Raith Storm Back To See Off Dons
Raith Rovers made it through to the quarter-finals of the League Cup this afternoon, after an excellent come-from-behind win over a previously high-flying Aberdeen side.
A brilliant strike from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas had the Dons in a deserved lead at the interval, but a storming second half performance from the hosts saw them deservedly take their place in the last eight, after goals from Ethon Varian and Dario Zanatta sent the home fans into raptures.
John McGlynn made two changes from last weekend’s defeat to Inverness, with Blaise Riley-Snow coming in for Tom Lang, and Varian replacing Matej Poplanik up front.
As you’d expect from a side which had started the season in impressive form, the visitors were playing it around well in the opening few moments, but Raith were keeping them at arm’s length, and also had a break of their own in the first few minutes, when Riley-Snow did well to break up a Dons attack before supplying Zanatta with the ball, who glided past a couple of challenges, but was just unable to pick out Aidan Connolly who found himself in space on the right.
It was an encouraging opening from the Canadian, and was a precursor of what was to come from the former Hearts man.
Despite a positive start from both teams, it took until the 10th minute for either side to have a meaningful attempt at goal, when Johnny Hayes free-kick from the right was headed goalward by Teddy Jenks, but it drifted wide with Jamie MacDonald watching it all the way.
Rovers created their own chance a moment later though, and it was a big one.
The ball broke to Riley-Snow in a crowded penalty area, but just when you expected the net to bulge, he failed to connect with his chance properly, and his effort was deflected and eventually cleared.
The home side were giving a good account of themselves, but they were undone by a fantastic strike in the 13th minute.
Niall McGinn did well to knock a forward ball into the path of Emannuel-Thomas, and his rip-snorter of a half volley from the edge of the area whistled past MacDonald and into the side of the net to open the scoring in fine style.
The goal looked like it had rocked the hosts, and McGinn fancied getting in on the act himself a few minutes later, but his shot from distance curled away from MacDonald’s net.
You could have forgiven the Rovers for losing heart at this stage, but Don’s goalkeeper Joe Lewis was being called into action fairly infrequently, as was his opposite number at the other end.
Rovers 4-5-1 shape was intended to become a 4-3-3 in possession, but they were struggling to use it in a game where Aberdeen had the lion’s share of the ball.
That said, it was doing the job from a defensive sense, and while Aberdeen deserved their advantage, the howitzer from Emannuel-Thomas had been their only real (half) chance in the game’s opening 35 minutes.
Rovers did create a good opportunity a moment later, when Zanatta again did well to wriggle free of Ross McCrorie inside the area and turn towards goal, but his shot from an angle was blazed the wrong side of the post and into the side netting.
You sensed the home side were just starting to believe that their guests could be got at, and the game had become a little more even as the interval approached, with Liam Dick doing well to force a corner in the closing stages, although frustratingly, the delivery was just too deep for the waiting Raith players.
There was even more frustration in first half stoppage time, when Zanatta did well to get another corner kick, but after taking a short one, Rovers ended up playing themselves offside from an ideal area to get a cross into the area. Regardless, it was a tentatively encouraging end to a half that had been bossed for long spells by the Premiership team.
Rovers were straight out the blocks in the second period, and had a strong shout for a penalty claim right at the start of the half.
Zanatta was again the catalyst, bursting past McCrorie before being bundled to the ground, although just outside the penalty area according to referee Steven McLean.
Not that it mattered right enough, as from Reghan Tumilty’s cross, Varian toed the ball past Joe Lewis to bring the scores level.
Aberdeen were now looking a little rattled, with Raith playing at a far higher tempo than they’d demonstrated in the first, with a series of crosses causing some angst in the Dons backline.
Aberdeen had been more on the back foot for the first 10 minutes of the second 45, but there was a a sharp intake of breath from the Rovers fans in the 56th minute, when Hayes deep cross from the right eluded everyone, and bounced just wide of MacDonald’s left-hand-post.
Rovers then eked out another chance in the 62nd minute, with arguably their best passage of play.
