon and long balls to Nade weren’t having the desired effect, when they concentrated on keeping possession on the deck, they were starting to impose themselves.
Nade was the focal point of their attack, but he was being ably assisted by Crawford, as well as Gramoz Kurtaj, who was starting to trouble Rory McKeown, after a reasonably quiet opening.
It was the German, Kurtaj who was the architect of Hamilton’s best chance, when his incisive cross from the right was glanced goalward by Crawford, but it just went wide of Cuthbert’s left-hand post.
Crawford was Hamilton’s most dangerous player, and he was almost in again after a poor defensive header from Benedictus, but his shot from the edge of the area was excellently blocked by Toshney.
Other than the opening quarter-of-an-hour or so, Rovers had been up against it, with Hamilton enjoying the bulk of the ball, but despite that, Rovers had held both their shape and composure, with Cuthbert reasonably untroubled in an encouraging first-half.
The second period began in a similar vein as the first, with Anderson picking up possession and hitting the by-line, nutmegging Kurakins in the process, but his cross was too deep.
If the home support felt that was to be a show of intent, then they were mistaken, as Rovers gradually retreated deeper and deeper, as Hamilton once more started to hog the ball and hem the home side in.
Crawford was still the biggest thorn in Raith’s flesh, and he picked up a neat pass from Nade after he’d held the ball up on the edge of the area, but Cuthbert did well, getting down low to his right and palming away the midfielder’s effort.
Rovers were getting no respite at this stage, and with 30 minutes still remaining, you sensed something had to change if they were to eke out a memorable win. It wasn’t quite incessant Hamilton pressure, rather a sustained, patient build up from Martin Canning’s men, who were stretching and testing Raith’s blockade.
With Rovers so deep, long-range opportunities were becoming more readily available to Academical personnel, which is something Crawford is particularly astute at, so he needed no invitation to rifle in his umpteenth attempt at goal from 20-plus yards when the chance presented itself, his effort bouncing dangerously close to Cuthbert’s upright.
Hamilton thought they’d equalised with 25 minutes remaining, when Jesus Garcia Tena sent a 25-yard free-kick towards the top-left hand corner of Cuthbert’s net, but the ‘keeper made an excellent stop, clawing it away for a corner at full stretch.
Frustratingly for Cuthbert, and everyone else of a Raith persuasion, the relief was short-lived, as Hamilton scored from the corner kick, and there was a sense of inevitability about the goal scorer.
The ball was swung into the six-yard-box, and from close range, Christian Nade deservedly nodded Hamilton level.
Hamilton sensed blood, and Crawford made Cuthbert work again, driving into the box and sending a shot in from an angle which the goalkeeper gathered at the second attempt.
Faced with the prospect of sticking or twisting, Ray McKinnon elected to twist, twice, by bringing on two forwards for two wingers. Former Dundee United striker, Jon Daly made his debut, replacing Grant Anderson, while Craig Wighton came on for Mitch Megginson.
Dundee loanee Wighton looked to be full of confidence after notching up his first goal for Raith on Saturday, and he almost sculpted a second Rovers goal, when he doggedly won possession in the Hamilton penalty area, before laying it off to McCord who was arriving late, but his first time effort from outside the area was repelled well by McGovern.
The introduction of the substitutions had made the match an end-to-end spectacle, and with Raith now troubling Hamilton to a far greater degree, they won a free-kick, wide on the left with ten minutes remaining.
Jon Daly gesticulated to the area where he ideally wanted McCord to deliver it to, and while the cross was exactly where the ex-Hartlepool striker signalled, it was Benedictus who got on the end of it, glancing a header beyond McGovern into the corner of the net.
With ten minutes remaining and facing the prospect of an early elimination, Hamilton went all-out for the equaliser, but while they prodded and pressed, they couldn’t find a way past the defensive organisation of the home side. Whether it was a cross or a through ball, there was inevitably a Rovers head, foot or shin on the end of it.
The final whistle brought a combined sense of relief, joy and pride, as the players added the name of Raith Rovers into the glass bowl for the next round, at the expense of a Hamilton side who had convincingly beaten Dundee United and Inverness Caledonian Thistle in recent weeks.
The third round draw will take place at Hampden Park this Thursday, at 2:30pm.
Subs: 17. Laidlaw (GK) 16. Daly 18. Wighton 12. Matthews 22. Bates 29. Mackie 24. Ellis
Hamilton: 1.McGovern(GK)(C) 2. Gordon 3. Kurakins 11. Crawford 12. Kurtaj 17. Longridge 18. MacKinnon 21. Docherty 24. Garcia Tena 44. Tagliapietra
Subs: 26. Martin 5. Canning 7. Imrie 14. Morris 15. MacDonald 16. Watson 30. Boyd
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2015
RaithTV Spoke with the gaffer after the 2-1 league cup win against Hamilton
Raith Rovers will look to reach the third round of the League Cup on Tuesday evening, when they welcome Martin Canning’s Hamilton Academical side to Stark’s Park.
Both teams have started the season well, with three clean-sheets in the league apiece, helping both to fourth place in their respective divisions. The Lanarkshire outfit appear to have steadied the ship after a dip in form that coincided with Alex Neil’s departure to Norwich last term, and Canning has brought in a number of impressive replacements, to fill the void left by both player-manager Neil, and Tony Andreu who followed Neil to Norwich.
Former Dumbarton midfielder, Chris Turner made the step up to Premiership football in the summer, and he was joined at New Douglas Park by Gramoz Kurtaj, from Czech side, MK Most.
In defence, left-back Antons Kurakins has become the latest Lithuanian player to ply his trade in Scotland’s top-flight, and up-front, Carlton Morris has joined on-loan from Norwich. He could feature alongside former Raith striker Christian Nade, after he was acquired by Canning after leaving Stark’s Park, with both strikers already off the mark this term, with three goals between them.
Like the home side, Hamilton go into the match on the back of a victory, after goals from Morris and Louis Longridge sealed an impressive win over Scottish Cup holders, Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium on Saturday. It was Hamilton’s second successive win, after they dismantled Dundee United by four goals to nil the seven days previous.
This will be the 13th time that the two clubs have met in cup competition, and whilst Rovers have never managed to come out on top in the Scottish Cup, they have an impressive record over Tuesday nights’s opponents in the League Cup, with six wins from eight meetings. The most recent of which was in August 2010, when a Mark Ferry goal was enough to put Raith into the third round, where theyeventually lost 3-2 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
Despite that, Raith’s most recent head-to-head record against the Accies is poor, with just three wins from the last ten fixtures, compared to Hamilton’s six.
Tuesday evening’s match referee will be Don Robertson.
Head-to-Head Cup Record:
Raith Rovers Wins: 6 | Hamilton Academical Wins: 6 | Draws: 0
Raith Rovers Goals: 14 | Hamilton Academical Goals: 16
Raith Rovers: W-W-W-L-L-W
Hamilton Academical: D-L-W-W
Raith Rovers: Mark Stewart, Lewis Vaughan 2
Hamilton Academical: Carlton Morris 2
Raith Rovers: 13/5 | Hamilton Academical: 21/20 | Draw: 13/5