Cup Campaign Begins With A Win
Gary Locke made a winning start to his career as Raith boss, with a deserved, but at times nervy 2-1 win over Highland League champions, Cove Rangers, in the opening group match of the Betfred League Cup.
The new manager handed competitive debuts to three of his recent acquisitions, with Kevin McHattie starting at left-back, while the two new wide players, Bobby Barr and Chris Johnson started on the left and right-hand-sides respectively.
It was a big moment too for Lewis Vaughan, with the livewire front-man making his first senior appearance since picking up an injury against Albion Rovers almost 12 months ago.
For Cove, there was one familiar face up-top, with former Rovers winger, Mitch Megginson leading the line for John Sheran’s team.
Rovers started the match in a reasonably assured manner, looking comfortable in possessionand stroking the ball around with confidence, although it took a set-piece to create their first opportunity.
A quickly-taken free-kick from Jason Thomson was delivered to the back-post, allowing Iain Davidson to clatter a shot goal-wards on the half-volley, which was deflected past the post, with the ball possibly striking an arm as it travelled towards the net. Despite vociferous claims for a penalty, referee, Graham Beaten awarded a corner.
The game had settled into a pattern of Raith possession, but despite Rovers having the majority of the play, Cove were presented with a good chance after ten minutes.
Ryan Stott was able to exploit some space down Raith’s left-hand-side, but with Megginson in space in the middle, Stott’s low cross was just too far ahead of him.
Raith were continuing to play keep-ball, but it was predominantly in areas which couldn’t harm an organised Cove side. The forwards, Mark Stewart and the now-platinum-haired, Lewis Vaughan were working hard, but they were struggling to find many gaps behind the deep-sitting Cove defence.
Indeed, it was Cove who fashioned the game’s best chance after 22 minutes, when good work by right-back, Alan Redford, eventually saw his cross nodded into Stott’s path, but he failed to test Kevin Cuthbert with his half-volley from the edge of the area.
The Wee Rangers were gradually gaining in confidence as the half wore on, and a snap-shot from distance from Blair Yule brought Cuthbert into action for the first time.
It was an indicator that Cove felt there was something in the game for them, and that feeling increased just after the half-hour mark, as Stott blasted them in front.
Connor Scully picked up the ball inside the area, and after twisting in one direction, he decided to turn back the other way, taking Thomson out the game in the process, and teeing up Stott, who fired past Cuthbert from close range.
With Raith now a goal down to the under-dogs, the match suddenly had the appearance of a banana-skin about it, but to Raith’s credit, they responded immediately, drawing level within five minutes.
McHattie’s corner-kick from the left was well delivered into the six-yard box, allowing Kyle Benedictus to nod a fine header past Stuart McKenzie to level the fixture.
After appearing to lack vim for much of the opening period, Rovers looked energised, and they should have taken the lead just before the interval.
Johnson did well to wriggle to the bye-line, and after picking out Ross Matthews, the midfielder somehow blasted over from close range, when he really should have done better.
It was an encouraging end to a half which at times had been bitty and frustrating from a Rovers point-of-view.
The second-45 began in a similar manner to how the opening period finished, with Raith in the ascendency.
Once again, a McHattie set-piece was the source of a chance, with his deep cross to the back-post headed down to Callachan who had popped up in the middle of the penalty area, but from close range, his side-footed finish was blocked by flurry of legs in front of him.
Cove were far from being pinned back though, and a cross from the right was swung at and missed by both Sam Burnett and then Stott in quick succession.
The importance of those misses were thrown into sharper focus a minute later, as Rovers took the lead in the 56th minute.
Thomson took off down the down the right flank, and with bodies to pick out in the box, his low cross was met by Vaughan, whose first-time effort bounced over the line via the underside of the bar.
At that point, the expectation amongst many was that Raith would possibly start to pull away, but Cove were undeterred, with their forward trio of Megginson, Stott and Scully all doing their fair share of good work. While they were failing to test Cuthbert too rigorously, they were making life reasonably uncomfortable for Raith in a defensive sense.
Indeed, with just over quarter-of-an-hour remaining, they missed a gilt-edged chance to be level.
Callachan gifted possession away to Jonathon Smith, who sidestepped one challenge to suddenly leave Cove with a three-on-one situation. With two teammates in acres of space and and both with just Cuthbert to beat, he bizarrely elected to go it alone, blasting his shot against Thomson’s legs, much to the chagrin of his colleagues.
A moment later, Locke made his first changes, swapping in new signings, Joel Coustrain and Yaw Osei for Mark Stewart and Chris Johnson.
They new arrivals were involved straight away, with Coustrain winning possession on the left and playing it to Osei. He cleverly beat one man at the bye-line and squared it to Callachan, but his net-bound shot was deflected over.
The match was still fairly open, although Raith were working hard to land a decisive blow, and Vaughan almost did so in superb fashion, when his curling effort from outside the box appeared to be curling into the corner, but instead bounced off the post, with Cove goalkeeper, McKenzie caught leaden-footed.
As the match drew to a close, Rovers did have one nervous moment, when Smith, perhaps attempting to make reparation for his three-on-one faux-pas, tried a snap-shot from distance that just whistled over Cuthbert’s crossbar.
The avoidance of a late concession, handed Raith a winning start to their League Cup campaign, and avoided the need for a bonus-point penalty shoot-out.
Rovers will attempt to build on that start on Tuesday evening, when Montrose are the visitors to Stark’s Park.
© Eddie Doig 2016
RaithTV spoke with the Gaffer after the 2-1 win against Cove Rangers
Less than a week after the end of the European Championships, Raith Rovers competitive season begins this Friday night, with their opening Betfred League Cup tie against Cove Rangers.
The match takes place at Station Park, Forfar, as John Sheran’s Highland League champions have yet to find a permanent home after leaving Allan Park in April 2015.
However, that issue hasn’t proven to be an impediment to their success, with Cove Rangers winning the Highland League by four points last term, ahead of second placed Formartine United.
That triumph meant they qualified for the promotion play-off to the SPFL, where they lost out to Edinburgh City, who would go on to defeat East Stirlingshire and gain promotion, 4-1 on aggregate.
Despite winning last season’s Highland League title, Cove haven’t rested on there laurels, with several new signings already in place, one of whom is a well known face to Raith fans.
Mitchell Megginson, who spent the first half of last season at Stark’s Park, signed for The Wee Rangers last month, to continue something of a family tradition, as his father, Mike Megginson spent 12 years with the club.
Megginson isn’t the only player with SPFL experience to sign on the dotted line this summer, with former Dundee, Peterhead, Arbroath and Brechin striker, Kevin Buchan potentially partnering the former Raith man up-front.
Cove go into Friday evening’s match with some experience of the Station Park pitch, after they drew 3-3 with Forfar on Tuesday night. Trailing 2-0 at half-time, they raced into a 3-2 lead, after goals from Megginson, John Smith and Paul Esselmont. Only a late equaliser stopped the away side notching up an impressive victory.
This will be the first meeting between the two sides, although it’ll be the fourth opponent that Rovers have faced from the Highland League. Raith have come out on top in the three previous meetings against Buckie Thistle, Deveronvale and Wick Academy.
Friday night’s match referee will be Graham Beaton.
Cove Rangers: 8/1 | Draw: 9/2 | Raith Rovers: 3/10