RAITH PAY PENALTY AFTER CUP DRAW
Raith and Livingston played out an entertaining draw in front of a boisterous crowd at the Tony Macarnoni Stadium, with the home side taking the bonus point with victory in the penalty shoot-out. Young Raith substitute Aaron Arnott saw his penalty well saved in sudden death, after a ninety minutes where Raith more than matched their Premiership opponents. While there was disappointment that Raith didn’t test home keeper Stryjek more in periods of first-half dominance, they had keeper Jamie MacDonald to thank for a tremendous double-save which kept the scores level mid-way through the second-half.
Raith’s new signing Blaise Riley-Snow rewarded his manager with a fine performance on this first start lying deep in midfield, and striker Ethan Varian looked energetic and up for the battle in a twenty-minute cameo late on. At the back, Benedictus and Berra were once again robust and resolute, keeping a clean sheet at the home of more illustrious rivals.
For Raith fans looking at their teamsheet, the eyes were caught by the first start for Blaise Riley-Snow in midfield, and a strike pairing of Lewis Vaughan and Dario Zanatta – with neither James Keatings nor Matej Poplatnik available, Zanatta played in a more advance role, with support on the other flank from Aiden Connolly.
David Martindale’s Livingston side had enjoyed a hugely impressive season in last year’s Scottish Premiership, although were given a thorough examination by Raith in last season’s Scottish Cup, only a late Poplatnik goal seeing the Lions through. Martindale had been busy in the pre-season, with no fewer than twelve new signings on the books – three of which started this evening in an enterprising front-line. Bruce Anderson and Andrew Shinnie had made their mark in Scottish football previously, with Aberdeen and Inverness Caley Thistle respectively, while youngster Adam Lewis had joined from Liverpool, with goals in the senior English game and numerous under-18 caps already to his name. While Martindale’s side will undoubtedly be a work-in-progress for several matches yet, there is both quality and depth at Almondvale.
In glorious early evening sunshine, the game kicked off with Raith pressing high and in numbers. Livingston, in all white, looked strangely disjointed in the opening minutes, with Parkes and Fitzwater called on to make several hasty clearances; for Raith, resplendent in red and white vertical stripes, Vaughan and Zanatta looked lively indeed. With only six minutes on the clock, Vaughan nearly squeezed in Connolly with keeper Stryjek posted missing. Martindale howled at his players from the touchline, as the travelling Rovers support roared their approval.
Fitzwater bundling the Raith man from his feet with an untidy intervention. Connolly’s swirling free-kick had the Livi defence at sixes and sevens for the second time in as many minutes.
Raith pressed on – suddenly Zanatta was clear down the left; cutting inside Fitzwater, the Rovers’ winger couldn’t make clean contact with his shot.
There was drama with quarter of an hour gone, as Raith attacked with purpose again down Livingston’s left – Vaughan had space, broke inside, and fired a stinging drive in to the body of Fitzwater. Raith players and fans alike screamed for a penalty – FIFA referee Willie Collum waved away the vociferous protests, to a chorus of boos from the Rovers’ support. Berra was inches away from connecting with a delightful free-kick delivery from Tait seconds later.
There had been only fits and starts from the home side – Penrice’s long throw ball allowed Anderson a race with Berra, the former Hearts man needing all the speed he had over fifty yards to usher the ball safely to MacDonald.
With twenty minutes gone, Raith switched to a 4-2-2-2, with Connolly dropping off alongside Tait, Spencer and Riley-Snow sitting deeper in midfield. Still the home side struggled to string passes together – Berra and Benedictus looked relatively secure against Anderson’s pace, with Lewis and Shinnie unable to influence the play.
Tait released Connolly with a fine diagonal ball with half-an-hour gone, stretching the game well; Tumilty’s first-time cross saw McMillan panicked into a clearance. With Livi struggling in midfield, it was the familiar figure of Ayo Obileye – former Queen of the South lynchpin – who was warming up most energetically from among the home side’s substitutes. Zanatta fired wide again, having left McMillan on the seat of his shorts with a smart turn. Livi captain Pittman was booked for a lazy tug at Spencer, a caution symptomatic of the home side’s struggles to gain a foothold in midfield.
With ten minutes till the half, the home side had a revival of sorts – Pittman turned and released Lewis, with Berra covering well; Holt dashed inside Tumilty but lost control. Penrice’s blast was well-blocked by Connolly at full stretch. With their best chance of the half, McMillan fed Shinnie whose cross needed Berra first then Benedictus to clear with Anderson hovering. With the half-time whistle, it was the travelling support in best voice, cheering a vibrant and attacking first-half performance.
The sides flew at each other from the opening moments of the second period. Vaughan’s volley flew just over; at the other end, Berra and Anderson clashed in the area, with the former’s upper body strength sending the striker to the floor. Tait and Shinnie skirmished in midfield; McMillan came off worst in a challenge with Liam Dick. With the home side’s first opportunity, Anderson flashed a half-volley over from twenty yards – no more than a half-chance, but enough to have the Raith defence on notice.
Raith continued to press in energetic twos and threes, while Livi looked long, with Anderson always threatening to burst down a channel. In a period of home pressure, Riley-Snow endeared himself to the Rovers fans with a thumping shoulder-charge on Shinnie, keeping his feet and winning the ball to boot. The energetic Londoner had a fine match in the holding-midfielder role, and more than repaid his manager’s faith in him.
