Stirling Albion 0 Raith Rovers 2
Raith Rovers made it through to the last 16 of the Scottish Cup on Saturday after side-stepping another potential banana skin.
Stirling Albion may be cut adrift at the bottom of League One but they proved a more difficult opponent than their league position suggested.
And while this was nowhere near the kind of heavy weather Raith made of the previous round in Linlithgow, it still wasn’t as comfortable for the Championship side as the scoreline suggests.
Defences were most certainly not on top in an open and entertaining cup tie that could have played out in so many different ways.
Stirling boss Stuart McLaren felt his side warranted a replay while Grant Murray felt Raith could’ve won by more. Strangely, both were right!
There were many factors that got Raith through this tricky tie - their defending wasn’t one of them.
The hosts had more than enough chances to cause an upset but poor finishing and superb goalkeeping from David McGurn put paid to that.
For every defensive mistake at one end, there was one to match it at the other, and Raith had plenty opportunities themselves.
The difference in the end was in the quality of the finishing, although it took two quality strikes from outside the box to seal Rovers’ passage.
Raith made two changes following the disappointing league defeat in Dumfries with Mark Stewart promoted from the bench at the expense of Calum Elliot.
Liam Fox also missed out with a rib injury meaning a recall for Martin Scott in midfield as Raith lined up in a traditional 4-4-2.
An unchanged defence picked up where it left off at Palmerston last week, leaving former Rovers striker Gordon Smith free inside the six yard box inside two minutes, but he somehow headed wide when it looked easier to score.
That set the tone for the tie as chances came thick and fast at both ends, with Stirling arguably having the better ones.
McGurn pulled off stunning saves to keep out two goal-bound efforts from Angus Beith and Phil Johnston while Steven Doris volleyed over the bar with just the ‘keeper to beat.
Raith’s defending was less than convincing, but at the other end, Barrie McKay was almost single-handedly destroying the Albion back four.
He forced Callum Reidford into an excellent early save at his near post after turning the Stirling right back inside-out.
Another dazzling run set up chance for Mark Stewart but Reidford was quickly off his line to make another impressive save.
McKay switched wings with Grant Anderson but his threat remained and he got the goal his play deserved in final minute of the half.
Christian Nade’s presence created the space for the winger to pick up the ball 20 yards from goal and shoot low into the bottom corner.
Raith needed captain Jason Thomson to produce a goal-saving block early in the second half, before Anderson struck the killer second blow.
McKay’s corner wasn’t cleared and Ross Perry laid the ball off for the winger to thump a stunning volley high past Reidford from just outside the area.
A goal of the round contender for sure with Anderson showing great technique on his supposed weaker left foot.
Stirling refused to throw in the towel and it was McGurn to Rovers’ rescue again on 56 minutes as he brilliantly denied Sandy Cunningham in a one-on-one.
The ease with which the Stirling winger was able to drive straight through the heart of the Raith defence was alarming and only put weight behind the arguement that fit-again Dougie Hill is now overdue a recall.
Anderson should have made it 3-0 on 66 minutes but took a touch too much when presented with time and space at the back post and was crowded out.
Ex-Raith forward Smith then wasted another two glaring opportunities to prove a point to the club that released him in the summer.
His wasteful finishing though - side-footing wide from 16 yards and blazing over from even closer - ensured Murray would not end up regretting his decision to let the striker go.
The match ended with a bit of a flare-up between the aforementioned Smith and Martin Scott after the Albion forward had made a crude challenge on the Rovers midfielder.
Already on a booking, Scott reacted angrily, going head-to-head with his opponent, and only leniency from referee Greg Aitken spared him from a second caution, before Murray quickly replaced him.
Overall though, this was a satisfactory result and a more pleasing on the eye performance than Raith have produced for some weeks, although a fortunate clean sheet. The standard of defending will need to improve in order for Raith to build on this display.
Stirling Albion: Reidford, Hamilton, McGeachie, C.Smith, Forsyth (Creaney 82), Johnston, McClune (Fulton 57), Beith, Cunningham (Comrie 68), Doris, G.Smith. Not used: Munn, D.Smith, Paterson, Wedderburn.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Watson, McKeown, Perry, Anderson (Conroy 79), Moon, McKay, Scott (Callachan 90), Nade, Stewart. Not used: Hill, Elliot, Vaughan, Matthews, Laidlaw.
Referee: Greig Aitken