Raith Rovers made it through to the third round of the SPFL Trust Trophy this afternoon, with a 1-0 win over Forfar Athletic.
It may have been by the slimmest of margins, but that was only due to some wayward finishing and some excellent goalkeeping from Marc McCallum, with Rovers dominant for the 90 minutes.
Blaise Riley – Snow was the man who made the difference, with the only goal midway through the first half, as Raith eased through to the next round of a cup tournament they are currently the joint holders of.
John McGlynn made just one change from the starting eleven which won against Aberdeen last time out, with Matej Poplatnik coming in for Aidan Connolly, who dropped to the bench.
The Forfar line up included two names who were extremely familiar to the home fans, with Grant Anderson and Steven Anderson both players who have worn the blue of Raith, with both featuring predominantly in Raith’s League One winning season two years ago.
It was a quiet start to proceedings, with Rovers dominating possession, but despite that, it was the visitors who created the first chance of the match in the seventh minute, and they perhaps should have made more of it.
Craig Thomson did well to get in ahead of Liam Dick on the right, and although his bouncing cross didn’t initially look threatening, it fell to Steven Doris, whose spin and shot was well over the crossbar.
The Loons almost had cause to curse that miss a moment later, when Rovers spurned a chance just a minute later.
Ethon Varian swept a good cross-field pass into the path of Poplatnik, and with goalkeeper, Marc McCallum caught in no-mans land, Poplatnik had a chance to lob it over the backpedalling custodian, but the Slovenian forward got too much on his dink, and the ball sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.
Rovers continued to keep possession well, and after a fine spell of passing play in the 18th minute, a cross from the left from Dylan Tait looked like it was going to fall kindly for Varian, but some covering defending from Michael Travis prevented it coming to anything.
Rovers were starting to enjoy their best spell in the game, and they came close again seconds later, when Dario Zanatta showed good technique to play in Varian with a defence splitting pass, but his shot from an angle was deflected wide for a corner.
It felt like a goal was on the way, and Rovers spurned another good chance with a quarter of the game gone.
Poplatnik was again the recipient, getting on the end of a Christophe Berra knock down from a corner kick, but while he did put it over from close range, the ball wouldn’t come down quick enough for him to get over the top of it to force it home.
However, Rovers got the goal their superiority deserved in the 24th minute, with the chance again being produced from a corner.
McCallum initially did well to keep out the initial header, with a brilliant reaction stop knocking it back into the penalty area, but Blaise Riley – Snow did well to follow up and side foot the ball high into the net for his first goal for Rovers.
You sensed a second goal might have put this game to bed, even at this early stage, and they almost had one after half an hour, when Kyle Benedictus’ raking long ball found Poplatnik getting ahead of the last man, but while his header just managed to get beyond McCallum, it lacked pace and the keeper was able to gather.
Poplatnik must have been getting annoyed not to have a goal to his name, and he had another chance in the 31st minute, when Tait’s through ball took out the majority of the Loons defence, but while the Slovenian just had a head start on Ross Meechan, the defender timed his sliding challenge well as the ball skipped away for a corner.
It was more or less the final piece of noteworthy action in the first period, as the final third of the first period saw Rovers with the overwhelming majority of possession, but with the game played in front of Forfar’s back four.
HALF TIME; ROVERS 1 – 0 FORFAR
Rovers were straight onto the front foot in the second 45, with Zanatta doing well to hit the line on the left and send in a low cross for who else, Poplatnik, but despite getting in ahead of Steven Anderson, the veteran defender did enough to force the ball for a corner.
It’s rare to see a forward have as many chances in a game without scoring, even if they were for the most half ones, and Poplatnik was again denied in the 48th minute.
Zanatta was the architect this time, running at a retreating defence before setting up the forward, but despite setting himself, cutting inside and picking his spot into the top corner, McCallum did brilliantly to tip his effort onto the junction between bar and post to keep the score at 1-0.
It was an even better stop in the 54th minute which denied Rovers a bigger lead.
Zanatta had been brought down just outside the penalty area, with Tait given free-kick duties, but from an area where most players struggle to get the ball up and down.
Not so the on-loan Hibernian midfielder though, with his effort seemingly perfectly placed in the top corner, McCallum pulled off an exceptional stop, getting a full hand to the ball and tipping it wide.
