Cup defeat in Peterhead completes miserable week for Raith

Liam Buchanan sees his close range shot blocked. Pic: Duncan Brown
Liam Buchanan sees his close range shot blocked. Pic: Duncan Brown

Peterhead 3 Raith Rovers 0

An injury-ravaged Raith Rovers were dumped out of the Scottish Cup by lower league opposition to complete a miserable week for the Kirkcaldy club.

Peterhead thoroughly deserved their victory - and the margin of it - against a Raith side missing five first team regulars at a wind-swept Balmoor Stadium.

While not an excuse - the team that started still should have given Peterhead a closer game - it was certainly a factor as the Fifers crashed to a third defeat in seven days.

Most clubs at this level would struggle without half of their first choice XI, and Raith's small squad is particularly vulnerable to such a situation.

They were only able to name three outfield subs - all of them from Craig Easton's development side - while two started.

But the biggest determinant in the outcome of this tie was appetite, and in tough conditions that required gritted teeth, the home side showed much more of it.

The lack of natural width in the system was also a hindrance but with the players available, the manager's hands were somewhat tied.

Barry Smith admitted that absences had been a concern going into the match, but acknowledged that the performance was still not good enough.

"It's been a horrible week but we'll learn from it and get better," he said. "We went into this game minus four or five regular first team players.

"When you've got such a small squad you can't afford to have that amount of players injured, and it does weaken the team.

"I feel sorry for the young boys, Dave McKay and Jamie Watson. They might not be quite ready for the rigours of first team football but we're having to put them in because that's the position we're in.

"It was very depleted, but we still expect better. We still feel we should have enough experience in there with the guys who are playing to win the games.

"But take nothing away from Peterhead - they were very good and used the conditions better than we did."

Much of the spine of this Raith team - centre-halves Kyle Benedictus and Iain Davidson, left back Kevin McHattie, top scorer Lewis Vaughan and winger Bobby Barr - were all injured and reduced to the role of spectator.

A re-jigged rearguard saw teenagers McKay and Watson brought into the right-side of the back four, reducing the average age of the defence considerably, while former captain Jason Thomson shuffled over from right back to left back.

The midfield and attacking options were also curtailed, with striker Jonny Court brought in for his first start of the season, although the rest of the starting line-up could be considered first team regulars, with experience provided by Scott Robertson and Liam Buchanan.

The first half was a test of endurance for players and spectators alike as an icy cold wind blasted across Balmoor.

With the strong gusts favouring Peterhead attacks, Raith struggled to get out of their own half at times, not helped by their failure to pass the ball to a team mate, but a determined defensive effort ensured they made it to half-time without conceding a goal.

The closest Peterhead came was from a series of corner kicks that had the away defence scrambling to clear its lines, while at the other end, Rovers only managed one or two attacks without testing the home goalkeeper.

Typically, the wind seemed calmer for the second half, so Peterhead did not have the same difficulty crossing the halfway line, but to blame the elements would be to ignore the fact that the full-time team from the division above ought to have got stronger as the game wore on, not weaker.

Raith should taken the lead just minutes after the restart when they created the chance of the game up to that point.

Buchanan got goal side of his marker, but couldn't sort his feet quickly enough and his shot from close range was blocked. The rebound fell kindly to Court but goalkeeper Greg Fleming made a superb point-blank stop, and when Greig Spence followed up with a third attempt, a defender was on hand to head the ball off the line.

That was a pivotal moment in the tie, and when Peterhead opened the scoring on 56 minutes, just as they did on Tuesday night in Ayr, Raith heads dropped.

The wind had made crosses difficult to read all game and perhaps that was why Graeme Smith decided to stay on his line as Jamie Stevenson's ball floated across his six yard line for Jordon Brown to easily out-jump Watson at the back post and nod home.

Raith's reaction to losing a soft goal reflected the current fragility in the side as they conceded another almost immediately.

Euan Murray was caught ball-watching as Rory McAllister ghosted in behind him to latch onto a ball over the top and volley past Smith.

With half an hour left there was still some slender hope of salvaging the tie, but Raith never looked like they had a comeback in them, and they exited the cup with a whimper.

Worse still, they conceded a third with four minutes left as John Herron's woeful corner kick was easily cleared and led to a counter attack that finished with McAllister running the length of the park and firing high into the net for Peterhead's third.

In the end, Raith were relieved to hear the full-time whistle in order to avoid the ignominy of conceding a fourth, so dominant were the home side in the closing stages.

With the long journey and freezing weather compounded by their team's performance, this was a nightmare trip for the Rovers fans, with those who also travelled to Dumbarton and Ayr well within their right to feel angry and short-changed.

A week is a long time in football and from a position of positivity, Raith's season has derailed somewhat in the last seven days. Fortunately, most of the damage has been done in the cups in a campaign where promotion remains the priority.

To castigate the manager and players for one bad week would be wrong, particularly given the injury situation, but things have got to turn around quickly.

A positive reaction at home to Queen's Park next Saturday will get things back on track.

Peterhead: Fleming, Brown, McIlduff, Robertson, McCracken, Leitch, Stevenson (Smith 82), Ferry (Brown 31), McAllister (Cairney 88), McLean, Gibson. Not used: Dikobo, Norris, Hobday.

Raith Rovers: Smith, Thomson, Watson, McKay, Murray, Robertson, Matthews, Herron, Spence (Osei 70), Buchanan, Court. Not used: Lennox, Berry, Stevenson.

Referee: Matt Northcroft

Attendance: 671