CUP MARCH CONTINUES AS RAITH WIN
Raith eased their way into the next round of the SPFL Trust Trophy with a comfortable win over an energetic but limited East Fife side at Starks Park. Goals from Dylan Tait and man-of-the-match Aiden Connolly had given Raith a half-time lead with Scott Mercer’s strike in response keeping East Fife within reach, but Rovers’ confidence and class showed in the second half as a Matej Poplatnik goal put distance between the sides.
While East Fife had their moments, in truth this professional performance showed the best of the key ingredients of this season’s Rovers line-up – robust and strong in defence, options on both flanks with excellent full-backs and talented wingers, and a strong core through midfield to the striker leading the line. Raith’s cup run goes on, and few other teams remaining in the competition will want to face John McGlynn’s men in their current run of form.
Raith manager John McGlynn named a full-strength side, resisting the temptation to rotate after the exertions of September’s packed programme – with Tom Lang dropping to the bench, Aiden Connolly was re-introduced on the right wing, with Zanatta on the other flank supporting Eton Varian as long striker. Two-goal hero from Rugby Park Matej Poplatnik was named among the substitutes.
East Fife arrived in the Lang Toun stuck in a real rut in terms of League results – one win in nine left Darren Young’s men rooted to the foot of League One. With some heavy defeats in recent weeks – losses to Clyde Dumbarton and Airdrie in September had seen ten goals conceded with none scored – morale was at a low ebb, but the narrow defeat at the Falkirk Stadium last week suggested a corner had been turned. Injuries hadn’t been kind to the Methil men either – Aaron Dunsmore was ruled out with an ankle injury, while Semple, Murdoch, Davidson, Swanson, and Cunningham were longer-term absentees.
To shake up his troops for this Fife derby cup-tie, Young made five changes, with Ross Dunlop and Pat Slattery brought into the defence, Liam Watt in midfield, and youngsters Sean Brown and Andrew Osei-Bonsu together upfront, and the new strike pairing looked bright early on. Osei-Bonsu jostled with Benedictus and Brown stretched his legs down the inside-left channel. The Raith skipper earned an early yellow for a tug on Mercer.
Raith, brimming full of confidence after the excellent victory at Rugby Park last week, could be forgiven for a slower start. Zanatta’s first cross nearly found Matthews at the near post; Spencer volleyed over after Smith spilled a Tumilty cross with ten minutes on the clock. East Fife centre-half Dan Higgins – returning after suspension following a recent red-card – thumped Varian with his first challenge.
Rovers gradually began to increase the tempo – Tumilty sprinted past Steele and crossed dangerously; visiting keeper Jude Smith had to punch two corners clear under pressure from Varian; Zanatta began to pin Mercer deep in the right-back area. Tumilty released Varian with a fine pass down the right flank, Aiden Connolly eventually having a strike on goal, although the effort drifted wide. Osei-Bonsu earned his side a corner, but Berra’s clearing header was firm and authoritative.
Starting upfront again for Raith after a hard-working and influential shift at Rugby Park, Ethon Varian was again a focal point for John McGlynn’s side. Showing impressive strength, Varian frequently clashed with Higgins and Dunlop, winning headers and holding up play to bring in runners from midfield. Varian’s first-touch was particularly impressive, frequently giving lay-offs or headers
Rovers’ first came just after the half-hour – Spencer found Liam Dick in acres of space on the left-wing, and with the visiting defence having switched off momentarily, Dick had time to cross, finding Dylan Tait who had time to set himself and fire back across Jude Smith to give Raith the lead.
While Raith fans may have felt their side were on their way, East Fife responded brightly, and were back on terms within a minute. A loose clearance was collected by midfielder Scott Mercer thirty yards out, who took a touch, and fired a clean curling strike into MacDonald’s far-post. Although Raith had begun to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, East Fife had bristled at conceding a goal, and were good value for their equaliser.
Back came Raith – Spencer skipped through midfield, drawing a foul twenty-five yards out, and with a dipping and swerving left-footed effort, Aiden Connolly found the top corner from the set-piece with Smith helpless. With three goals in four minutes, the match had burst into life, with each goal showcasing moments of real quality.
