Mixed emotions for Raith after thrilling Tynecastle replay

Raith players celebrate Bobby Barr's opener. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Raith players celebrate Bobby Barr's opener. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Hearts 4 Raith Rovers 2 (aet)

Raith Rovers produced a performance to be proud of last night as Premiership high-flyers Hearts required extra-time, and two penalty awards, to make it through to the last 16 of the Scottish Cup.

The Kirkcaldy side pushed Hearts right to the wire in a cracking cup tie under the Tynecastle floodlights, but left feeling aggrieved at the decisions which went against them as the hosts booked an Edinburgh derby against Hibs in the next round.

After awarding two penalties that allowed Hearts to go 2-1, and then 3-2 ahead in a frantic first period of extra-time, referee John Beaton also sent manager Gary Locke to the stand as tempers flared in the away dugout.

Locke's emotions afterwards were a mixture of pride, disappointment and frustration but the Rovers boss can take huge encouragement from the display, as well as the outstanding backing received from a 1000-strong Raith support.

"It's very tough to take," he said. "I felt we gave a great account of ourselves and I'm disappointed for the players because the effort and quality they showed in the game deserved more than what they got.

"I'm not going to comment on the penalties. I'll have to see them again, but they looked soft from where I was.

"Getting it back to 2-2 you could sense the nervousness in the stands so the timing of the penalties was disappointing.

"To run a team like Hearts so close over two games, we now need to make sure we take that into the league.

"We've had a wee blip of late, but if we play like that we'll get our season back on track."

No doubt encouraged by their second half display in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Stark's Park, Raith opted for a bold change in formation, switching to two up front with the man whose goal earned the replay, Declan McManus, replacing Chris Johnston in the starting line-up.

It meant Ross Matthews moved back into the right midfield slot he occupied to good effect earlier in the season, as Raith went 4-4-2.

And the Kirkcaldy side, backed by a large and loud away support, simply picked straight up where they left off three days earlier with an aggressive, attack-minded start that had the Premiership side rocking.

McManus set the tone in the third minute when he bulldozed right back Lennard Sowah out of the way to win a corner. Kyle Benedictus got his header to Jordan Thompson's delivery but the effort was straight at Jack Hamilton.

A minute later, McManus was running at the Hearts defence again, latching onto Ross Callachan's through ball before fizzing a low shot that Jack Hamilton could only parry, before the Hearts defence scrambled clear.

It had been a brilliant first five minutes from Rovers which had the away fans roaring, and they were out of their seats celebrating a deserved opening goal on 14 minutes.

Bobby Barr drifted in from the wing to pick up a loose ball in midfield and drive at the heart of the home defence. His 40-yard run took him to within shooting distance and after initally faking a shot, he let fly from 25 yards and his effort took a slight deflection to leave Hamilton with no chance.

Hearts fans were stunned into a silence, except for when jeering misplaced passes as their players seemed unable to cope with Rovers' relentless pressing.

The hosts' best - and only - threat in the opening half hour came from Jamie Walker who saw a 20 yard effort deflected over the bar just before Barr's opener, while he also sent a snapshot wide from similar distance after a smart turn past Iain Davidson.

As Raith's high energy start tailed off, Hearts began to enjoy some possession, with Kevin Cuthbert called into action for the first time in the 32nd minute, making an excellent finger-tip save to push a 20-yard effort from Andraz Struna away from the top corner.

Disappointingly, and for the second game running, Hearts' first goal came as a result of a mistake in the Rovers midfield.

The inexperience of 20-year-old midfielder Jordan Thompson showed as he was caught in possession in a vulnerable position, allowing Hearts to break and after a surging run, Bjorn Johnson played in Rory Currie who fired past Cuthbert.

Now it was Raith's turn to be on the ropes as Hearts, buoyed by their equaliser, flooded forward and the visiting defence had to make a few last ditch blocks to reach half-time without receiving further damage.

