Raith Rovers' spot-on performance sees off Falkirk in Challenge Cup

Regan Hendry strokes home his second penalty in the 2-0 win over Falkirk. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Regan Hendry strokes home his second penalty in the 2-0 win over Falkirk. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers 2 Falkirk 0

Raith Rovers put their derby defeat behind them to record a thoroughly deserved victory over Falkirk in the Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Cup.

Two penalty kicks from man of the match Regan Hendry proved the difference on the scoreboard, but there were positives all over the park for the Kirkcaldy side as they got the better of one of their main rivals for promotion this season.

The Challenge Cup may be a secondary priority behind the league, but make no mistake, it was a game both sides wanted to win on the back of disappointing results, and Raith can take great encouragement from their performance.

Every player upped their game from Bayview the previous week but the most notable Rovers improvement was in their own penalty box where the team were more committed, more aggressive, more switched on - everything John McGlynn asked for.

Whether it was set pieces or open play, the defence were first to almost every ball, with Kyle Benedictus producing the type of captain's performance the fans have been crying out for.

Iain Davidson was equally solid until being forced off with a tight hamstring in the 52nd minute, giving a chance for Friday's loan signing from St Johnstone, Steven Anderson, to make his debut from the bench.

The 33-year-old centre-half looked every bit as composed and commanding as you would expect of a Premiership veteran of six consecutive top six campaigns and five seasons in Europe, and could prove to be the most important signing Rovers have made this season.

Perhaps the biggest highlight of the afternoon also came from the bench in the shape of the return of Lewis Vaughan, whose impact in the final 20 minutes in his first appearance after seven and a half months out injured was remarkable, with only the width of the crossbar preventing a spectacular comeback goal.

Falkirk missed a late penalty of their own, which avoided a nervy ending, but a strong Rovers performance was deserving of their clean sheet and their place in the next round.

Raith's starting 11 contained three changes from Bayview with goalkeeper Ross Munro getting his first start since the Betfred Cup while Grant Anderson and 17-year-old midfielder Dylan Tait were promoted from the bench, with the teenager hugely impressing in only his second senior start.

The strength of Falkirk's squad was reflected in the seven changes made, leaving the likes of Aidan Connolly, Michael Tidser and Conor Sammon on the bench, and the visitors started brightest with Denny Johnstone sending a free header over the bar on seven minutes.

But Raith worked hard to get a foothold in the game and they took the lead on 17 mintues when Gary Miller's clumsy barge on namesake Michael Miller in the box as the pair challenged for a header saw referee Greg Aitken point to the penalty spot.

Hendry stepped up and sent his effort low in the corner of the net, with the power and accuracy beating Robbie Mutch despite the Falkirk 'keeper guessing the right way.

Mutch was forced into a point-blank save from a Miller header as Rovers threatened to extend their lead, while Falkirk went close with a Johnstone diving header that brushed the side-netting on its way past the near post.

The game had been evenly contested in the first half, but Raith took control after the break, helped by the award of a second penalty just four minutes after the restart.

Tait's eagerness to get into the box saw him race past Ian McShane, whose hip-check knocked the midfielder to the ground, resulting in another spot kick, which Hendry again converted expertly to double Rovers lead.

Kieron Bowie went close to making it three, doing well to find space in a crowded penalty box before smashing an effort against the post, with Lewis Allan denied on the rebound by a desperate goal-mouth block.

No sooner had Vaughan came off the bench to rapturous applause then Bowie was forced to leave the field after appearing to twist his ankle making a block in midfield, and the teenager was seen making his way down the touchline on crutches.

Falkirk's attempts to recover the deficit were blunt at best, and restricted to long range efforts, which Munro handled well, while at the other end, Vaughan came agonisingly close with a stunning 25-yard free-kick that cannoned off the crossbar.

Vaughan's eagerness to get involved saw him concede an 83rd minute penalty for a foul on Charlie Telfer, who raced to retrieve the ball to ensure he could take the kick himself, only to loft it onto the crossbar to the delight of the home fans.

Rovers were comfortable thereafter, with the ability of both Hendry and Brad Spencer to keep the ball, and draw fouls, a feature of the closing stages. Game management at its best from the midfield duo.

Not even East Fife displacing them at the top of League One with a win in Forfar could take the shine off Rovers' day

Replicating this level of performance in the league consistently will go a long way towards reclaiming first place.