Raith Rovers 2 Hamilton 1
Raith Rovers produced a memorable League Cup performance at Stark’s Park on Tuesday night to dispose of high-flyers Hamilton.
The Premiership side came to Kirkcaldy in top form after two eye-catching results - a 4-0 rout at home to Dundee United followed by a 2-0 win in Inveress.
There was no doubting the size of the task facing Rovers, but the players rose to the challenge, showing true character and grit to claim a superb 2-1 victory, and a place in the last 16 of the competition.
There were stand-out performances throughout the Rovers side, starting with Kevin Cuthbert in goals, who excelled against his former club.
The back four were once again immense - even opposition boss Martin Canning picked out Lewis Toshney for praise - while in midfield and up front the Raith players simply ran themselves into the ground.
In the dug-out, manager Ray McKinnon also played his part with a match-winning double substitution timed to perfection.
Immediately after Accies 66th minute equaliser, which followed a period of sustained pressure on the Raith goal, McKinnon signalled for new signing Jon Daly and teenage striker Craig Wighton to get ready.
Two strikers replaced two midfielders in a bold attacking move that provided Rovers with the impetus to find the winner.
McKinnon certainly had his players fired up for kick-off as the hosts caught Accies cold with a red hot start that saw them take the lead inside three minutes.
Ryan McCord’s corner caused pinball in the Accies box, with the ball eventually falling for Iain Davidson to shoot home via a deflection.
A well-marshalled Raith defence, with midfielder Davidson providing effective protection, managed to frustrate the visitors for the rest of the half.
Hamilton upped the tempo after the break, and as Raith retreated further back the park, the visitors proceeded to lay siege to Cuthbert’s goal.
The home side had their ‘keeper to thank in the 53rd minute as he dived smartly to push away Ali Crawford’s deflected strike from 18 yards.
A corner kick then dropped into in the Raith six yard box and as Accies players converged, Cuthbert dived among the boots to emerge with the ball in his gloves.
Toshney typified the determination in the Raith ranks as he made a key block in the box, then sprinted into another meaty challenge to great applause from the home crowd.
On 65 minutes, Cuthbert made his best save of the night to keep out a Jesus Garcia Tena free-kick, tipping the ball over the bar at full stretch when the effort seemed destined for the top corner.
However, the reprieve was short-lived as Accies levelled from the corner kick. Garcia Tena sent a header towards goal and inevitably it was ex-Raith forward Christian Nade who got the slightest touch to deceive Cuthbert.
McKinnon’s reaction was instant, withdrawing Grant Anderson and Mitch Megginson for Daly and Wighton, and pushing three men up front. Accies still attacked, and Cuthbert had to make another excellent save to keep out Steven Boyd’s attempted lob after good hold up play from Nade.
But after a long period of defending, Raith now had an attacking threat of their own and in their first attempt of the second half, which came on 74 minutes, Ryan McCord forced McGovern into a brilliant diving save to keep out his 20-yard blast.
Daly’s physical presence gave Rovers a new dimension - at times he attracted the attention of both centre-halves - and Raith were now matching Accies in the push for a winner.
It came in the 80th minute winner as Wighton won his side a free-kick 30 yards from goal, and McCord’s sublime inswinging delivery just needed a glancing touch, which came from the head of Benedictus, and the ball nestled in the bottom corner.
Encouragingly, this was the sixth goal Raith have scored from a set piece already this season - a mark of the work being put in on the training ground, and the quality of delivery from McCord.
Raith had 10 minutes to hold on, and the defending became desperate at times, but Accies were unable to fashion another chance before the full-time whistle, which sparked great celebrations among the Raith players and fans.
With four wins from four at home this season, and a Premiership scalp now among them, it seems McKinnon is putting the spark back in Stark’s Park.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Toshney, Benedictus, McKeown, Anderson (Wighton 70), McCord, Davidson, Craigen, Stewart, Megginson (Daly 70). Not used: Laidlaw, Matthews, Bates, Mackie, Ellis.
Hamilton: McGovern, Gordon, Kurakins, Crawford, Kurtaj, Longridge (Imrie 45), Mackinnon, Docherty (Boyd 70), Garcia Tena, Nade, Tagliapietra. Not used: Martin, Canning, Morris, MacDonald, Watson.
Referee: Don Robertson