Raith Impress But Celtic Progress
Raith Rovers bowed out of the League Cup at the third round stage at Celtic Park this evening, but Ray McKinnon’s side gave a fine account of themselves, eventually going down by two goals to nil, after a determined and spirited display.
The Rovers boss made two changes from the starting eleven which picked up its first three points on the road in Paisley on Friday evening. Out went Ryan McCord, who was replaced in the middle of the park by young Ross Matthews, while Jon Daly had to be content with a place on the bench, as Craig Wighton returned to the fold.
Celtic boss, Deila, fielded a mixture of recognised first-teamers and a smattering of fringe players, in what was a surprisingly strong looking line-up, with important Premiership, and Europa League fixtures on the horizon for the Glasgow side.
With the teams lined up to start, Celtic’s Green Brigade battered their drum as they attempted to whip up an atmosphere, but it was the large Raith contingent of fans in the far corner who were creating the loudest din as the match kicked-off.
As expected, Celtic hogged the ball in the early minutes, stroking the ball around smoothly and patiently, although their first attempt at goal after four minutes was less impressive in its execution, when Nadir Ciftci gathered the ball up, swivelled, and sent a shot from the edge of the area, approximately 35-yards wide.
Despite Celtic’s tag as the red-hottest of favourites, the away side, with Wighton as the central striker, were managing to get forward, winning a couple of free-kicks in the embryonic stages of the match. However, despite Rovers plundering several goals from set-pieces this season, neither delivery produced a chance of note.
Gary McKay-Steven did threaten the Rovers back-line after ten minutes, cutting inside from the left touchline, but his ball across goal was too far ahead of Ciftci, and the chance was lost.
Suddenly though, Raith were up the other end, and were a fraction away from opening the scoring, forcing the first save of the evening. Wighton was sent through on the right, and while he had a defender in tow, his shot appeared to be finding the net, until Craig Gordon appeared to deflect it away with his elbow, low to his right. Despite the save, it reinforced the notion that Rovers had made a confident start to the match.
They were certainly making a fine fist of negating Celtic, with their five man midfield restricting the home side’s space and stifling their creativity. Kris Commons and Callum McGregor were occasionally popping up in pockets of space around the Raith penalty area, but they’d been restricted to bits and pieces, with the banks of four and five far from rushed off their feet.
However, that all changed after half-an-hour, when Celtic’s most dangerous player opened the scoring. Commons picked the ball up 25-yards from goal, cut along the edge of the penalty area, and zipped a precise shot past Cuthbert into the right-hand-corner of the net to put the Premiership side one up.
A few moments later, Ross Matthews was possibly fortunate to escape a booking, after a late challenge on Scott Brown saw the Celtic and Scotland captain writhing on the turf, although he was eventually able to continue.
It was almost 2-0 in the 35th minute. Indecision on the edge of the area saw Kieran Tierney burst into the box, but his shot was charged down by an excellent sliding challenge by Kyle Benedictus, who prevented the match becoming an almost insurmountable challenge with ten minutes of the half remaining.
However, with half-time approaching, there were still some uncomfortable moments for Raith to endure, with Celtic front-man Ciftci at the hub of them. Firstly, bright work from the young Turk inside the area, allowed him to pull the ball back for Commons, but he pulled his first-time effort over the bar. Then, Lewis Toshney brought down Mackay-Steven on the edge of the area, but Ciftci’s attempt from the free-kick failed to trouble Cuthbert.
The second-half started in much the same vein as the first-period ended, with Celtic in the ascendency, although not quite overwhelming their Kirkcaldy visitors.
McGregor was again proving to be a nuisance, and his meandering, slaloming run took him past three challenges, but he was unable to wrap his foot around his finish, and the chance was lost.
It was almost constant Celtic possession in the opening ten minutes or so of the half, and Scott Brown was unlucky to see his shot from distance deflected clear, after a cross into the area was poorly headed away.
Raith were doing a fine job of restricting Celtic, but they were having little joy in creating chances of their own, however, that changed in the 58th minute, when they almost snatched an equaliser.
A long throw from Thomson was flicked on inside the penalty area, and although the ball fell quickly to Matthews, he arguably should have done better than volley the ball over from around 12-yards.
