Raith Rovers 2 Montrose 1
Lewis Vaughan kept his cool on the hottest evening of the year to fire Raith Rovers to victory in Gary Locke’s first competitive home match in charge.
Rovers needed a controversial late penalty from the 20-year-old striker to see off lower league Montrose and make it two wins from two in the new revamped Betfred Cup.
Chris Johston had given the Championship men an early lead with his first goal for the club, but Raith were made to pay for numerous missed chances when Michael Bolocheweckyj levelled with the visitors first effort on target just short of the hour mark.
Raith struggled to reassert themselves and penalties loomed, but the hosts were handed a lifeline in the 85th minute when Kevin McHattie was caught by defender Greg Pascazio in the act of shooting and ref Colin Steven pointed to the spot.
Incessed Montrose players surrounded the official, and bookings were handed out for dissent, but Vaughan remained calm to slot home the winner.
As Raith celebrated the goal, Montrose striker Chris Templeman was shown a straight red card as he continued to remonstrate with the whistler.
Despite a turgid spell leading up the spot kick, it was a deserved win for Raith, who should have had the game wrapped up before the equaliser, but boss Locke was less than happy with the second half display.
“I was delighted with the first hour, we moved the ball well and we should’ve been out of sight,” he said.
“If you miss as many chances as we did tonight it can come back and bite you and that proved to be the case. They had one set piece and scored from it.
“The boys showed character to come back but I wasn’t too happy with some of the stuff in the second half.
“We stopped moving the ball so quick, and started to try the hard things, which we’re not good at. But it’s a win and in the cup that’s all that matters.”
In the only change from the victory over Cove Rangers on Friday, Locke handed a first start to striker Yaw Osei, while another recent recruit, defender Jean-Yves M’Voto, was fit enough for a place on the bench after missing the trip to Station Park.
Also among the substitutes was 20-year-old winger Scott Roberts, who signed on loan from Rangers on the morning of the match, although Joel Coustrain missed out through injury.
With temperatures still in the mid 20s at kick-off, Raith were quick to heat up and the first chance fell to Osei who broke through the heart of the Montrose defence but fired wide with just the ‘keeper to beat.
The opener arrived on 12 minutes when Jason Thomson fired a low ball to the back post where Bobby Barr knocked it back into the middle for Johnston to side-foot home from six yards.
Osei bursting between defenders with ease to create space in the box, but again he lacked composure as he screwed another shot wide. The youngster certainly has raw potential.
The one-way traffic continued and a piercing run from McHattie took the left back into a shooting position in the box but his effort struck the outside of the post.
Ross Callachan was looking eager to get on the ball, and his lovely reverse pass put Thomson beyond the full back on 35 minutes and the skipper picked out Osei in the middle.
The striker showed better composure this time, sending his shot on target, but it was straight at Jordan Millar who parried the ball to safety.
Montrose were grateful for the half-time whistle but Rovers continued to search for a second after the break and Barr had a glorious chance on 51 minutes when Vaughan played him in but the winger blasted wide of the near post.
A minute later, a superb double save from Millar denied Raith as first he got down to get a hand to Vaughan low effort, then got up quickly to save at the feet of Callachan.
It had been comfortable, maybe too comfortable for Raith but all that changed in 58 minutes as Montrose struck with their first effort on target.
Terry Masson’s corner was poorly defended as Bolochoweckyj sent a free header beyond Kevin Cuthbert from eight yards.
The goal changed the game as an assured Raith performance started to fall apart. Roberts and Mark Stewart were introduced from the bench but the chances completely dried up and decision-making crumbled.
In the end, Raith got lucky with the penalty, and another three points were secured to continue a satisfying if unspectacular start to Locke’s tenure.
There have been encouraging signs, but a stronger test awaits in Dingwall on Saturday.
FFP man of the match: Bobby Barr - The summer recruit from Morton deserved a goal - he was perpetual motion throughout the 90 minutes in a non-stop performance.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, McHattie, Callachan, Benedictus, Johnston (Stewart 62), Vaughan, Barr, Matthews, Davidson, Osei (Roberts 62). Not used: M’voto, Bates, Court, McKay.
Montrose: Millar, Hegarty, Steeves, Masson, Pascazio, Bolochoweckyj, McWalter (Lennie 77), Watson, Fraser, Templeman, Campbell (Webster 65). Not used: Ferguson, McLeod, Anderson, Harwood, Fleming.
Referee: Colin Steven