As half-time approached though, Kevin McHattie almost almost caught out Hamilton with a half volleyed cross from left wing that flew over the reach of the concerned Hearts 'keeper and landed on the roof of net. A foot lower and it would have gone straight in.

After a much-needed half-time breather - Raith had put in an incredible first half shift - the visitors made the first incisive move of the second half as Mark Stewart's brilliant control, turn and shot from 18 yards took a slight nick off a defender and flew past the near post.

Hearts were more dominant in possession than they had been before the interval, but Rovers were threatening on the break and a great chance was spurned before the hour as Matthews sent a cross into stand with forwards unmarked in the middle.

The impatience of the home fans was growing but there was panic for Cuthbert as Struna's long range effort looped off the head of Benedictus and had the Rovers 'keeper scrambling back but the ball landed on the roof of his net.

The excitement factor failed to diminish as the game entered the final 20 minutes of the 90, with glorious chances falling to both sides.

Raith's best chance fell to Stewart, who took a poor touch when picked out unmarked in the heart of the penalty box by Barr, allowing Hamilton to gather, while at the other end, sub Sam Nicholson headed Malaury Martin's free-kick against the top of the bar when it looked easier to score.

The Fifers also survived an almighty scramble in their six yard Raith box as McHattie sliced a clearance straight into air and a combination of desperate defending and goalkeeping on the line somehow prevented Hearts from forcing it over the line.

Rovers were gifted another huge chance as Lennard Sowah inexplicable sent his throw-in straight to sub Ryan Hardie on the edge of the Hearts box, but the striker takes too long to size up his shooting options allowing defender Aaron Hughes to make a block.

The 90 minutes ended with Hearts on the attack and Cuthbert had to be at full stretch to push away Johnson's header before the same player fired a shot across goal that kissed the far post on its way behind.

There were few complaints as an enthralling match went to extra-time, but with exhaustion setting in among the Rovers players, tackles which had been won during the game, were now turning into fouls.

In the first minute of extra time, Walker sneaked in behind the defence and as Benedictus raced across to block, sub Jason Thomson gave him the winger a barge in the back to send him crashing down and Beaton pointed to the spot.

Martin stepped up to send Cuthbert the wrong way and most inside the stadium would have suspected that there would be no way back for Rovers - wrong.

The team had shown its character in the first leg at Stark's and it was on display again as Hardie pounced on loose control from Hearts defender John Souttar to Stewart in behind, before joining him in the box to fire home the cut back to spark delirium among the away fans.

It was now anybody's match, but again the momentum swung back to Hearts via the referee's whistle as Beaton again pointed to the spot, this time for a more contentious penalty award, as Walker appeared to collide with Benedictus in the box.

The decision went against the Raith defender, and Walker dusted himself down to fire past Cuthbert, who got hands to the effort and was unlucky to see it nestle in the far corner.

Raith certainly weren't for giving up, and in the second period of extra-time the signal came for M'voto to move up the park, but before he could even get past halfway, Hearts broke and after sub Connor Sammon's shot was saved, Johnson tapped in the rebound to finally kill off the tie.

It was a harsh scoreline on Raith who despite conceding four had defending superbly throughout, with M'voto an absolute colossus, while the work-rate of the likes of Stewart, McManus, Barr and Callachan caused Hearts no end of problems.

If Locke can get his side to play with the same passion, energy and skill in the remaining league games, the season will have plenty life left in it.

Hearts (4-4-2): Hamilton; Struna (Smith 91), Souttar, Hughes, Sowah; Buaben (Nicholson 46) (Sammon 106), Kitchen, Martin, Walker; Johnsen, Currie (Zanatta 98). Unused subs: Noring, Oshaniwa, Beith.

Raith (4-4-2): Cuthbert; Davidson (Thomson 70), M’Voto, Benedictus, McHattie; Matthews, Callachan, Thompson (Hardie 78), B Barr (Johnston 98); McManus (Skacel 99), Stewart. Unused subs: Brennan, Roberts, C Barr.

Referee: J Beaton.

Attendance: 10,740