Locke off to a winning start as Raith come from behind to avoid cup upset
Cove Rangers 1 Raith Rovers 2
Raith Rovers came from behind to avoid a Betfred Cup upset in Gary Locke’s first competitve match in charge with a hard fought 2-1 victory over Cove Rangers.
A shock was on the cards when the Highland League champions took the lead on the half hour through personal trainer Ryan Stott, however Raith were quick to respond through a Kyle Benedictus header, before Lewis Vaughan pounced to seal the three points after the break.
It may have been closer than anticipated, but it was still a decent win for the Championship side against a capable Cove side, who were competitive throughout and more than justified their place in the revamped competition.
Rovers showed good passing and movement in spells but there were also periods of frustration, however Locke was simply relieved to avoid a potential banana skin in his opening game.
“You just need to look at the Celtic result - there’s no easy games,” he said.
“People expect us to come here and win six or seven nil but that’s not the way football works.
“Cove showed that they have a bit of quality. They have a bit of money behind them and have got some good players, so we’re delighted with the result.
“When we went a goal behind we showed good character to come back, and I felt we controlled the majority of the game.
“Still, you can see it’s early in preseason and boys have still got a wee bit to go.
“The most important thing was to win the game and come through it injury-free.”
Raith were unable to call upon new recruit Jean-Yves Mvoto, the big defender having picked up an ankle knock in training, while fellow centre-back Craig Barr also missed out with a groin problem.
It meant Iain Davidson moved back from midfield into defence, with youngster Ross Matthews taking his place in the middle of the park.
Having gained international clearance less than an hour before kick-off, new forward signings Joel Coustrain and Yaw Osei were named on the bench.
Both were given a late run out and while still raw in terms of age and experience, they appear to have the pace and sharpness required to test opposition defences.
Another potential new arrival, Hearts legend Rudi Skacel, watched from the stand wearing a Raith tracksuit.
With Cove still awaiting completion of their new ground, the match was switched to Station Park in Forfar, where Raith recently lost a friendly 2-0 to the hosts.
The Kirkcaldy side were still in preseason mode in the opening exchanges and they were often forced to play backwards by Cove’s determined closing down in midfield.
Despite their pedestrian start, the Championship side did have glimpses of goal.
On five minutes centre-back Davidson met Jason Thomson’s cross at the back post but saw a fierce first-time volley deflected wide, then on 13 minutes Vaughan hit the by-line and picked out Thomson but the skipper got the ball stuck between his feet.
With former Raith striker Mitch Megginson recently signed on a three-year deal, Cove certainly had a threat up front but it was strike partner Stott who produced the Aberdeenshire side’s first effort on goal on 19 minutes with a powerful drive from the edge of the area that whistled wide.
It was a warning Raith failed to heed as Cove took the lead on 31 minutes.
Tricky footwork from Connor Scully saw right back Thomson turned inside-out before the winger teed up Stott to smash a half-volley past Kevin Cuthbert from the centre of the box.
Cove were only able to enjoy the novelty of leading a Championship outfit for four minutes as Raith quickly pulled themselves out of a hole.
Bobby Barr burst to the by-line to win a corner, which Kevin McHattie took, and his pinpoint delivery was met by Benedictus who bulleted home a brilliant header from six yards.
Raith blew a chance to go into half-time in front as Chris Johnston cut inside from the right wing and put the ball on a plate for the inrushing Matthews who fired over from six yards.
Ten minutes into the second half, Vaughan was presented with a similar chance and he made no mistake, firing Thomson’s cut back beyond Stuart McKenzie via the underside of the bar to give the Kirkcaldy side the lead.
To their credit, Cove kept fighting their corner and had a big chance gifted to them on 70 minutes.
A casual touch from Ross Callachan presented Jonathan Smith with a clear run on goal, but with options to either pass or shoot, the striker dithered and saw a tame effort blocked by Thomson.
Coustrain and Owei were introduced from the bench and injected some life into the attack, and Raith almost put the game to bed in the 77th minute but a determined piece of defending from Cove ensured Callachan’s goal bound 18-yard effort was deflected over the bar.
Vaughan went even closer three minutes later with a superb curling effort from the corner of the box that bounced back off the junction between post and bar.
The 20-year-old striker is already showing impressive form and will only get better as he continues his comeback from a season-long injury.
Cove belied their non-league status in the closing stages as they pushed Raith hard in search of an equaliser, Smith going closest with a 22-yard drive that had dipped just over the bar.
All in all, with the squad still a little light in terms of numbers and experience, Locke can be pleased with his first official match in charge.
Cove Rangers: McKenzie, Redford, Lawrie (Donaldson 81), Yule, Walker, Kelly, Scully (Park 67), Burnett, Megginson, Smith, Stott (Milne 76). Not used: Watson, Duff, Donaldson, McCulloch, McCafferty.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, McHattie, Davidson, Benedictus, Matthews, Johnston (Coustrain 71), Callachan, Stewart (Osei 71), Vaughan, B.Barr. Not used: Bates, McKay, Berry, Lennox.
Referee: Graham Beaton.