John McGlynn’s quest to retain the SPFL Trust Trophy will go down to the final day as his players valiantly completed a dramatic second half comeback to overcome Kilmarnock in a 2-1 victory at Rugby Park.
A Ross Matthews wonder strike and a first professional goal from FEFA (Fife Elite Football Academy) graduate Aaron Arnott ensured that Rovers booked their place in the Final against Queen of the South as the pair look to lock horns on the weekend of the 2nd of April after Oli Shaw put Killie ahead shortly before the half time interval.
Rovers were denied a stunning fifth minute opener thanks to the reflexes of Killie keeper Sam Walker who fantastically denied a long-range effort from Dario Zanatta. The Canadian received the ball in the middle of the park after Ben Williamson’s pass from the right found its way into the winger. He picked the ball up and shifted it onto his right foot and unleashed a dipping effort towards goal. But the English stopper somehow managed to palm the ball out for a corner.
Killie were keen to bounce back imminently, and nearly caught the Rovers backline out who were too high up the park. Glass’ ball over the top of the defence saw both Fraser Murray and Daniel MacKay run down on goal, with the latter opting to be greedy when faced with the onrushing Jamie MacDonald, who got down well to his right to palm away the wingers shot from 18-yards.
Ethan Varian had the ball in the net and thought he’d put the Rovers into a deserved lead just shy of the half hour mark but for the judgement of Grant Irvine. The Irishman looked to run onto Aidan Connolly’s lofted ball over the head of Chris Stokes and muscle the defender off the ball, seeing his initial shot blocked from 10-yards before bundling the rebound over the line, but the whistler adjudged the striker to have fouled the defender.
However, it would be the hosts who drew first blood four minutes before the break from the penalty spot after Dario Zanatta was adjudged to have fouled Jason Naismith just inside the penalty area, trying to clear an incoming cross from the left-hand side. Oli Shaw was the man to test his nerve from 12-yards as he slotted the ball into the bottom right corner, with a massive touch on the way from Jamie MacDonald who guessed correctly in diving down to his right-hand side.
Rovers were slow to start after the interval and should’ve been further behind four minutes after the restart. Charlie McCarthur’s uncontested header forward was won by Shaw on halfway, who got in front of Kyle Benedictus and brilliantly flicked the ball round the Skipper, meaning he could bear down on goal one-on-one with Jamie MacDonald. But the former Hibs man couldn’t produce when it mattered, snatching at his chance as it flew wide of the near post.
Killie looked to make their pressure count with a fantastic start to the second half and should’ve doubled their lead just shy of the hour mark. Declan Glass hooked the ball over the defence which allowed Shaw to run in behind and down on goal, but some great recovery running from Kyle Benedictus managed to claw the ball away from his feet with a lunge on the edge of the box, which presented the ball back to Glass who carried the ball into the area but could only drag his effort wide of the mark.
Rovers made up for lost time as Raith Rovers Youth Academy graduate Ross Matthews spectacularly levelled things up with 24 minutes remaining. The midfielder picked off Blair Alston’s pass on the edge of his own half and drove forward with the Killie midfield and defence retreating in front of him.
“Rossco” put his head down and cut in onto his right foot on the edge of the ‘D’ and dispatched a stunning curling effort into the bottom right corner beyond the reach of Walker.
This spurred John McGlynn’s side into life as they pinned Killie back inside their own defensive third and they could’ve been ahead little under five minutes later. Connolly’s deep cross was headed away from the edge of the area by Naismith who headed the ball back to where it once came, for Reghan Tumilty to run onto and try his luck with an outrageous effort that skimmed the top of the crossbar from 25 yards.
Rovers could’ve again managed to lead the game for the first time with 14-minutes remaining as they forced Walker into yet another stunning save from a set piece. Ethan Ross’ corner from the right was wedged into the penalty spot as Benedictus rose above his marker to power a header into the ground, forcing the English stopper to get down quickly to his left and punch the ball away from his goalmouth.
Killie’s resistance eventually caved with four minutes remaining as FEFA graduate Aaron Arnott’s first professional goal looked to book Rover’s place in the SPFL Trust Trophy Final for the second time in as many seasons.
It looked to be Kyle Benedictus who would win it for his side after Ben Williamson was felled by Charlie McCarthur inside the area, in which the skipper stepped up and saw his effort towards the bottom right corner well saved by Walker, who palmed the ball into the direction of Arnott who followed up and poked the ball into the back of the net as it cannoned in off the underside of the bar not only once but twice to avoid any doubt of the result.
Photos courtesy of Official Kilmarnock FC Photographer Ross MacKenzie.
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the win in the SPFL Trust Trophy semi-final against Kilmarnock FC