Inverness CT 1 Raith Rovers 0
After the overwhelming disappointment of Saturday’s cancellation, Tuesday night’s rescheduled Scottish Cup quarter-final in the Highlands proved to be almost as much of an anti-climax.
After the wasted journeys of the weekend, Raith Rovers travelled back to Inverness with dreams of reaching a Hampden semi-final, but those dreams never looked like becoming reality in a one-sided cup tie.
The result was certainly no disgrace against an ICT side sitting third in the Premiership and challenging for Europe, but this was not quite the spirited performance the Fifers would have hoped for.
While Rovers battled hard and defended bravely - centre-halves Paul Watson and Craig Barr were immense - they never really managed to give it a proper go in a mostly backs-to-the-wall display.
Whether the performance - or indeed the outcome - may have been different with the backing of 750 away fans on Saturday, as opposed to the 150 hardy souls who travelled on a bitterly cold Tuesday night, we’ll never know.
The gulf between the sides would suggest perhaps not.
Christian Nade returned to the Rovers attack after serving a suspension in the 2-0 win over Livingston, which meant an unfortunate return to the bench for Lewis Vaughan.
Nade’s hold-up skills were perhaps preferred for a game of this nature, but like the rest of his team mates, the Frenchman spent most of the match behind the ball as Inverness dominated possession, with Raith’s game plan of containing and counter-attacking only half working as they defended their goal in numbers without being able to break out.
Edward Ofere was a real handful in the air - the Nigerian is tall with his feet planted but a colossus when leaping - and he came close with a 15th minute header that was deflected wide.
From the corner came Raith’s only real breakaway of the first half as Mark Stewart led the charge down the left and his fantastic low cross was just reached by the defender ahead of the inrushing Rory McKeown.
Normal service was quickly resumed though and Ofere was inches wide with another athletic leap and header, while David Raven scooped the ball high over the bar when unmarked at the back post.
The hosts passed up a glorious chance just before the interval as, ironically, they hit Raith on the break after the visitors pushed bodies forward to attack a free-kick.
The ball was cleared, and with Raith caught short, Graeme Shinnie burst through on goal but David McGurn saved with his legs before the ball rebounded off Watson and landed just wide of the gaping net.
From the corner, the ball was cleared as far as Ryan Christie who rattled the crossbar with a stunning 30-yard effort.
Raith were lucky to be level at the break and their good fortune continued early in the second half as Marley Watkins somehow managed to hook the ball over the bar from two yards out. An incredible miss.
Rovers showed a little more attacking intent, winning a corner that was greeted with a roar from the away end. Grant Anderson flicked McKay’s delivery towards goal but it was cleared by the defender on the post.
But after over an hour of staunch defending, and more than a little luck, Raith’s resistance was finally broken in the 63rd minute and, most disappointingly, it came from a corner kick as Anderson was simply out-jumped at the back post by Danny Devine, whose header kissed the post on its way into the net.
Raith now had to take some risks to try to save their semi-final hopes but Caley were proving just too strong, keeping the ball comfortably as Raith’s midfield continued to tread water, and in the end they went out with a whimper.
Given the need for a goal it seemed strange that top scorer Ryan Conroy was not introduced from the bench sooner than the 88th minute, but as Rovers struggled to get on the ball, let alone create a chance, he probably would have made little difference.
For Rovers, the focus now returns to the league campaign and the need to stay in the race for fourth place to keep their season alive.
Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, McKeown, Watson, Barr, Anderson (Vaughan 76), Fox (Conroy 88), Callachan, McKay, Stewart, Nade. Not used: Hill, Moon, Scott, Matthews, Cuthbert.
Inverness CT: Esson, Raven, Shinnie, Meekings, Ofere (Doran 79), Draper, Divine, Watkins, Tansey, Williams (Kink 79), Christie (Ross 90). Not used: Vincent, Tremarco, Polworth, Mackay (GK).
Referee: Crawford Allan.