Victory Over The Binos Is Just Dandy
Raith Rovers were made to work hard for their place in Wednesday’s second round draw for the Ramsden’s cup, after a last-minute win over Stirling Albion at Stark’s Park.
Grant Murray handed competitive debuts to Callum Booth, Paul Watson, Liam Fox, Kevin Moon, Gordon Smith and Calum Elliot, while Stirling Albion included two ex-Raith players in their starting eleven, midfielder Mark Ferry, and forward, Graham Weir.
It was the latter of those two players who almost had a hand in opening the scoring in the first few seconds. Weir flicked on a cross to the back post which seemed to catch Kieran McAnespie unawares, and he failed to react quick enough to the chance.
If that early opportunity raised fans hopes for an expansive encounter then they were to be sorely disappointed. The opening exchanges saw both sides struggle to exert any kind of pressure on each other, and while Weir and his fellow front man Jordan White were proving to be awkward opponents for the Raith defence, they were creating little danger from open play.
The same could be said for the home side though, and while they had more purpose and energy about them going forward, the moves were all too often breaking down before, or just after the ball reached the front two.
Because of this it took just over a quarter of an hour for the game to register its first shot on target. Calum Elliot did brilliantly to control a difficult cross into the box, before laying it to Cardle, whose fierce drive from the edge of the box was well tipped over by David Crawford.
From the corner, Cardle’s set piece was dummied on the edge of the area, allowing Fox to have a go, but his effort was blocked by a posse of defenders.
While Rovers efforts were limited, Joe Cardle tended to be at the heart of it. Twice in as many minutes he set up the overlapping full back, Callum Booth, but from good positions his crosses were cut out by Crawford.
The game had looked to be flowing towards Raith at that point, but just as they seemed to be getting on top, they appeared to lose their way again, and while Stirling weren’t creating chances from open play, Kieran McAnespie’s delivery from dead ball situations were a cause for concern.
Firstly he teed up Mark Ferry after 25 minutes who should have done better with a free header from ten yards. Then a few moments later his whipped ball seemed to cause confusion between Hill and McGurn, which almost allowed Chris Smith a chance from a few yards out.
The game was then halted for a head knock between Gordon Smith and Ross McGeachie that resulted in the Stirling right back being replaced by Sandy Cunningham.
The change in personnel failed to disrupt Albion’s approach however, and they had a strong shout for a penalty turned down just before half time, when the ball struck Callum Booth’s hand as he dived to block a shot inside the box. Referee Euan Norris however was unfazed by the Stirling players vociferous appeals.
The start of the second half saw no changes to either side and little change in how the game was being played out. Stirling were seeing
plenty of possession, which seemed surprising considering one of the most heartening aspects of Raith’s pre-season encounters was how well they won back the ball from the opposition. This wasn’t quite so evident against the Binos, although David McGurn had yet to be called into action.
The first controversy of the half came in the 52nd minute when Smith appeared to be tripped inside the box by Jamie McCunnie. The fans were on their feet when they saw referee Norris running over, but their cheers turned to jeers when they realised that instead of giving a penalty, he was booking Smith for simulation.
Stirling then went right up the park and almost opened the scoring when White’s shot deflected off Paul Watson and looped past the post.
You could sense the frustration at this point, both from the stands, and on the park, as the Championship side failed to exert any kind of authority over their League Two opponents. Indeed, other than a mis-hit half volley from Callum Booth, Raith had mustered next to nothing in terms of shots at goal in the second period.
Grant Murray realised a change was needed, and brought on Greig Spence for Gordon Smith with a little under half an hour remaining, The replacement made an immediate impression, but only in the referees notepad, as he quickly picked up a booking for dissent.
His introduction did however give the home fans a lift, and they almost had a goal to cheer when a cross into the Stirling penalty area saw Bishop nod the ball past his own keeper, but just wide of the post.
The deadlock was eventually broken after 73 minutes, and it was the substitute Spence who was the creater. Chasing a long ball he pressurised defender Chris Smith, and then goalkeeper David Crawford, who mis-kicked his clearance straight to Kevin Moon. The midfielder’s first time effort almost looked to be heading wide of the unguarded net, but it came off the inside of the post and crossed the line, to give the ex-St Johnstone man his first goal in Raith colours.
The strike seemed to lift a weight off the players shoulders, and they almost went two up three minutes later, but Crawford magnificently kept out Elliot’s 25 yard drive. It may not have made amends for his earlier error, but it was a sensational stop.
The game should have been put beyond Stirling’s reach with just ten minutes remaining. Cardle cleverly switched play to find Elliot in yards of room down the right hand side. Cutting into the box his weak shot was kept out by the keeper, only to be prodded home by Spence, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
Elliot was then booked for simulation in the 83rd minute by Norris, despite appearing to be caught by an elbow.
Just as the game appeared to be playing out to a 1-0 finish, it burst back to life with an incredible ending. In the 88th minute Stephen Day found himself clean through on goal, but was upended by David McGurn who was booked. The goalkeeper was then sent the wrong way by Jordan White’s spot kick, which seemed certain to take the game into extra-time.
In the last minute however, Stirling gifted the ball to Greig Spence on the half way line, who fed the ball to Joe Cardle. The winger outpaced the Albion defence and picked his spot, slotting the ball past Crawford to win the match with virtually the last kick of the ball.
Whilst it wasn’t a vintage performance, manager Grant Murray will be happy with the way his side ground out the win against a dogged, and well-disciplined Stirling side, especially on a day when 5 other Championship sides exited the competition to lower league opposition.
The draw for the next round takes place on Wednesday afternoon.
Report: Shaughan McGuigan Pictures: Tony Fimister
Photographs copyright Tony Fimister
Davie caught up with Grant Murray after the Ramsdens Cup match