Raith Rovers see off Glenavon to reach Challenge Cup quarter-finals

Kieron Bowie celebrates his opener with team mate Dan Armstrong. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Kieron Bowie celebrates his opener with team mate Dan Armstrong. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 3 Glenavon 1

Raith Rovers are through to the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup for the second time in two years after seeing off Northern Irish side Glenavon.

Goals from Kieron Bowie and Dan Armstrong, either side of a Rhys Marshall equaliser against the run of play, resulted in a deserved half-time lead for the hosts following a dominant 45 minutes against the side currently placed ninth in the NIFL Premiership.

The second half proved far less comfortable for the Scottish League One leaders, with Glenavon giving a much better account of themselves, and passing up the best chance to score, before a controversial clincher from Rovers substitute Lewis Allan ended any doubts in stoppage time.

The victory, however, may have come at a cost as Grant Anderson was substituted with a collarbone/shoulder injury in the 60th minute and taken to the hospital for an x-ray to determine the extent of the damage.

The break from league duties gave Rovers boss John McGlynn the chance to make four changes to his starting line-up with John Baird and Armstrong both making their first starts since returning to the club, while Bowie also returned to the 11 after a spell on the bench, with Ross Munro replacing David McGurn in goals.

For the first time this season, there was also a place in the squad for attacker Tony Dingwall, who made his belated comeback from ankle surgery after his initial September return date was delayed due to a setback.

There was a degree of uncertainty about the standard of opposition, but in the early stages it seemed as though Glenavon were only capable of making up the numbers as the game was completely bossed by the home side.

The visitors may have been low on confidence having conceded 13 times in their previous two fixtures, while Rovers, on the back of a five-game unbeaten run, were spraying the ball around for fun, and had already racked up seven corners and several dangerous attacks before opening the scoring in the 15th minute.

Michael Miller fed the ball down the right channel for Bowie to chase, and the youngster showed tremendous poise to cut into the box, leaving a defender trailing in his wake, before slotting the ball beyond Johnny Tuffey into the far corner.

One of the statisticians in the press box observed that Rovers had enjoyed 80% possession in that opening spell - even that was being kind to the visitors - and McGlynn's men continued to dominate with Bowie running the away defence ragged.

He started and almost finished a move on 19 minutes as he exchanged passes with Kieran MacDonald but his shot lacked the power to beat Tuffey.

Then in the 24th minute, and completely out of nothing, Glenavon equalised.

Kyle Beggs run into the box appeared to have been snuffed out by MacDonald, but the left back's touch took the ball past outrushing goalkeeper Munro, and as the two team mates collided, Marshall was left with the simple task of finding the empty net.

The goal gave the visitors a lift and just a few minutes later, a determined run from Beggs, helped by a slip from MacDonald, took him from the touchline into a shooting position in the box but he blazed the chance over the bar.

Rovers recovered their composure and should have regained the lead in the 31st minute with Bowie firing Anderson's cross wide from six yards when it looked easier to score.

That sitter was quickly forgotten as, just a minute later, Armstrong made it two in two games since rejoining the club with a well-taken goal, chesting down a ball over the top from MacDonald, before jinking his way past the last defender and toe-poking beyond Tuffey.

Bowie continued to torment the Glenavon centre-halves, turning his man to race clear on the angle but this time Tuffey denied him at the near post.

Rovers should have been out of sight at this point but they needed Munro heroics to preserve their lead at the break with an athletic one-handed save brilliantly denying a powerful downward header from Patrick Burns.

The second half was a less enjoyable watch for the home fans as their team toiled to recreate the free-flowing football of the first against a side who became increasingly physical in their attempts to rescue the tie.

Dingwall replaced the injured Anderson on the hour mark, clattered after the whistle had blown for an offside, and just a minute later Baird pounced on an Armstrong ball over the top to have a shot on goal that Tuffey did well to hold down low to his left.

Glenavon went close two minutes later with stand-in captain Iain Davidson well placed to clear an Andrew Doyle header off the line from a corner kick.

Rovers hit the woodwork in the 66th minute as Steven Anderson went up for a corner, and redirected a Baird effort onto the post with a flick of his heel, with Allan replacing Baird just moments later.

The visitors should have levelled with 20 minutes remaining when Regan Hendry was uncharacteristically caught in possession, allowing a two-on-one break that ended with Andrew Mitchell clear on goal only to fire over the bar.

Glenavon had blown their big chance, but the result was still in doubt until a bizarre third goal for Raith in the fifth minute of added time.

Bowie was flagged offside, only for Welsh referee Bryn Markham Jones to overrule his assistant and wave play on.

The teenager reacted quickly, sprinting through the motionless Glenavon defence before squaring to Allan for a simple tap-in, resulting in a somewhat confused celebration among the home fans, and an irate response from the visitors, who had player-manager Gary Hamilton booked for his protests.

It mattered little in the end, with the final whistle sounding straight after the restart, but credit to Bowie, who paid heed to the old adage that you always play to the whistle.

The Challenge Cup may be a diminished competition in some eyes, but having reached the last eight, Rovers will now have one eye on the trophy they previously won in 2014.

The draw takes place on Wednesday, but more importantly, momentum has been maintained for the league campaign, which resumes at Clyde next week.

Any cup run is a bonus, but staying top of the table will be Rovers sole focus in the weeks ahead.