Zanatta was the next to try his luck, and again it wasn’t taken, although McCallum had nothing to do with it this time, with the winger doing well initially to break from midfield, but his shot from 20 yards went well over the bar.
The longer the game went without Raith getting a second, the more emboldened Forfar would start to feel about pushing men forward, and with Rovers failing to take umpteen half chances, and with McCallum in fine form, there may have been some element of doubt starting to creep into the Rovers fans that the game still hadn’t been put to bed.
That line of thought was given more credence in the 64th minute, when Thomson again did well down the right, and his cross fell kindly for Matthew Aitken, who looked like he would be able to spin in the box and get a shot at goal from 10 yards, but his first touch deserted him, with the ball bouncing off him, in what was arguably Athletic’s best chance of the game.
Rovers were now just on the back foot a little, with Gary Irvine’s side just starting to push more men forward and going for broke with 20 minutes remaining.
Rovers then made two changes in the 71st minute, with Varian and Poplatnik making way for James Keatings and Kieran Mitchell.
It may have been a changes in the forward line, but it was Rovers right back who was the next to try his luck, initially getting on the end of his own cross which was blocked, and while his second attempt looked like a cross, it had to be gathered by McCallum with his cross come shot on target.
The chances kept coming for Rovers, and Keatings was the next to try his luck, taking a first time effort from an angle just inside the area, but again, McCallum was equal to his well struck effort, tipping it wide for yet another corner.
Rovers should have put the game to bed in the 77th minute, and again it was through more good work from Zanatta. The winger’s set up play found Mitchell free in the area and with just McCallum to beat, but he dragged his chance wide, although considering the goalkeeper’s performance, even if he’d got it on target, he’d probably have kept it out anyway.
There was some concern in the final stages, as Riley – Snow went down with what initially appeared to be a bad injury, with Aaron Arnott limbering up to replace him, but after some treatment, the midfielder was able to continue.
Forfar were unable to pressurise the Rovers defence in the closing stages, meaning Rovers deservedly took their place in the next round, where they’ll face a Fife derby against East Fife in the next round.
FULL TIME; ROVERS 1 – 0 FORFAR
Photographs © Tony Fimister
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after progressing in the SPFL Trust Trophy
After an enforced hiatus, Raith Rovers return to action this weekend, with an SPFL Trust Trophy match against SPFL League Two Forfar Athletic.
The Loons are unbeaten in the league this term and sit third in the table, behind title favourites Kelty Hearts and Annan Athletic.
Rovers on the other hand are without a win in the Championship after two attempts, but last time out they did produce an excellent victory against Aberdeen in a League Cup second round tie, with goals coming from Ethon Vairian and Dario Zanatta.
The last time these two sides met turned out to be a league decider, although no-one realised it at the time.
Raith were 2-1 winners when Forfar visited Stark’s Park on League One duty back in March 2020, with Daniel Armstrong and John Baird giving Rovers a 2-0 lead, before Connor Coupe halved the arrears in the final minute.
It was a victory that ensured Rovers won the SPFL League One title, with the season shutting down just after.
The two teams met in this competition five years ago, and on that occasion, the game was a little less enjoyable from a Raith point of view, with Gary Locke’s men bundled out of the tournament by the Loons 3-2.
Mark Stewart had given Rovers an early advantage, but two goals in six minutes from Lewis Milne and Josh Peters had turned the third round tie on its head.
Peters extended Forfar’s lead early in the second period, but even though Declan McManus had brought Rovers back into it with a little under 25 minutes remaining, Forfar held out for a surprise win.
With the draw for this tournament already mapped out to the final, both teams know that the winners will take on Peterhead or East Fife in the next round.
Rovers hold the upper hand in this fixture in recent years, with four wins and four draws from the last 10 meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be Matthew MacDermid
Head-To-Head Cup Record Versus Forfar:
Raith Rovers Wins: 3
Forfar Wins: 2
Raith Rovers Goals: 15
Forfar Goals: 10
Raith Rovers: W-D-D-D-L-W
Raith Rovers: Lewis Vaughan 4, Dario Zanatta 3
Forfar: Matthew Aitken 3, Stef McCluskey 3