The Rovers class of 2022 etched their names in the history books after two bullet headers courtesy of Matej Poplatnik and an Ethan Ross finish saw John McGlynn’s side ease past Queen of the South 3-1 to lift the SPFL Trust Trophy.
The Slovenian’s double coupled with Ross’ 78th minute strike saw off a courageous Doonhamers performance as John McGlynn’s side looked to give themselves a massive boost going into the final five league games as they look to salvage a play-off place.
It looked like it would be a nail biter of a tie when Queens came out all guns blazing in the first period and Rovers could well have been a goal behind on two occasions inside the first ten minutes after Ally Roy couldn’t make the most of Rovers slow start. Firstly, the Northern Irishman was played in behind Dick on the right, who couldn’t get back goal side of his man, allowing the forward to cut in from the right onto his left foot and see his shot from 20-yards headed over for a corner
Roy was played in behind yet again five minutes later, getting in between Musonda and Dick but his shot from 20-yards out was saved by MacDonald in the middle of the goal.
However it would be man of the moment Matej Poplatnik who put Rovers ahead with a quarter of an hour played with a fantastic bullet header from six yards out. Some great play in the middle of the park from Ross Matthews saw him evade Cochrane and play a great ball down the right channel for Tumilty to chase and cut back on the byline into the six-yard box for Poplatnik to fling himself at, putting his head on the line to power the ball into the top right corner with a quarter of an hour played. The Slovenian’s 4th goal in as many matches came at the expense of an accidental boot to the side of the head which required a dressing to his right ear (secured by a large bandage) to be in place for the remainder of the match.
Queens weren’t out of the tie by any stretch and player/manager Wullie Gibson thought he was going to get his side on level terms with 25-mins played. Some great play from Josh Todd saw him allow Cochrane’s pass into the box run through his legs for Cooper to run onto and lift into the box over everyone for Gibson to run onto and volley over the bar and into the stand.
Ruari Paton thought he’d volleyed his side level with 28 minutes played. A high ball into the box was won by the Irishman on the left hand side of the box, who’s volley into the ground bounced over the head of everyone and cannoned off the post, back into the path of Roy, who couldn’t sort his feet out as the ball was hacked away for a corner.
As the two sides continued to trade blows Rovers could’ve doubled their lead nine minutes before the break as Ross went close. Musonda’s diagonal from the right was won and headed over Gibson by Varian on the left apex of the box for Ross to touch down and take to a tight angle but his shot through the legs of Rae was deflected over.
Queens’ luck looked to be out as Euan East was the next one to pass up an opportunity to level things up shortly before the interval. An out – swinging Lee Connolly corner from the right hand side was met by East at the front post, who’s towering header cannoned off the crossbar from close range, before MacDonald could react but some acrobatics from Frankie Musonda saw the ball hacked away.
Queens would find themselves on level terms two minutes into first half stoppage time as Ally Roy put any past grievances to bed. A ball into the box from the left wasn’t defended well enough as the No.9’s initial header from six-yard cannoned off of the right hand post, landing back to East who’s first time effort was saved from point blank range but parried back to the Northern Irishman who poked the ball beyond MacDonald to level things up.
Rovers had to deal with a ten minute spell of wave after wave of Queens attacks in the opening period of the second half but nearly found themselves back in front 11-minutes after the restart as Frankie Musonda header over the bar from Connolly’s corner.
The winger was left to hold his hands up after Connolly was dispossessed in the middle of his own half which allowed Cochrane to play in Paton, who in turn ran away with the ball who tried to roll the ball across the face of goal from distance, but his effort trickled wide.
It would be Rovers who regained the lead through that man, Matej Poplatnik, once more as he bulleted yet another header for his fifth goal in four games. Some great pressing from Aidan Connolly saw him win the ball out on the right, playing it across the face of the box for Poplatnik to win the ball and lay it off for Zanatta who’s shot from a tight angle was blocked for a corner. The Canadian’s cross was won by the Slovenian at the far post who arrowed the ball into the top right corner for a second time with 20-minutes to play.
Ethan Ross would make it game, set and match with 12-minutes left after some great hold up play from Poplatnik on the left hand side saw him lay it back for Zanatta, who in turn sent him scampering down the left wing, to again hold off Gibson, play it inside the full-back for Mackie to run onto and cut back for Ross who’s touch didn’t let him down and he obliged by poking the ball into the bottom left hand corner to seal the SPFL Trust Trophy victory, becoming only the third Rovers team to bring a trophy back to Starks Park.
Pictures from a perfect day at the SPFL Trust Trophy Final
Photographs © Jim Foy & Cameron Goodsir-Maguire.
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after winning the SPFL Trust Trophy:
Man of the Match Matej Poplatnik spoke to RaithTV after winning the SPFL Trust Trophy:
Ethan Ross and Captain Ross Matthews spoke to RaithTV after winning the SPFL Trust Trophy:
Zambian Internationalist Frankie Musonda spoke to RaithTV after winning the SPFL Trust Trophy:
Rovers look to win a domestic trophy for only the third time in their history this weekend as all roads lead to Airdrie for the SPFL Trust Trophy Final against Queen of the South on Sunday.
John McGlynn’s side go into the game buoyant, despite recent results and have only lost two of their last six games as they look to have turned a corner after a sticky patch at the turn of the year.
The appointment of Wullie Gibson appeared to give Queens a brief boost as they won three games on the bounce at the end of February and into the beginning of March, but their fortunes have since changed as four defeats on the spin including a 1-0 defeat to Rovers have saw them slump back to the bottom of the Championship, three points behind Dunfermline.
Rovers on the other hand, go into the game hoping that lifting the trophy will act as a platform to go and help them secure the last play-off spot going into the final five league games.
The two sides have met four times this season and it has been a fixture that Rovers haven’t found too much success in, having won once, drew twice and lost once against then manager, Alan Johnston’s side and they’ll be looking to change their fortune by grabbing their second victory of the season against the Doonhamers.
Rovers won the last encounter between the two sides, with Matej Poplatnik’s first half strike securing the three points at a sunny Palmerston and that strike has since seen him go on a run of scoring a goal a game against Inverness and Arbroath.
Both the management and the players will have the added motivation of not being able to participate in the last final, which was never able to be played and resulting the shared award of the 2020 Tournament, which will hopefully mean they can have the trophy for keeps this time around.
Queens Wins: 15 Raith Rovers Wins: 13 Draws: 5
Raith Rovers: D-L-W-L-W-D
Queen of the South: L-L-L-L-W-W
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 9, Aidan Connolly 7, Matej Poplatnik 6
Queen of the South: Lee Connolly 7, Ruari Paton 3
Referee: Grant Irvine