Shots on target
COVE RANGERS 0–1 RAITH ROVERS
Our hopes of emulating last season’s run to the semi-finals of the SPFL Trust Trophy ended at the first hurdle as Rovers edged a tight encounter, Connor McBride grabbing the only goal to send the holders through to the Fourth Round.
There had been sweeping changes from the 2-2 draw at Firhill last week, with only goal hero Mark Reynolds and Connor Scully retaining their places in the starting line-up.
Stuart McKenzie returned in goal, Max Johnston made his debut, and Gerry McDonagh was back from injury, his fractured wrist in a lightweight cast.
Charlie Gilmour and Kyle McClelland were both cup-tied, Scott Ross out with a knee injury and Fraser Fyvie with a hamstring problem, while Evan Towler was away on international duty with Scotland under-19s.
The game started brightly enough with Johnston showing early promise, and from one of his surges forward the full-back fired in a dangerous delivery, but the ball had crossed the bye-line before he made contact.
The play was pretty even, Rovers also trying to push up, and Connell sent a thirty-yard free kick over the bar before Cove constructed the best move of the opening exchanges.
Johnston and Luis Longstaff seemed to find an instant connection on the right, Iain Vigurs collected the ball from Luis, and played a one-two with Leighton McIntosh, before setting up Max, but his cross was cleared from the danger zone.
Raith hit back, and it was the Kirkcaldy outfit who made the breakthrough.
Kieran Ngwenya set off on a powerful run before passing wide to Coulson, who sent in an inviting low cross. McBRIDE gathered the ball and shot goalwards from eight yards, his effort deflecting off Morgyn Neill and past McKenzie.
Cieran Dunne then burst up the left wing looking for an instant reply, his low delivery was inviting, but tantalisingly inches away from the onrushing Longstaff.
Vigurs was next to threaten, his twenty-yard curling shot deflected wide of the target.
We were playing some excellent football at that stage of the game, and after good work by Leighton McIntosh, Longstaff drove infield before feeding the ball back out to Johnston. He sent in another fine cross, again just marginally too deep for McDonagh to make contact.
In the twenty-fourth minute, Mark Reynolds fired a superb fifty-yard diagonal for Max to run on to, but the cross, while dangerous, once more failed to find its target.
Seconds later, Rovers should have doubled their advantage.
Ethan Ross took a quick free kick out on the right, and after an exchange of passes, the former Aberdeen youngster got in behind on the right, but shot wide of the near post.
There was then a period of sustained Cove possession with Johnston, Yule, Vigurs and McIntosh heavily involved, before Longstaff, under pressure, sent his cross behind the visitors’ goal.
Rovers weren’t posing much of a threat going forward, but again found themselves with a decent goalscoring opportunity after smart counter-attacking play. Coulson faced up Johnston, cut inside and shot from twenty yards, McKenzie diving to his right to make a comfortable save.
Longstaff looked to spring the next Cove attack, turning inside his own half before racing clear, only to be bundled to the ground by Spencer, who picked up the game’s first booking. From the resultant free kick, Morgyn Neill headed just wide from twelve yards.
Again, Raith broke away, and again they might have extended their lead. Connell gathered a high ball and turned away from Neill. As the space opened up, he fired in a powerful effort from the edge of the box, but Stuart McKenzie pulled off an excellent save, holding the ball despite the ferocity of the shot.
There was a quiet start to the second half, but in the fifty-second minute it appeared we had found a leveller.
Connell fouled Iain Vigurs wide on the left. The resultant free kick was cleared only as far as Blair Yule, he linked up with Vigurs, then fed in Longstaff, and Luis finished superbly at the back post. The celebrations were quickly halted by the assistant’s flag, the winger having strayed marginally offside.
Four minutes later, a moment of huge controversy which might have had a significant bearing on the game.
After more good build-up play, with Longstaff and Johnston again involved, the ball was eventually played over the top for Leighton McIntosh to run on to. The Cove man looked favourite to latch on to it, and seemed to have clearly been bundled to the ground by O’Riordan, but to everyone’s astonishment, referee Duncan waved play on.
The boys kept battling away. Dunne shot powerfully from twenty yards, his effort being deflected for a corner on the left, then Longstaff produced a bit of magic on the other flank. He jinked along the bye-line past a couple of defenders and shot towards the near post, Thomson punching the ball to safety.
Neill then had a looping header cleared off the line by Connell, and Scully shot just wide from eighteen yards.
In the sixty-second minute, we were almost made to pay for failing to take our chances. Ross and Connell created an opening for Ngwenya, the full back shot goalwards from inside the box, but McKenzie made a fine save with his foot and the ball was bundled behind for a corner.
Luis Longstaff was having his best game in a Cove shirt and went for a mazy run deep inside the Raith box, Yule heeled the ball back to him, and from Luis’ cutback, Vigurs fired just over from the edge of the box.
Jamie Masson replaced McDonagh in the sixty-fifth minute, with Leighton McIntosh filling the central striking role.
Big Stuart then made another fine save from a cheeky Dick backheel.
Blair Yule’s comeback lasted seventy-six minutes, and he left the field to a standing ovation before being replaced by Robbie Leitch. At the same time, club captain Mitch Megginson took over from McIntosh.
Mitch was harshly booked for a challenge on Brown, then minutes later he threatened the Raith defence, racing on to a Vigurs through ball, only to see his cross blocked for a corner. Vigurs swung that in, but Rovers scrambled it clear.
Deep into stoppage time, there was one last opportunity.
Luis Longstaff continued to be a major attacking threat, drove past the visiting defence, and delivered into the danger area. Rovers threw bodies at the ball, and in the ensuing melee it wouldn’t sit up for Megginson. As he moved towards it, Mitch was upended, but once more, the referee was unmoved and waved play on.
Coulson was booked for a high challenge on Scully, then soon after, the final whistle blew and the players were left to concentrate on Championship business for the next couple of months, with thoughts quickly turning to next week’s massive encounter with Arbroath.
COVE RANGERS (4-3-3): McKenzie; Johnston, Neill, Reynolds (c), Dunne; Yule (Leitch 76), Scully, Vigurs; Longstaff, McDonagh (Masson 65), McIntosh (Megginson 76),
Substitutes: Gourlay, Logan, Thomas
Booked: Megginson (84)
RAITH ROVERS (4-2-3-1): Thomson; Millen, O’Riordan, Dick, Ngwenya (Nolan 76); Brown (c), Spencer (Matthews 82); McBride (Easton 73), Coulson, Ross (Connolly 82); Connell (Mitchell 82)
Substitutes: MacDonald, Masson
Goalscorers: McBride (11)
Booked: Spencer (41), Coulson (90)
Referee: Gavin Duncan
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