VAUGHAN GIVES RAITH DERBY CUP WIN
Raith began their League Cup campaign with a deserved victory at Central Park over Fife rivals Cowdenbeath, with Lewis Vaughan’s first-half strike the difference between the sides. While Rovers generated the better chances through-out the ninety minutes, particularly in a dominant period before half-time, the Blue Brazil stuck to their guns, were dogged in defence, and could have snatched a draw late on as Kyle Miller spurned a fine opportunity to equalise in the closing stages.
For Raith’s first competitive outing of the season, John McGlynn began with the bulk of the side who had worked together during the pre-season fixtures – Tait and Spencer in midfield, Berra and Benedictus forming a solid partnership at centre-half, and the width coming in midfield from Dario Zanatta and Aiden Connolly. Upfront, the one surprise was Matej Poplatnik starting alongside Lewis Vaughan, with James Keatings rested.
Despite the bumpy and narrow pitch, Raith started well – Berra and Benedictus fired several cross-field passes early on, setting Zanatta and Connolly on their way, putting the home side’s full-backs Thomson and Pollock under pressure in the opening stages. Home center-forward Kris Renton did enough to put Berra off as Connolly swung in a dangerous ball after two early Raith corners. Vaughan set up Spencer soon after, the Raith midfielder’s blast from distance flying high and wide.
Cowdenbeath, with several new signings in amongst more familiar faces, also started in a functional 4-4-2. Former Rover Liam Buchanan returned to Central Park fourteen years after his first spell with the home side, and hared around the Raith defensive third in the initial exchanges. Centre halves Craig Barr and Jamie Todd would have their hands full with Raith’s twin strikers Vaughan and Poplatnik. Christophe Berra rapped Todd’s ankles at a Raith corner with the match only five minutes old.
Although Cowdenbeath pressed well, the better of the opening stages belonged to the visitors. Spencer and Tait looked to have the run on Hutton and Millar in the middle, and Poplatnik and Vaughan enjoyed good service from wide areas. Spencer’s drive was well held by Cammy Gill after ten minutes – Cowdenbeath’s young goalkeeper recently having joined from Fife rivals Dunfermline. Zanatta squirmed past Pollock, firing a couple of useful crosses into the home box. With experienced midfielder Gavin Morrison missing through injury, Cowdenbeath were finding it difficult to stem the flow of good quality ball into Raith’s forwards.
Raith’s opener, when it came, followed a number of good openings – with Hutton and Todd standing off, Lewis Vaughan had space to run into the box, eventually firing beyond Gill’s right-hand to put Rovers a goal up. The cheer from the away support – a good turn-out filling the far-side terracing – was as welcome as the goal itself, another sign of returning normality in troubling times. Cowdenbeath’s response was meek – Renton drawing a foul from Benedictus, but Thomson’s free-kick flying harmlessly wide.
Having settled the quicker and with their noses in front, Raith looked increasingly confident as the half wore on. Tait freed Tumilty on the half-hour, with a volley from Aiden Connolly well held by Gill. Benedictus broke into midfield, jinking one way before releasing Poplatnik – only a linesman’s flag prevented the Slovenian’s fine finish from giving Raith a two-goal lead. With Berra and Benedictus running a tight ship despite Renton’s tireless running, Tumility and Liam Dick were able to make ground on the flanks, pinning the Blue Brazil into their own half of the field.
Further chances came and went before the half – Connolly bursting inside saw his half-volley sting the palms of Gill. From the resultant corner, Christophe Berra rose above his man, his firm header striking the cross-bar before falling to safety, to the relief of the home defence. Reghan Tumilty had a glimpse of goal two minutes before the interval, his fierce drive well blocked by Cowdenbeath’s young keeper.
With one of their finest moves of the half, Spencer burst from midfield, linking with Vaughan before Tumilty skipped inside his man, crossing for Zanatta to send a close-range header goalwards, again Gill came to the home side’s rescue. With their young keeper the busiest player on the park in the first half, Cowdenbeath manager Gary Bollan had all the hard talking to do at half-time, with Raith very much in control and well worth their one-goal advantage.
In the opening stages of the second-half, even at this early stage of the season, the difference between full-time and part-time sides was apparent. While Bobby Barr showed the ability to twist and turn, this was the midfielder’s first full match of the season, and he was unable to cover the ground as once he did; Cowdenbeath’s defence was also looking short on pace, Pollock and Todd each struggling to stay with their men. The half was only two minutes old before Poplatnik threatened to race clear, only a diving save from Gill clearing the danger. Vaughan burst away seconds later, his cross-shot bouncing narrowly wide.
