No Cup Run For Rovers
Raith’s hopes of a money spinning Scottish Cup run were dashed at Starks Park this afternoon as Morton ran out 2-1 winners in a match that was the very definition of the saying, “a game of two halves”
Raith fans were buoyed by the news that new signing Damian Casalinuovo was thrown straight into the starting line up. He took his place up front alongside Pat Clarke in a very attack minded side that saw John Baird playing slightly deeper. Laurie Ellis was moved to left back while Davidson and Murray took up the centre back positions. Both Hearts loanees Walker and Smith started on the bench with McGlynn adopting a midfield three of Walker, Williamson and Hamill.
Raith immediately started with the bit between the teeth and any doubts that either Baird or Clarke may have started out wide were quickly dispelled as the front three quickly tore into the Morton defence.
In the 4th minute Clarke showed a tidy piece of skill to flick the ball past Smyth after receiving it from Casalinuovo. Although the angle was against him he looked as if he had the opportunity to bear down on goal only for Smyth to bring him down. Fortunately for the Morton centre half the covering left back meant he only received a yellow card. From the resultant free kick Walker’s effort was deflected clear.
The initial stages were extremely encouraging with the front men all combining well. Baird received the ball from a throw in before feeding it to Casalinuovo inside the penalty area, using his strength to hold off the defender he laid it back to Clarke whose effort from the edge of the box was well held.
Just a minute later it was the same man Clarke who brought the ball down well in the box before seeing his strong drive parried away by Colin Stewart in the Morton goal. Receiving the ball back again his cross found Baird unmarked at the back post but he couldn’t quite connect properly with the half volley and the chance was gone.
Morton had barely been seen in the game although the midfield duo of Michael Tidser and Fouad Bachirou had looked lively and it was the former Paris St Germain player who created the away sides first chance. Intercepting a pass by Walker he freed up David O’Brien in the Raith box but his wild drive was notable only for the fact it knocked off a steward’s hat in the Val McDermid stand.
The whirlwind start from Raith started to dissipate and Morton started to gain a foothold in the match. Left back Thomas O’Ware was the next to try his luck, advancing unchallenged from the half way line he sent a curling effort just over McGurns left hand post.
Suddenly Raith clicked into life again and only the linesman’s flag prevented them taking the lead in the 22nd minute. Casalinuovo and Williamson combined well and the Argentinian spread the play out wide to Ellis on the overlap. His cross picked out Baird whose shot rattled the inside of the post and allowed Clarke to slam home the rebound. The assistant referee’s upheld flag cut short his, and the supporters’ celebrations however.
Raith kept the pressure on and were attacking in packs for arguably the first time this season. Ellis was providing some width down the left and Williamson was getting forward to supplement the front men.
It was Casalinuovo who went closest next. Receiving the cross from teenage right back Reece Donaldson his snap shot was gathered comfortably by Stewart. A goal seemed to be coming though and it eventually did in the 38th minute.
After receiving the ball to his feet in the penalty box Baird was brought down by O’Ware and referee Steven McLean seemed to make the correct decision by pointing to the spot. Baird took the kick himself only to be denied by an excellent stop from Stewart who’s heroics were in vain as Clarke was in the right place to force the rebound into the roof of the net.
With two minutes remaining in the half Raith thought they’d gone two up. A corner from Walker was met on the volley by Grant Murray but his effort was headed off the line by Derek Young. As the ball is gathered by Baird out wide his cross shot evades everyone and hits the inside of the post and bounces out for Davidson to poke the ball into the net. Again however the assistant referee flags for offside and it remained 1-0 going into the interval.
Whatever was said in the Morton dressing room at half time seemed to have an immediate impact. Just seconds after the restart a long ball over Ellis and Murray found Archie Walker through on goal but his angled drive found the side netting.
Morton were showing much more purpose this half and were starting to exploit the space between the Rovers midfield and defence. Tidser was the next to try his luck from distance before last ditch defending from Walker and Murray foiled Archie Campbell after the Morton front man’s clever turn gave him space ten yards from goal.
Raith’s play is far sloppier than the first half and the quick, incisive play that had stretched the Morton defence was suddenly replaced by hurried punts up the park and possession being needlessly given away. Perhaps sensing that Morton had gained the upper hand John McGlynn made his first substitution, replacing a tiring Damian Casalinuovo with David Smith after 56 minutes. Despite this it was a Morton substitution two minutes later that would prove to be the difference with Peter McDonald replacing the ineffective Andrew Jackson.
Morton’s equaliser came 9 minutes later and it was the substitute McDonald who was the architect. Receiving the ball just inside the Raith half his first time through ball split the Raith centre halves and allowed Campbell time to control the ball, pick his spot and rattle the ball past McGurn. Not only was the goal deserved it seemed almost inevitable.
Any hopes that the goal might spark some life into Rovers seem forlorn and its Morton who go close again with first Bachirou sending a shot just wide while a Peter Weatherston header from a Tidser corner went just over.
The parity in the score line lasted just another 60 seconds though and on 75 minutes McDonald and Murray collide in the box, an incident that Steven McLean deems to be a foul. After an argument over who should take the resulting penalty, Peter McDonald composed himself before rifling the shot past McGurn.
Raith had looked completely devoid of ideas in the 2nd half and despite being a goal down it was Morton who continue to come forward, Tidser waltzing through the defence only to see his shot beaten back by McGurn.
Sensing that they were in the last chance saloon Rovers finally sprang into life but again they were denied by the officials. With 2 minutes left Baird cut inside and saw his shot strike the inside of the post with the rebound this time falling to Allan Walker but his effort was also ruled offside.
Baird hits the post for the third time in the match and Walker nets the rebound but once again it’s no goal
As the match ticked into injury time Raith created two decent chances. The first falling to Baird who sent his ambitious shot wide when he had better options up in support with him and the second fell to Hamill who couldn’t quite make it onto Baird’s good cross into the box.
The referee’s whistle once again signalled an early end to a cup competition for Raith Rovers much to the frustration of the home fans who made their feelings known at full time. It seemed scarcely credible that such a dominant first half display could make way for a capitulation in the second. While Rovers would point to the disallowed goals that denied them, most Morton fans would feel they deserved the win based on their second half showing. Raith will need far more performances akin to their first half efforts if they are to pull away from the lower echelons of the first division which, unfortunately they are now solely concentrated on.
Written by Shaughan McGuigan
Pictures by Jim Foy
Very much a game of two halves is how John McGlynn described the game to David Hancock – and he is bitterly disappointed to see Rovers’ cup hopes disappear.
Allan Moore’s decision to play a centre forward at full back played a big part in taking Morton into the next round.