ROVERS’ ARMADA CONQUER SPAIN PARK
Raith Rovers fired their way past non-league Banks O’ Dee, with three second-half strikes enough to seal Raith’s passage into the Fifth Round of the Scottish Cup, sinking their rivals’ hopes of a cup upset. In the tight and compact surroundings of Spain Park, Rovers struggled to break down their hosts’ defences in an often frustrating first half, but looked the more likely through-out and ran out deserved winners.
After a scoreless first half, Sam Stanton’s sharp finish broke the deadlock and, as the hosts tired in the closing stages, late goals from substitutes Matej Poplatnik and Aiden Connolly sealed the win.
While the score-line suggests a comfortable win, and while the hosts offered little as an attacking threat until surge late on, manager John McGlynn was constantly urging greater efforts from his players as constant waves of Raith pressure broke upon the buttresses of Banks O’ Dee’s defensive fortress, in which centre-halves Kelly and Lewecki were resolute through-out. Only in the final ten minutes, as Raith’s higher energy levels began to tell, did Rovers look head and shoulders above their opponents.
If either team came into today’s game in a run of form, it was Banks O’ Dee. The home side sit top of the Northern Region Junior Superleague, with 15 wins in their last 16 games. Promotion via a play-off into the Highland League looks their next port of call. In striker Lachie MacLeod, Banks O’ Dee have their League’s top scorer with 23 goals, with Jack Gordon Henderson contributing another 16 from midfield. With Club President Brian Winton describing the game as the club’s “biggest in a decade”, Banks O’ Dee warmed up in front of 870 fans deservedly brimming with confidence.
Co-managers Jamie Watt and Roy McBain named their strongest side – looking to build on last week’s 6-1 win away to Maud – but were hampered by the loss of captain Kane Winton through suspension. A boisterous and energetic presence in midfield, the club captain would leave a big hole in the hosts’ midfield. From the side whose victory over East Fife had earned Banks O’ Dee their place in the Fourth Round, Armstrong and Beattie also dropped out, with Stuart Duff, Jack Henderson, and winger Max Alexander starting.
For Raith, the Scottish Cup offered a welcome escape from the League campaign. Without a win in five, and with only two goals from open play since the 3rd Round Cup win at Falkirk, Rovers’ season looked to be taking on water. New wind in the sails was needed, and – as befitted the occasion – manager John McGlynn named an attacking line-up. Berra and Lang started at centre-half with Benedictus amongst the substitutes, Frankie Musonda started at right-back with Reghan Tumilty suspended, and there was a start for Dario Zanatta, restored alongside Jamie Gullan and Ethan Ross upfront.
There was a minute’s applause pre-kick off for Banks O’ Dee former club secretary Tom Ewan who had recently passed away, well observed by all present. His grandson Ewan looked pleased in the wintry air, leading the teams out on this most auspicious of occasions for the home side.
In bright low sunshine and with little or no wind, this was a perfect winter’s day for football. With ninety-seven goals so far this season, Banks O’ Dee looked to attack from the of but it was Raith who held the early possession and almost took the lead in the second minute – Zanatta and Williamson working an opening for Gullan, who shot narrowly wide. Keeper Fraser Hobday made his first save a minute later, Gullan again finding space and shooting goalward. Berra’s shot was blocked away from the resultant corner.
It was ten minutes before the home side made an impression – Alexander was tripped by Stanton, but Duff’s free-kick came to nothing. Lachie Macleod, so prolific at regional level, was struggling to hold up play, with Lang and Berra respectful but robust. Stanton found the side-netting after another Rovers attack, after Gilmour had been dis-possessed in midfield.
While Raith continued to enjoy the bulk of the play, the hosts began to warm to their task. Winger Alexander grappled with Zanatta, Gilmour showed nice touches in midfield, and Philipson had the home side’s first shot on target. While Musonda’s drive flew just over, and Gullan looked a constant danger, there was a building air of frustration amongst the travelling support with the clock showing twenty-five minutes and the scores still level.
The smart and tidy surroundings of the Spain Park stood in stark contrast to much of the play, as several passes began to go astray. Gilmour and Duff coped well with Raith’s movement through midfield, while manager McGlynn urged more effort from his players. An Ethan Ross header looped over, but – as the sun dipped below the skyline and a chill descended – Banks O’ Dee remained resolute. With the Raith support huddled on the well-appointed terracing or perched on the gabion baskets pitch-side, the Rovers players could see and hear the trepidation creeping into their supporters.
An apocryphal tale from Banks O’ Dee’s history is of a stray shot clearing the fence, finding the River Dee in spate, and being recovered several weeks later in Norway. Christophe Berra’s drive on the half-hour nearly had the same fate – flying high and wide of keeper Hobday’s goal as the home fans jeered in delight.
