Late goal earns Raith deserved Tynecastle replay

Declan McManus celebrates his late equaliser with Iain Davidson. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Declan McManus celebrates his late equaliser with Iain Davidson. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
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Raith Rovers 1 Hearts 1

A last minute equaliser from substitute Declan McManus earned Raith Rovers a deserved replay against Hearts in the Scottish Cup.

Rovers put their poor league form behind them to produce a spirited fightback after Jamie Walker had given the Premiership side a half-time lead.

There was much to admire about the Rovers performance from the shape of the team, to the application of the players in this fourth round tie at a bitterly cold Stark's Park.

The fans will hope that a corner has been turned in a second half where they were the better team against the current fourth best side in Scotland.

After three consecutive defeats, Gary Locke opted for a change in formation, with a five man midfield helping to restore some solidity to the side.

Ross Matthews returned from injury as protection for the back four and showed how much his tough tackling, all-action style has been missed in recent weeks.

After a spell on the bench, Mark Stewart was given the responsibility of leading the attack and the lone striker justified his recall.

He never gave the Hearts defence a minute's peace in a bustling, hustling, non-stop display and only a glaring miss from six yards denied him the goal his performance deserved.

Hearts fielded four new signings and while they controlled possession in early exchanges, they had just one chance in the opening half hour.

Malaury Martin's corner was met by Perry Kitchen, who headed inches wide after shaking off his marker. Matthews was doing a solid defensive job, plugging holes and tracking runs, as well as denying Walker a clear shot on goal with a superb block.

At the other end, Raith were showing some promise on occasional breakaways, with Ross Callachan proving particularly effective in a support role to Stewart, but Hearts 'keeper Jack Hamilton was effectively a spectator for the opening 45.

It took a mistake to crack the game open nine minutes before the break as Jordan Thompson gifted possession to Hearts with a loose pass 40 yards from goal, which was intercepted by Don Cowie.

The former Scotland international played a defence-splitting ball to Walker, who had the composure to pick his spot past Kevin Cuthbert from 12 yards.

Rovers had shown Hearts too much respect by sitting too deep in the first half, but all that changed after the break as the hosts pressed forward in search of an equaliser.

Callachan signalled the intent a minute after the restart with a 25-yard volley which flashed narrowly wide, before Thompson saw an effort deflected for a corner.

A Bobby Barr corner almost produced the equaliser on 54 minutes but when the ball fell to unmarked Stewart, he could not adjust his body to get an effort on target.

The home side's big chance arrived two minutes later as Kevin McHattie surged forward and his low cross left Stewart with a tap-in at the back post, but the striker somehow scooped the ball onto the crossbar from six yards.

It sparked a brief spell of intense pressure on the Hearts goal and Callachan and Iain Davidson were both denied by good saves from Hamilton in the space of a minute.

Hearts survived the onslaught and it seemed Raith had missed their chance by failing to convert their best spell of the match.

Ryan Hardie was introduced from the bench as Locke changed to a two-man strike force, but it was the manager's next change that ultimately rescued the tie.

Both McManus and Rudi Skacel were brought on with 10 minutes left - a brave change as neither had been in goalscoring form, while Skacel's arrival only served to lift the big travelling support, who had been quiet during their side's woeful second half.

But the gamble paid off as the two subs combined for the equaliser in the 89th minute.

Barr's corner found its way to Skacel on the edge of the box and his sweet first time volley was deflected past Hamilton by the head of McManus..

The wild celebrations on the pitch, in the stands, and in the Raith dugout showed that this was a goal - and a boost - that the whole club needed, none more so than McManus who hit the net for the first time since mid-October.

Raith's determination almost won it as Barr won a free-kick, which he sent to the back post and only a good save from Hamilton - Hearts' best player in the second half - spared the Jambos from defeat.

The teams will meet again at Tynecastle on Wednesday night, and based on this match, Raith should fancy their chances against a Hearts' side currently in transition. The winner of the tie will meet Hibs at home in the next round.

Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, McHattie, Callachan, M'voto, Benedictus, Johnston (Hardie69), Stewart (McManus 80), B.Barr, Matthews, Davidson, Thompson (Skacel 80). Not used: Brennan, Roberts, Thomson, C.Barr.

Hearts: Hamilton, Hughes, Kitchen, Walker (Zanatta 85), Souttar, Cowie, Nowak, Johnsen (Sammon 90), Struna, Sowa, Martin. Not used: Noring, Beith, Smith, Godinho, Currie.

Referee: John Beaton

Attendance: 5036