Grant’s gallant Rovers create cup history at Ibrox

Ryan Conroy celebrates after his free-kick opened the scoring at Ibrox -  Credit -  Fife Photo Agency
Ryan Conroy celebrates after his free-kick opened the scoring at Ibrox - Credit - Fife Photo Agency
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Raith Rovers 2 Rangers 1

Grant Murray’s gallant Raith Rovers side produced another epic cup performance as they knocked Rangers out of the Scottish Cup with their first win at Ibrox in 56 years.

While a certain Jim Baxter was among the Raith scorers back in 1959, the poster boys of this historic win were Ryan Conroy and Christian Nade, who struck either side of Haris Vuckic’s equaliser, to clinch Rovers’ place in the last eight.

This was Raith’s second big cup result over Rangers in the space of 10 months following on from last April’s stunning Ramsdens Cup final success at Easter Road - a remarkable double when you consider the two league results in between.

While much will be made of Rangers on and off field problems - they were dreadful on the day - Raith’s performance, and the achievement of reaching the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup for the second year running, should not be overlooked.

They may play at the same level, but this was a Raith team built on a shoestring compared to the money spent by Rangers, and which included two part-time players in the starting XI, knocking out a team containing current and former internationals. That’s the bottom line.

It took a huge effort from Rovers players to secure the win - Grant Anderson typifying the team’s incredible work ethic, running himself into the ground galloping up and down the Ibrox pitch for the entire 90 minutes.

The whole team put in a remarkable shift, with the diminutive figure of Kevin Moon standing out like a man mountain in midfield alongside young Ross Callachan, who came of age as he outclassed the likes of Nicky Law and Ian Black.

The entire back four were superb, particularly Paul Watson who scooped a deserved man of the match award for making countless blocks and vital sinew-stretching interceptions.

The manager also deserves huge praise - and it’s about time he got some - as Murray seized on Rangers’ vulnerability by encouraging his team to spring from defence into attack at every opportunity. Tactics spot on.

Raith made two changes from the side that grabbed a last minute draw at Easter Road the previous week, the ineligible Barrie McKay dropping out along with Mark Stewart, with Dale Carrick and Conroy taking their place.

The Fifers’ belief in their game plan was clear straight from kick-off as they got stuck in, refusing to let Rangers settle in possession, keeping a surprisingly low crowd of 11,422 almost eerily silent.

There was nothing in the game but for a few half chances in the opening 20 minutes, with Watson’s superb leap denying Jon Daly a certain goal as he seemed to grow six inches to take Richard Foster’s perfect cross off the Rangers’ striker’s head.

Daly did get the better of the Raith defence on 24 minutes, but this time it was goalkeeper David McGurn who stepped up to the plate, showing quick reflexes to parry a powerful back post header.

The best chance of the first half, however, came at the other end as the woodwork came to Rangers’ rescue.

Watson again showed impressive desire in the air, soaring above the Rangers defence to bullet a header off the inside of the post from Conroy’s corner, and the ball ricocheted straight into the grateful arms of Steve Simonsen.

Rovers’ watertight defensive shape meant Rangers were being kept mostly at arms length, so Black tried his luck with a long range effort on 31 minutes, but his powerful attempt did not dip in time to trouble David McGurn’s goal.

Much was made of Rangers’ five Newcastle loan signings in the build-up to the match but only two started, and one of them - defender Remi Streete - limped off after 43 minutes to be replaced by Darren McGregor.

Just a minute later, Rangers captain Lee McCulloch clattered into the back of Carrick, leading with the elbow, before appearing to stand on the Raith forward when he was on the ground.

McCulloch escaped with a booking when the referee would have been well within his rights to give him his marching orders. Carrick was only able to continue for a further five minutes after the break.

Boos rung around a deserted Ibrox at half-time and it led into a nervy start to the second half by the home side, and Rovers pounced to take a 53rd minute opener.

Callachan was pulled down 22 yards out in a central position - perfect for free-kick specialist Conroy - who stepped up and curled a left-footed beauty over the wall and beyond the reach of Simonsen.

Rangers responded with a couple of dangerous runs and crosses from Foster - both brilliantly dealt with by Hill and Watson - but Raith’s defensive wall was finally breached as the home side equalised on 62 minutes.

Kyle Hutton managed to evade a few tackles in midfield to break into space, before slipping Vuckic - the other Newcastle loanee in the Rangers line-up - into the left side of the box and the Slovenian international showed his class with a well-placed low strike across McGurn and inside his far post.

Rangers may now have expected Raith to crumble - after all they lost 6-1 on their last visit to Govan - but Murray’s men have developed a strength of character in recent weeks and this was shown once again as the visitors quickly steadied the ship before regaining the lead with 15 minutes left.

A brilliant run from Anderson down the right - one of many - ended with a pass to the over-lapping Jason Thomson, whose low cross led to scramble on the goal-line that saw Nade pounce for his seventh goal of the season.

This time there would be no Rangers comeback as Rovers held firm - except for one opening on the 90th minute mark that saw substitute Kris Boyd miscue a header horribly wide when it looked easier to score.

The lack of shock value at the final scoreline said much about Rangers current situation but that did not detract from the delight of the Raith players and travelling fans, who lapped up another truly special cup moment - and a throughly deserved result.

Rangers: Simonsen, Foster, Streete (McGregor 43), McCulloch, Wallace, Hutton, Black (Murdoch 74), Law, Miller, Vuckic, Daly (Boyd 65). Not used: Robinson, Shiels, Clark, Aird.

Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Watson, Hill, Anderson, Moon, Callachan, Conroy, Carrick (Stewart 50), McKeown, Nade (Scott 86). Not used: Cuthbert, Fox, Vaughan, Matthews, Barr.

Referee: Bobby Madden

Attendance: 11,422