The tempo increased in the run-up to the half. Williamson’s galloping run had centre-halves Kelly and Lewecki at sixes and sevens, Gullan’s header flew just wide, and Ross was hacked down in a promising position. Lang’s header was fisted clear as Raith looked to break the deadlock, but referee Napier’s whistle earned the hosts the respite their endeavours had deserved. John McGlynn and Paul Smith headed to the dressing room, their collective brows furrowed indeed.
Raith needed far greater pace and incisiveness in the second half, and Ethan Ross’ early burst showed the way – scampering through midfield, the young striker linked well with Zanatta, only for Kelly and Leweki to combine to clear. Henderson cleared Zanatta’s cross amidst shouts for handball, and Liam Dick’s run forced another hasty clearance. With Zanatta now on the left, the hosts introduced Neale Allan to counter Rovers’ threat on that side – Liam Dick’s lovely cross saw Musonda’s header strike a post.
Rovers regrouped and reshuffled. Aiden Connolly replaced Zanatta, the substitute’s waspish pace immediately a factor as the tiring hosts retreated. Within two minutes of the winger’s introduction, Raith had their opening goal. Connolly’s free-kick – earned after Lewecki was harshly penalised – was deflected, with Sam Stanton first to react to prod past the helpless Hobday for his first in a Raith jersey.
After a frustrated first-half, Ethan Ross was a livewire in the second half. Drawing rings around substitutes Crosbie and Allan, the former Aberdeen man was a constant menace, linking well with Liam Dick, and offering passing options across the front-line.
If there was to be an equaliser, Banks O’ Dee had their chance with ten minutes remaining – Crosbie’s through-ball found Macleod marauding behind Berra, with the prolific front-man only able to squeeze his shot wide. Seconds later, there was drama as Macleod clattered to the floor with Tom Lang the guilty party. With the home fans baying for a penalty, referee Napier awarded a free-kick on the edge of the area, and only booked the Raith defender – on such decisions do Cup-ties turn. Armstrong’s free-kick needed a save from MacDonald, but the chance had gone.
With Banks O’ Dee moving to three at the back in the final minutes, suddenly Raith had space and sealed the win with two quick goals. The wily Poplatnik nicked the first with only his second touch – a neat interchange between Stanton and Ross gave Matej Poplatnik a yard of space, and his sharp finish gave Hobday no chance.
A minute later, Raith’s third wrapped up the tie. With Banks o’Dee throwing men forward, suddenly Poplatnik was clear again – drawing Lewecki, the Raith man released Connolly whose curling finish found the far corner despite Hobday’s despairing dive.
With the final whistle following moments later, there was relief for the travelling support, but no lack of pride from the home side who had competed earnestly throughout. For the home side, a return to League duty aiming for a play-off for entry to the Highland League, seeking to emulate near-neighbours Cove Rangers in their ascent through Scotland’s footballing pyramid; for Raith, a place in the Fifth Round, and a hopefully a rejuvenated League campaign, instilled with new-found confidence following this deserved victory.
© E Doig 2022
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the win in the Scottish Cup:
Raith Rovers put league business to one side this weekend, when they head to Aberdeen to take on Banks O’ Dee in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup.
The Junior side currently sit on top of the North Superleague by three points off Culter and Bridge of Don Thistle, although they’ve played two games fewer than Culter and five fewer than Thistle.
Raith will need to be wary of a side who have scored an incredible 98 league goals in just 16 games this season, while conceding just 10 in that time.
The Spain Park side are co-managed by Jamie Watt and Tommy Forbes, and this is the first time the side have reached this stage of the Scottish Cup, making their debut in the competition back in 2009.
They’ve reached the fourth round in impressive fashion, defeating Linlithgow Rose 2-1 in the preliminary round, before deposing of Highland League sides Turriff United and Nairn County in rounds one and two respectively.
It was the third round where they really made the headlines though, when they knocked out League One side East Fife.
Jamie Semple had put the Fife side one up with an early goal, but an own goal from Chris Higgins brought The Rechabites level, before Marc Gilmour sealed the win with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Rovers reached this stage with a 2-1 win over Falkirk last month, with Ross Matthews putting Rovers ahead in the first period, before Callumn Morrison got the Bairns back into it with an equaliser right at the start of the second.
However, Ethan Ross’ late winner put Rovers into the fourth round draw, despite playing the majority of the game with 10 men following Regan Tumilty’s first half dismissal.
If Rovers can progress on Saturday, it’ll be the first time they’ve reached the last 16 of the competition since the 2018/19 season when they lost out to Hibernian. .
Saturday’s match referee will be Craig Napier.
Banks O’ Dee W-W-W-W-W-W | Raith Rovers W-L-L-D-D-L
Banks O’ Dee: 11/1 | Raith Rovers: 1/6 | Draw: 6/1