The mobile Obileye and wily Sibbald were introduced on the hour as Livi sought to assert themselves, with Columbian striker Montaño brought on seconds later, and it was the striker who was first to show – picking up a loose ball, Montaño fired a fine volley at MacDonald, who pulled off a fine save, and followed-up with an even better stop to deny Anderson from the rebound. Waving his new team-mates forward, Montaño looked instantly at home in the Lions’ attack and could be a real find for the Almondvale men. MacDonald, quiet for most of the first half, had shown his class with two excellent blocks.
Raith came again – Berra’s header let Zanatta play in Connolly down the left, the winger’s cross just missing Vaughan in space at the far post. Vaughan curled a wicked free-kick into Stryjek’s side-netting.
Against Premiership opposition, Dylan Tait had a performance of real maturity and energy here. Covering every inch of the Almondvale pitch, Tait had kept the more experienced Pittman largely quiet, and had fed his strikers a string of good-quality ball. Particularly in the spell when the home side had introduced three new faces into the midfield, Tait was instrumental in retaining Raith’s control of the central third.
With twenty minutes remaining, a double-change for the Rovers, with Dave McKay replacing Riley-Snow in midfield, and a first sight in competitive action for Raith fans of Ethan Varian – the Irish u-21 international had figured in the recent testimonial against Hibs, and had now signed a six-month loan deal. Playing upfront alongside Vaughan, the Irishman was embroiled straight away, and clearly relishes the physical side of the game.
With the game into its final quarter, the tie was fascinatingly poised. Raith’s passing was a step ahead, but Livingston were starting to find joy down each flank, with Shinnie beginning to find space on Raith’s left. With Rovers looking to slow the game down to counter the home side’s new-found energy, there was a scrappy spell, with each side realising a mistake could cost the match. Pittman found Montaño wide left, with Spencer doing well to clear. Substitute Williamson should have done better with room to cross, after good work from Sibbald.
The match was becoming stretched – Spencer’s high cross saw Stryjek claim, and immediately drive a long ball looking for the tireless Anderson, Benedictus needed to be at his best to clear. Vaughan tested Obileye’s pace with the next move. Varian, all arms and elbows in the challenge, forced Parkes into a mistake, nearly scampering clear as time expired. Varian’s flick nearly set Vaughan away as time expired.
With referee Collum’s final whistle sending the match to penalties, manager McGlynn would reflect on Raith’s best showing of the season so far – unquestionably on top in the first half, Rovers had coped well with mounting Livi pressure in the second, with the home side’s only clear chance thwarted by MacDonald’s splendid double-save.
With the match going to penalties for the League Cup bonus point, it was Livingston who prevailed. Sibbald and Tait had each missed, before substitute Arnott’s penalty in sudden-death was turned onto the cross-bar by Stryjek. While Raith’s next Cup outing at home to Alloa on Saturday, manager McGlynn will see the many positives from this hugely impressive performance against Premiership hosts.
With two sets of fans in full voice, cheering two sides under beautiful summer skies, the answer to the summer’s key football question was clear for all to see – football doesn’t have one home, but it feels at home on nights like this.
Due to holiday commitments, match highlights video will appear here on Saturday 24/7/21
© Eddie Doig 2021
RaithTV talked to John McGlynn after last nights Premier Sports Cup match v Livingston
Raith Rovers will be seeking to keep their 100% record going in the League Cup this evening, when they travel to Livingston for their latest Group D fixture.
Rovers lead the way in the current standings, with six points from two games, just ahead of Cowdenbeath who have the same amount of points from three games played.
If John McGlynn’s men are to keep this run going however, they’ll need to do something they’ve never done before, and triumph over the West Lothian side in a cup match.
The two sides have met twice in the last two seasons in the Scottish Cup, and while both were close, Livingston edged Raith out on each occasion.
They were paired together for a Scottish Cup fourth round tie in January 2020, and Rovers seemed to be on course for a fine win, after a goal from John Baird midway through the first half. However, a late turnaround saw Steven Lawless score twice, while Lyndon Dykes grabbed another, as the home side eventually ran out 3-1 winners.
The most recent meeting was even tighter, and followed a very similar path. Again, Rovers took the lead in the first half, this time through Lewis Vaughan, but Jack Fitzwater equalised with 20 minutes remaining, before current Raith loanee, Matej Poplatnik scored the winner in extra time.
Livingston go into this one on the back of a defeat to Alloa, leaving them three points behind leaders Raith, with only the group winners assured of a place in the knockout rounds.
Wednesday’s match referee will be William Collum.
Head-To-Head Cup Record Versus Livingston:
Raith Rovers Wins: 0 | Livingston Wins: 4 | Draws: 0
Raith Rovers Goals: 4 | Livingston Goals: 10
Livingston: W-L | Raith Rovers: W-W
Livingston: Bruce Anderson 1 | Jackson Longridge 1 | Ayo Obilieye 1 | Tom Parkes 1
Raith Rovers: Brad Spencer 2 | Lewis Vaughan 2
Livingston: 8/15 | Raith Rovers: 9/2 | Draw: 7/2