Dylan Tait’s crossfield pass was swept out to Tumilty, who in turn played the ball into Connolly in the penalty area. His clever flick found Riley-Snow gallivanting forward, but his first time effort was sent over the bar.
If anything, Rovers were looking the likelier of the two sides at this point, and another break saw Connolly advance towards goal, but with options in short supply, he decided to go himself, and Lewis had to look sharp to beat away his shot from outside the penalty area.
With 20 minutes remaining, Stephen Glass shuffled his midfield which was being dominated by Tait and Matthews, with Scott Brown, Ryan Hedges and Lewis Ferguson all coming on.
It was a show of strength from Aberdeen, and felt like a signal that the closing stages were about to get a lot tougher, but incredibly, within seconds, Raith were ahead.
A shot from Riley-Snow was palmed away by Lewis, but with the visitors all at sea at the back, Zanatta pounced to pick up possession from a hesitant Jack Gurr, before rifling the ball into the top corner, sparking wild scenes in the home end, as the players rushed over to celebrate with the fans.
Aberdeen’s new look midfield were still toiling to get to grips with the game, and with 12 minutes left, Rovers made their first change, with goalscorer Varian being replaced by Poplatnik.
The danger in the last 10 minutes was that Rovers would drop deeper and deeper, and as the minutes ticked down, Aberdeen were starting to dominate possession more and more.
Riley-Snow was then replaced by Aaron Arnott, as Rovers attempted to see out the remaining moments, then with time running out, Kai Fotheringham replaced the excellent Zanatta.
As the clock turned from 89 to 90, the announcement that there were five minutes additional time to be played was met with a groan from the home end, and a loud roar of hope from the away fans, as they looked for a late equaliser.
They perhaps should have had one in the first of those extra minutes, when Raith failed to clear their lines and the ball fell to McCrorie on the edge of the area, but his shot was lashed wildly into the Aberdeen fans.
That was as close as it got for Aberdeen in injury time, and the full time whistle saw the Rovers players and management team head over to the home stand to take the deserved acclaim of the fans after a famous victory.
It was a win and performance which should give the side confidence as they head into the first Championship Fife derby of the season at Stark’s Park on Friday evening.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the victory in the Premier Sports Cup
Dario Zanatta spoke to RaithTV after the win in the Premier Sports Cup
Raith Rovers will put league business to one side this weekend, when they welcome Aberdeen to Stark’s Park for a League Cup second round tie.
Stephen Glass’ men reached the playoff round of the European Conference in midweek, after a 5-3 aggregate win over Icelandic side Briedablik, and they’ll be looking to continue their confident start to their campaign on their trip to Kirkcaldy this Sunday afternoon.
The Dons are one of three Premiership sides with a 100% record so far this term, after wins over Dundee United and Livingston, which sees them second in the table, behind Hibernian on goal difference.
This will be the first meeting of the sides in 11 years, when they met in the third round of the same competition in 2010, with Aberdeen getting through by the odd goal in five.
Paul Hartley had given the home side an early advantage at Pittodrie, but goals from Jamie Mole and Gregory Tade had Raith in front at the interval. Hopes of another famous win were dashed in the second period however, with a Scott Vernon double sealing a 3-2 win.
It had been a different story seven months previously however, when John McGlynn’s men won a Scottish Cup replay at Pittodrie by a goal to nil, with Tade’s close range finish enough to see Rovers through to the quarter final, where they’d defeat Dundee 2-1 at Dens Park.
Despite the closeness of those results, Rovers have a pretty poor record in this fixture, with just two wins and two draws from the last 10 meetings.
Sunday’s match referee will be Steven McLean.
Head-To-Head Cup Record Versus Aberdeen:
Raith Rovers Wins: 4 | Aberdeen Wins: 10 | Draws: 3
Raith Rovers Goals: 20 | Aberdeen Goals: 42
Raith Rovers: W-W-D-D-D-L
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 4 | Brad Spencer 2 | Dario Zanatta 2
Aberdeen: Christian Ramirez 4 | Lewis Ferguson 3
Raith Rovers: 16/5 | Aberdeen: 4/5 | Draw: 13/5