Linlithgow Rose 0 Raith Rovers 2
Raith Rovers survived an almighty Scottish Cup scare as they scraped past junior side Linlithgow Rose at Prestonfield.
The Championship side can consider themselves very fortunate to have avoided an embarrassing third round exit at the hands of the more impressive East Region Super League outfit.
Only a collection of excellent saves from Raith’s best player on the day - goalkeeper David McGurn - and some glaring misses from the hosts prevented Raith from being disgraced in a one-sided first half.
The second half continued to be uncomfortable for the visitors until a clumsy challenge from ex-East Fife full back Gary Thom on Mark Stewart gifted Rovers a penalty, which Ryan Conroy converted to great relief.
Only then, with 20 minutes left and home legs tiring, did Raith begin to take some measure of control on proceedings, although at no point was the supposed gulf between the two leagues apparent.
Raith manager Grant Murray made changes to the side that fell short at home to Alloa the previous week with fit-again Calum Elliot preferred to Barrie McKay while Ryan Conroy returned at Kevin Moon’s expense.
The match attracted a healthy 2250 crowd to Prestonfield - a great wee ground that would put some senior venues to shame - while the pitch was in excellent condition, so no excuses there.
Linlithgow, on a 12-game unbeaten run in the juniors, set the tone by registering the game’s first effort on target after just 35 seconds as ex-Dunfermline youth Calum Smith jinked past Rory McKeown into the box but his shot was straight at McGurn.
Rose should have taken the lead on six minutes when skilful winger Roddy McLennan found space at the edge of the area but he dragged his shot inches wide.
The closest Raith came in the first half was on the 10-minute mark as Jason Thomson’s fierce cross-come-shot almost caught out home ‘keeper Michael McKinven as it zoomed across goal.
Frustratingly, Rovers appeared to be persisting with the long diagonal ball that proved so ineffective against Alloa the previous week, and they failed to create another chance of note before the break.
The malaise in the Raith team was exposed in the 16th minute as the dangerous Smith picked up possession in his own half, then embarked on a driving 60-yard run, straight through the heart of the Raith midfield, before bringing out a superb diving save from McGurn with a low drive from the edge of the box as defenders backed off.
Any thoughts that this would be an easy game for Raith had already been blown apart - and things only got more difficult as they struggled to deal with Linlithgow’s pacy and purposeful attacks.
McGurn made another great save on the 21-minute mark. Colin Strickland’s free-kick looked in all the way until the Raith ‘keeper threw himself to his left to push it behind.
It was McGurn to the rescue again on the half hour as Rose forward Strickland found space at the edge of the box but the busy Raith ‘keeper held his low drive. He may have only been playing his second game in a year, but McGurn already looks back to his best.
Linlithgow’s best chance of the game arrived on the stroke of half-time and it fell to ex-Raith youth Blair Batchelor.
Smith’s cut-back found the pint-sized midfielder eight yards out and with just McGurn to beat he somehow put his effort wide.
There ought to have been paint stripped from the walls of the away dressing room at half-time, but Rose started the second half as they finished the first as Tommy Coyne twisted and turned past Jason Thomson before forcing McGurn into another save, albeit a comfortable one on this occasion.
Rovers were coming under pressure but the game changed in the 68th minute as Stewart’s burst of pace took him past Thom into the box and the defender’s desperate lunge was penalised by referee John McKendrick.
It was a get out of jail card for Raith, and Conroy’s spot-kick was expertly finished.
The goal seemed to dent the home side’s spirit but they managed to miss one more gilt-edged chance with 15 minutes left as Smith took a great touch in the box to control a high ball only to slice his effort wide.
It would be a tale of what ifs for the home side.
That would be the last glimpse of goal Linlithgow would have, and Raith made sure of their passage into round four in the 86th minute as sub Lewis Vaughan’s corner was powered home by the head of defender Paul Watson.
All the plaudits went to Linlithgow, but while there was plenty faults to pick, it was mission accomplished for Raith.
Linlithgow Rose: McKinven, Thom (Kelbie 85), O’Byrne, Ovenstone, McKillen, Smith, Batchelor, MacLennan, Nelson (Shirra 88), Coyne, Strickland. Not used: Kelly, Tyrrell, MacLennan, McGown, Christie.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Watson, Perry, McKeown, Anderson, Fox, Scott, Conroy (Moon 78), Stewart (Vaughan 73), Elliot. Not used: Hill, Callachan, McKay, Matthews, Laidlaw.