With the match flowing from end to end in the run-up to half-time, the interval interrupted a fine spell of open play which continued on the resumption of play. Berra’s header down nearly gave Benedictus a shot on goal from a free-kick, Varian clashed with Higgins in the box although a penalty would have been soft, and following a trade-mark cross-field pass, Tumilty’s fizzing cross saw Varian’s near-post flick fly just wide.
Ethon Varian’s afternoon was cut short following a head knock just short of the hour, with Matej Poplatnik taking the field to a celebratory cheer from the South Stand, and within two minutes, the substitute had notched Raith’s third – Zanatta’s deep corner was nodded back across goal by Christophe Berra, and Poplatnik found a yard of space to head Raith into a two-goal lead.
Rovers began to play with much more fluidity through midfield – Spencer and Connolly exchanged a quick-fire one-two, with the latter gaining ground before Tait had room to fire a zipping drive just over. Despite East Fife having five in midfield, everything seemed to flow through a combination of Spencer Matthews and Tait, with Raith’s wide players revelling in the service they were receiving. Poplatnik’s audacious lob nearly caught out keeper Smith, the visiting goalie recovering his ground just in time.
East Fife had also made changes to try to reverse the tide – the experienced Danny Denholm was introduced alongside youngster Kyle Connell, on loan from Kilmarnock. With Osei-Bonsu moved to the left, the visitors enjoyed some better quality possession, and earned a corner. Former Rover Kevin Smith was brought on to partner Denholm upfront, giving East Fife a more robust presence in the final third, although Raith’s defensive duo of Berra and Benedictus repelled any threat to Jamie MacDonald’s goal.
Despite the increased vigour from their guests, Raith looked comfortable. Zanatta and Spencer exchanged a lovely one-two with Higgins’ despairing clearance coming to the rescue. Connolly brought out a fine save from keeper Smith, with his rasping free-kick curling into the top-corner only denied by a finger-tip save.
Substitutes Aaron Arnott and Kieran Mitchell were given a late run, and the pair made an immediate impact – Arnott’s lovely through-ball found Mitchell in space, with the youngster’s jinking run brought to a juddering halt by Dunlop – with the South Stand on its feet, referee Roncone waved away the strong penalty appeal. Seventeen-year-old Fife Academy graduate Greig Young was also rewarded with a late cameo, along with Blaise Riley-Snow as the match continued as an open and free-flowing contest right until referee Roncone’s final whistle. A potentially tricky tie dealt with comfortably, joint-holders of the trophy Raith will head into the next round full of confidence.
Photographs © Tony Fimister
RaithTV talked to John McGlynn after todays SPFL Trust Trophy Round 3 cup victory v East Fife:
After an excellent win over Championship favourites Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Saturday, Raith return to Stark’s Park this weekend for an SPFL Trust Trophy third round clash with East Fife.
The Methil men are bottom of League one after taking just four points from the first quarter, but reached this stage of the tournament with victories over St Johnstone Colts and Peterhead.
Rovers on the other hand reached the third round with a win over Forfar Athletic, and while the scoreline was a narrow one, with Blaise Riley-Snow’s goal the only goal of the game, but Rovers created enough chances to win two or three matches during a dominant performance.
These two sides have met once before in this tournament, back in 2001, and Rovers bounced back from a two goal deficit to win by three goals to two. Paul McManus and Ross Graham handed the home side a 2-0 lead at the interval, but goals in the second half from Nacho Novo and Shaun Dennis restored parity, before Novo scored the winner with a minute to go.
Rovers also came out on top the last time the two played each other, in last season’s League Cup group stages.
Liam Newton had given East Fife a first half lead, but a penalty from Regan Hendry and a winner from Manny Duku saw Raith home 2-1.
Rovers have the much better record in the most recent meetings, with five wins and three draws from the last 10 matches.
Saturday’s match referee will be Mike Roncone.
Head-To-Head Cup Record Against East Fife:
Raith Rovers Wins: 11 | East Fife Wins: 10 | Draws: 5
Raith Rovers Goals: 48 | East Fife Goals: 51
Raith Rovers: L-W-L-W-D-W
East Fife: W-W-L-L-L-L
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 7 | Lewis Vaughan 4
East Fife: Connor McManus 3 | Kevin Smith 3