Stenhousemuir 2 Raith Rovers 0
Raith Rovers interest in this season’s Petrofac Training Cup ended in disappointing fashion last night with a 2-0 defeat to lower league Stenhousemuir at Ochilview.
The Kirkcaldy side could have no complaints with the outcome after failing to match the part-timers’ intensity, and quality of football of times, on the tricky astroturf surface.
Ray McKinnon insisted afterwards that he did not understimate the opposition, nor disrespect the competition, by resting five regular first team players.
The Raith manager conceded, however, that the disruption to the starting line-up may have had an impact on the performance.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “It was similar to the performance we put in down at East Fife in pre-season.
“It was just the mentality. We did mix it up, we had five changes, but I expected a wee bit better.”
A bad night for Raith was compounded by a second sending off in four days.
Referee Greg Aitken brandished a straight red card at a stunned Jason Thomson in the 90th minute after the Raith captain made a strong tackle on Stenny winger Alan Cook near the touchline.
Thomson could now miss upcoming league games, but with opposition players even claiming that the decision was harsh, Raith may have a case for an appeal.
Aside from his suspension worries - Kyle Benedictus is also banned for Saturday - McKinnon will also be concerned by aspects of Rovers performance, particularly the number of aimless long balls, and the lack of a goal threat against a side from the league below.
Lewis Vaughan is proving to be a huge miss, and replacing the injured striker with a similar player who can unlock defences and score goals won’t be easy.
McKinnon’s five changes saw Lewis Toshney, Ross Callachan, Rory McKeown, James Craigen and Mark Stewart drop to the bench, with David Bates, Darren Petrie, Iain Davidson, Ross Matthews and Mitch Megginson coming in.
The opening stages of the match gave little indication of the performance that would follow as Raith raced out the blocks.
Ryan McCord came close to opening the scoring inside the first minute with an 18-yard snapshot that drifted narrowly wide. With three minutes on the clock, Craig Wighton forced Stenny ‘keeper Jamie Barclay into a diving save with a deft flick from Megginson’s low cross.
The Championship side continued to set the early pace, creating a further chance on 13 minutes as Wighton’s measured pass sent Megginson scampering into the box, but his powerful angled drive was well held by Barclay.
After soaking up the early Raith pressure, Stenny grew in stature and a physical front two started to pose problems to a young Raith defence.
The hosts hit the woodwork on 20 minutes as Allan Smith sent a first-time volley thumping against the crossbar from eight yards. With the goal at his mercy, he really should have scored.
Encouraged by this, Stenny started to push forward more but they were almost caught by a lightning Raith breakway that saw Grant Anderson go from box to box before seeing a low goalbound effort booted clear by a defender near the line.
There was danger for Raith from Cook’s set pieces and from a 29th minute corner, Stuart Malcolm sent a powerful header towards the near post, but fortunately it was straight at Kevin Cuthbert.
The tide had now firmly turned in Stenny’s favour, with the hosts first to every second ball, and they were inches away from an opener on 39 minutes as from another Cook dead ball delivery, Jon McShane’s downward header bounced just over the bar.
The half-time break failed to halt the home side’s momentum with Smith breaking free in box and forcing Cuthbert into a fingertip save two minutes after the restart.
Jon Robertson then hit one from 25 yards that Cuthbert caught at full stretch.
Raith’s attacking threat had all but diminished so Mark Stewart was introduced from the bench, but it made little difference, so it was not against the run of play when Stenny took the lead in the 67th minute.
A good passing move saw the hosts work the ball to Cook at the corner of the box, and with the Raith defence posted missing, he was able to take his time before drilling a measured left foot strike inside the far post.
Four minutes later, the Warriors doubled their lead in spectacular style as Stephen Stirling caught Cuthbert off his line with a stunning strike from 30 yards.
Clearly stunned by the double KO, Raith couldn’t mount any sort of comeback and Stenny saw out the last 20 minutes more than comfortably.
While the Challenge Cup may not be top priority, the performance and result was far below the standards expected. A strong response will be expected against Alloa on Saturday.
Stenhousemuir: Barclay, McCormack, Henderson, Malcolm, Murray, Mechan, Stirling (MccCroary 90), Robertson, Smith (Eddington 90), McShane (McMenamin 78), Cook. Subs not used: Shaw, Hamilton, Marenghi, Martinez.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Petrie, Bates, Benedictus, Matthews (Stewart 64), Davidson, McCord (Callachan 71), Anderson, Megginson, Wighton. Subs not used: McGurn, McKeown, Toshney, Craigen, Ellis.
Referee: Greg Aitken