IT IS an all-too-common sight when cup ties go to extra time for both teams to bow to the apparently inevitable and do little but wait for penalties.
Raith Rovers 1-0 Rangers (After extra time - 0-0 after 90 mins)
SCORERS: Raith: Baird (116)
Venue: Easter Road
Referee: K Clancy
Raith Rovers owe their first trophy for 20 years to the fact that they refused to conform to that convention.
Time was running out at the end of a disappointing Ramsden’s Cup final when Raith’s Greig Spence took advantage of a slip by Bilel Mohsni to nudge the ball into the Rangers area. Lee
McCulloch’s attempted clearance rebounded off Richard Foster back into the path of Spence, and although Cammy Bell saved, the rebound fell to John Baird, who made no mistake with his first-time shot.
Rovers might have fancied their chances with penalties in any case, as that was how they beat Celtic in the 1994 League Cup final. But, having edged ahead, they were not going to let this one out of their grasp. They were deserved winners not only because of the adventure they showed in those closing five minutes, but also because of their refusal to play second fiddle. Even when under sustained pressure, the Championship side remained calm and well organised.
Rangers had the bulk of the chances, albeit in a game which had few really clear-cut scoring opportunities. But, far from the first time this season, they laboured to make best use of the substantial possession they enjoyed.
Even had they won this trophy to add to their League 1 crown, Ally
McCoist’s side were likely to be up against it when Dundee United visit Ibrox in the Scottish Cup semi-final on Saturday. Now the manager has to lift his team’s morale as well as working out a way of preventing them from being taken apart by Jackie McNamara’s
talented young team.
Rangers were in command during the opening stages of the game and could have been a couple of goals to the good with little more than ten minutes played. Their first two attempts on goal did not trouble Lee Robinson – first Ricky Foster, then Lee McCulloch, shot wide – but it needed an acrobatic save by the Raith goalkeeper to keep out a first-time shot from Ian Black. The goalkeeper then appeared to be in more difficulty when a Steven Smith free kick from the right found Bilel Mohsni unmarked, but the centre-half headed over with the goal at his mercy.
Rovers’ forays upfield tended to be down the flanks, where they lacked the pace and the numbers to trouble Foster and Lee Wallace. But the same could be said of Rangers’ attempts to get into the final third. Jon Daly looked an isolated figure up front, and in any case his team’s attacks tended to peter out before they got close to setting him up with a scoring chance.
The problem was a familiar one to Rangers from their League 1 campaign: how to profitably employ a dominant share of possession against well-organised opponents who appeared content to sit back and wait for the chance to counter-attack. The fact that Rangers are unbeaten in the league shows they have found the solution to that problem more often than not, but there have also been instances such as their first Scottish Cup tie against
Albion Rovers when they have come perilously close to being thwarted in embarrassing fashion.
Three minutes before the interval, Rangers had another chance to break the deadlock, this time from a free kick after Liam Fox had fouled Smith and been booked for the offence. Smith took the award himself, and his curling shot was on its way into the top right corner when Robinson saved.
After such a ponderous first half, both teams increased the tempo right from the restart. A break down the left produced Rangers’ first chance of the half for Wallace, but Robinson anticipated the full-back’s run well to block the shot with his legs.
Nicky Clark came off the bench in place of Kyle Hutton with half an hour to play, and five minutes later Sebastian Faure took over from Wallace. Rangers were relieved when referee Kevin Clancy turned down a penalty claim for handball against Lee McCulloch, and as the clock crept round to 70 minutes the prospect of extra time began to loom over the proceedings.
Five minutes later, a hopeful overhead kick by Dougie Hill was comfortably saved by Bell. Grant Anderson then broke through the middle only to be fouled by Smith, who was booked. With ten minutes left before the extra half-hour the ball was in the net at last, but the flag had gone up for offside and play had stopped by the time John Baird shot home.
The match had been painfully lacking in moments of ingenuity and quick thinking, but Black conjured up one in the 83rd minute. Taking a quick free kick, he found Clark on the right of the box. The substitute shot across goal and towards the far corner, but Robinson pawed it clear.
Two minutes later, Mohsni had another chance to score, similar to the first but if anything even more clear-cut. Again the delivery came from Smith, and again the Frenchman headed wide when it seemed easier to be on target.
In the first period of extra time, a Nicky Law volley which came back off the post was the closest we got to a goal. In the second, despite Rangers throwing more men up front, there was not even one incident as noteworthy as that – until, with only four minutes before we had to resort to penalties, Baird struck.
There was still time for Law to send a free kick over the bar, but after that Raith held out for a hard-fought but
Raith Rovers: Robinson, Thomson, Watson, Hill, Booth, Fox, Cardle (Spence 90), Moon (Mullen 77), Anderson, Baird, Elliot (G Smith 85). Subs not used: Laidlaw, Donaldson.
Rangers: Bell, Foster, Mohsni, McCulloch, Wallace (Faure 65), Hutton (Clark 60), Law, S Smith (Gallagher 110), Black, Aird, Daly. Subs not used: Simonsen, Shiels.