James Craigen then attempted the spectacular, driving a shot from 25-yards at goal after Mark Stewart did well to get the ball to him, but whilst his attempt was fierce and on target, Gordon gathered it safely at the second attempt.
Raith Rovers have managed to win a number of matches this season with bold substitutions, and Ray McKinnon made another in the 70th minute, replacing Iain Davidson with former Dundee United forward, Jon Daly.
However, the ebb and flow of the match was still generally heading towards Kevin Cuthbert, although the Kirkcaldy club’s custodian wasn’t forced into a second-half save until the 74th minute.
A three-man move inside the area eventually ended with Mackay-Steven presented with an easy looking opportunity, but although his finish was poorly struck, Cuthbert still produced an excellent stop to prevent him doubling Celtic’s advantage.
A minute later, McKinnon made his second change, swapping Mitch Megginson for Grant Anderson.
Matthews then made his way into the book for one foul too many on Brown, and that was his final contribution to the match, as he made way for Ryan McCord with 12 minutes left.
Rovers were becoming more adventurous with their forward forays, but it was leaving gaps at the back, and substitute Tom Rogic almost took advantage, spinning a yard of space for himself in the area, but in what was largely the story of the night, the Celtic player’s finish lacked accuracy.
The contest was now something of a role reversion, with Celtic sat in and hoping to catch Raith on the break as they poured forward, but Rovers came close with eight minutes remaining, with the ball pinging around in the area, eventually breaking to Daly, who flicked his shot over from a narrow angle.
With so many attacking players on the field, Raith were really having a go, although clear-cut chances were at a premium, and McCord tried his luck from outside the area, but it was too high.
However, with Rovers pressing for parity, they were always susceptible to the breakaway, which is exactly what happened in the 88th minute. Stefan Johansen found himself played through on goal, and despite having almost a third of the field to navigate, he bore down and casually swept the ball past Cuthbert.
It was the final piece of action of a match where Raith acquitted themselves well, especially defensively, with Cuthbert having surprisingly few saves to make, largely down to the excellence of his colleagues in front of him.
It’s back to the bread and butter of the Championship on Saturday, with a return to Stark’s Park for a meeting with Dumbarton.
Photo Gallery will appear here shortly
RaithTV spoke with Ray after the game at Celtic Park
Mark shared his thoughts after the cup tie with Celtic
After picking up their first league win on their travels against St. Mirren on Friday evening, Raith Rovers head back to the west coast this Wednesday, to tackle a Celtic who also go into the match on a high, after beating Dundee 6-0 on Sunday.
The League Cup third round tie will be the third time the two sides have played each other in as many years, with a match-up in the same competition in 2012, as well as a meeting in the Scottish Cup at Stark’s Park a year later.
A four-goal haul from Gary Hooper fired Celtic into the quarter-finals back in 2012, although Rovers’ Allan Walker delighted the large travelling support with an equalising goal just before the half-hour mark, when his effort from 20-yards, took a deflection of Thomas Rogne and looped over Lukas Zaluska.
The Scottish Cup tie in 2013 was also won by Celtic with a three-goal margin, after second-half goals from Kris Commons and a double from James Forrest, produced a 3-0 scoreline.
A win for the Kirkcaldy side would create a small piece of history for Rovers, as Raith have never won a cup-tie at Celtic Park in 14 attempts. Indeed, their last victory at the venue came back in 1962, with a 1-0 victory in the First Division, a season which saw Celtic finish third behind Rangers and Champions Dundee, while Raith Rovers finished thirteenth, four places and two points above the relegation zone.
As you would perhaps expect, Celtic have an almost imperious record in the most recent head-to-head record between the two clubs, with nine and a draw from the last ten fixtures.
Wednesday night’s match referee will be John McKendrick.
Head-to-Head Cup Record at Celtic Park:
Celtic Wins: 14 | Raith Rovers Wins: 0 | Draws: 0
Celtic Goals: 48 | Raith Rovers Goals: 10
Raith Rovers: W-W-L-L-W-W
Celtic: Leigh Griffiths 10, Nir Bitton 4, Stefan Johansen 3
Raith Rovers: Kyle Benedictus 3, James Craigen 2, Mark Stewart 2, Lewis Vaughan 2
Celtic: 1/16 | Raith Rovers: 33/1 | Draw: 9/1