Encouragement Despite Penalty Defeat
Raith lost out to Hearts on a penalty-shoot out after a 1-1 draw in today’s League Cup match, but despite missing out on the bonus point, it was a much improved performance following last weekend’s defeat to Cowdenbeath.
There was just one change to the squad from last Saturday, with Lewis Milne fit enough for a place on the bench, taking the tally of subs up to four, but other than that the team itself remained unchanged.
With Hearts potentially facing a points deduction for fielding an illegible player in their 2-1 win over Cove Rangers, a win was just as important for them as it was for Rovers, and it was no surprise to see them on the front foot in the opening few minutes.
Kyle Benedictus was late with a challenge on Steven Naismith on the edge of the area, but after having the bll rolled to him by Kyle Lafferty, Bobby Burns could only fire a free-kick straight at Robbie Thomson.
With Hearts height advantage, set-pieces were potentially going to be an issue for Raith, but they were giving away a fair number in the early stages, which the backline were struggling to deal with.
An inswinger should have led to the opener after ten minutes, but after Olly Lee brought the ball under control and spun to face goal, his shot from eight yards out was defected wide.
Hearts were dominating possession, with Jake Mulraney proving to be something of a nuisance down the left-hand-side, but despite some nervy moments in the Raith penalty area from a couple of crosses from that flank, Rovers were repelling most of Hearts play reasonably comfortably.
Restricting Hearts was one thing, but Rovers were struggling to create anything in Hearts final third, with Kevin Nisbet and Chris Duggan having to feed off scraps up front, with Raith looking to play on the break.
The Jambos almost took the lead in the 27th minute, with a free-kick again the source of the danger, as Lafferty’s deflected effort wrong footed Thomson before spinning wide of the target.
With chances in short supply, Rovers were going to have to be clinical with any which came their way, but they missed a golden opportunity with ten minutes remaining in the half.
Good work from Euan Valentine down the left saw him aim a great ball to Jamie Watson who was free at the back post, but he couldn’t guide his close rage header on target, and the opportunity was lost, in what was the final piece of noteworthy action in a first-half which was being played out at a fairly ponderous pace.
It was a brighter start to the second period though, and Rovers took the lead five minutes into it, with Kevin Nisbet both the architect, and finisher.
The forward cut infield from the right-hand side, and after initially playing in Grant Gillespie, whose shot was scuffed, the ball fell kindly for Nisbet, who coolly slotted the ball past Zdenek Zlamal to hand Raith the advantage.
It was a shock lead for the understrength Stark’s Park club, and things got even worse for Craig Levein’s men, with Kyle Laffery hobbling off shortly after the goal, to be replaced by Aidan Keena.
With just over an hour played, Lewis Milne was brought on for his Rovers debut, coming on for Duggan.
Hearts were struggling to create anything up-top in the absence of their focal point, and Rovers really should have doubled their advantage in the 62nd minute, after Gillespie was sent scampering clear on the right, but the midfielder seemed unsure whether to shoot or square it to Valentine, with his pass intercepted and the two-on-one squandered.
After the bright opening to the half, the game slowed down a little as it approached its closing stages, which obviously suited Raith, with Hearts struggling to create anything against a well organised Raith team.
With that being the case, their equaliser came right out of the blue, and what a goal it was.
Michael Smith drifted in from the right, and with little options in front of him, he elected to go it alone, rattling in a ferocious finish from 25-yards to bring the scores level.
Hearts had the momentum now, with the capital club looking the more likely to grab a winner, as the game inched towards a penalty shoot-out.
They almost avoided the need for one in the 89th minute, when Smith was put through by MacDonald, but his effort was deflected wide by Benedictus.
It wasn’t the end of the action though, with controversy in the minute later, as Berra had the ball in the net after Thomson had come for a corner kick and failed to claim it.
Referee Don Robertson presumably blew for Berra holding onto Benedictus, although with no claim for a foul, it looked like a let off for Barry Smith’s men.
Despite knocking at the door in the final stages, Hearts couldn’t quite come up with a late winner, meaning the match went to penalty kicks, but the bonus point went to the Gorgie club, after Benedictus saw his spot-kick saved, while Matthews wild effort careered well over the bar.
The manager spoke after the Betfred Cup group stage fixture with Hearts
Raith Rovers will be looking for a much improved performance this weekend, when Hearts are the visitors to Bayview Stadium.
A 2-0 loss to Cowdenbeath means Raith face an extremely tricky task of qualifying for the second round, with wins from the next three fixtures almost certainly required to make the next phase of the League Cup.
After an underwhelming season by their own standards last term, the Heart of Midlothian squad was given extensive overhaul of the summer, with eleven new arrivals in Gorgie, as eight players exited the capital club.
Craig Levein’s men got off to a winning start on Wednesday evening, although they didn’t have it all their own way against Cove Rangers, eventually taking all three points with a 2-1 win.
These two clubs have only shared a division once since 1997, but they’ve regularly been paired together in cup competitions since then, with their last meeting coming in January of last year.
The Scottish Cup Fourth Round tie at Stark’s Park appeared to be heading the way of the visitors thanks to Jamie Walker’s effort, but a last minute shot from Rudi Skacel was skelped past Jack Hamiton via a deflection off Declan McManus, meaning the tie would have to be settled at Tynecastle. Despite goals from Bobby Barr and Ryan Hardie, Hearts eventually won through 4-2 after extra time.
The two have also faced each other in League Cup action reasonably recently too, August 2014 to be exact, in a match that contained a fair amount of controversy.
Liam Fox fired Rovers ahead in the 50th minute, although it was a short lived lead, with Jamie Hamill equalising from the penalty shortly after. Dougie Hill was then dismissed for an incident with the same player in the 74th minute, and despite holding on shorthanded until the end of extra-time, four missed penalties out of eight from the home side, saw Hearts progress 5-4 on penalties.
It’s safe to say Raith don’t have the greatest of records in this fixture, with no wins and nine defeats from the last ten meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Don Robertson
Head-To-head League Cup Record:
Raith Rovers Wins: 3 | Hearts Wins: 12 | Draws: 0
Raith Rovers Goals: 16 | Hearts Goals: 33
Raith Rovers: 7/2 | Hearts: 4/6 | Draws: 14/5