As the hour mark approached, Cowdenbeath had stiffened their resolve. Kyle Miller began to generate some possession in midfield, Ross Pollock at right-back found Ross Buchanan with several passes into space behind Liam Dick on Raith’s left-flank, and Brad Spencer was drawn into a clattering challenge on Kris Renton, as the home side sought to re-assert themselves in search of an equaliser. Christophe Berra showed all of his experience to keep the sides level – with Liam Buchanan looking to shoot, the former Scotland man used his body position well to clear the danger, holding the diminutive striker at arm’s length when a shot looked likely.
Matej Poplatnik was living on the shoulders of the home centre-halves, forever looking for the ball down a channel to run on to. Having been narrowly flagged off-side several times, the striker had his clearest chance on sixty-four minutes, as Tait’s smart through-ball gave the Slovenian a sight of goal – Gill’s splendid save with his feet kept Cowdenbeath’s arrears to only one.
To their credit, the home side continued to press. Thomson’s zipped free-kick saw Benedictus’ header tipped narrowly over the bar by MacDonald. With quarter of an hour to go, there was a real scare for the visitors as Kris Renton found space on the left, turned back inside and flighted a cross through the Raith six-yard area – Kyle Miller somehow failed to score at the far post, turning his close-range finish wide under real pressure from Benedictus. Raith’s Tumilty sent a zinger just past Gill’s far-post in response, Vaughan shooting just wide seconds later.
With Raith managing the game well, there were time for several late substitutions – James Keatings had already replaced Matej Poplatnik by the time Kieran Mitchell and Dave McKay joined the fray with five minutes remaining, Zanatta and Connolly withdrawn (although in these covid-times, without the benefit of an early bath). For McKay especially, the match represented a welcome return from several injury set-backs – he was warmly received by the travelling support as he took the field.
With the final chances of the match, Keatings pressed Todd into a mistake, and fed Tait in space, whose shot was well blocked by Craig Barr; at the other end, with the Raith penalty-area full, Barr’s header flew well over without troubling Jamie MacDonald. The referee’s final whistle brought proceedings to an end soon after – with both sides very much a work-in-progress at this early stage in the season, each manager could take positives from the outcome, but it was Raith who would take the three points, joining Livingston at the summit of League Cup Group 4, with Brechin heading to Starks Park on Tuesday evening.
©Eddie Doig 2021
RaithTV talked to John McGlynn after todays Premier Sports Group D match v Cowdenbeath
Despite not feeling that long ago since the curtain came down on last season, Raith Rovers kick off their 2021/22 campaign this Saturday, with a Fife derby in the League Cup group stage.
They’ll make the short journey to Central Park to face Cowdenbeath, in the opening match of a pool that also features Alloa, Brechin and Livingston.
Rovers have yet to make it out of the group stages since they were brought back to the competition in 2016, and while they’ve finished second on two occasions, they’ve never managed to qualify as a best runner up.
The regionalised nature of this round means Rovers have faced off against some familiar faces in recent seasons, and none more so than the Blue Brazil, who they’ve been grouped with four times in five years, with Raith having a mixed record against them over the period.
Lewis Vaughan and Liam Buchanan were on the score sheet in a comfortable 2-0 win in 2017, but the scoreline was reversed 12 months later in a match played at Methil while Raith had their new pitch installed, thanks to a brace from Jordyn Sheerin.
Their most recent meeting was in November last year, with Raith winning by a goal to nil at Central Park, thanks to a first half strike from Manny Duku.
Blue Brazil boss, Garry Bollan has certainly opted for experience during his summer transfer window, with his five signings all having played at higher levels in the past. Liam Buchanan and Bobby Barr will both be well known to Rovers fans, but also joining the squad are former Dunfermline goalkeeper, Cammy Gill, former Queen of the South, St Mirren and Dumbarton midfielder, Kyle Hutton, and ex-Hearts defender, Craig Thomson.
Rovers hold the upper hand in the most recent meetings, but only just, with six wins and four defeats from the last 10 contests.
Saturday’s match referee will be Gavin Duncan.
Head-To-Head Cup Record:
Cowdenbeath Wins: 7 | Raith Rovers Wins: 7 | Draws: 1
Cowdenbeath Goals: 18 | Raith Rovers Goals: 25