It would be fair to say Ross County were glad to see the back of Dunfermline Athletic last night as the Fifers’ team bus headed for the A9.
The side from two leagues below again provided the sternest of tests for the Premiership Highlanders before Raffaele De Vita’s second-half strike secured passage.
With League 1 strugglers Forfar Athletic or juniors Linlithgow Rose awaiting as visitors in the fifth round, County now have a great chance of reaching the last eight.
But this proved another tense occasion as Dunfermline again performed impressively. Three days earlier, against waves of adventurous football from Dunfermline, the Highland team had been lucky to escape Fife with Scottish Cup ambitions intact.
The energy and movement of French-Moroccan Faissal El Bakhtaoui in the Pars’ fluent attacking four had rattled County in the 2-2 draw.
Last night, forewarned and fortified by a boisterous home crowd, manager Jim McIntyre demanded a whole lot better, and it came in the end.
The Staggies were still unable to call on the first-choice strike partnership of Liam Boyce and Craig Curran, offering replacements Alex Schalk and Brian Graham a chance to build on Saturday’s goalscoring performances.
A measure of Dunfermline’s confidence came in manager Allan Johnston’s selection of an unchanged team, and the League 1 leaders didn’t disappoint early on.
In an action-packed first 15 minutes, El Bakhtaoui broke on the right and swept in a terrific cross. Joe Cardle raced in to connect but saw his attempt strike Marcus Fraser.
County warmed up with some pressure of their own, and, in the 12th minute, Schalk released Jonathan Franks in space to the right of the penalty box, but goalkeeper Sean Murdoch had the measure of the winger’s fierce, low strike at goal.
The best chance saw a weak Franks free-kick eventually break to Graham in front of goal, only for the big frontman to prod his effort over the crossbar.
El Bakhtaoui drew a parry from Scott Fox after 35 minutes, while County’s menace came to nothing.
County removed right winger Franks at the break and threw on De Vita in what was to prove a pivotal move.
Fraser fluffed a glorious chance as play resumed, knocking the ball well over from inside the six-yard box from Schalk’s supply.
The game grew increasingly ragged, and the first goal was clearly going to be massive.
Dunfermline had a decent chance after 69 minutes. Michael Moffat’s sharp pass eased El Bakhtaoui into space just inside the penalty area, but home goalkeeper Fox parried the attempt.
Just a minute later, Dunfermline were ruing that missed opportunity. Michael Gardyne’s cross from the left took a deflection as it flew to the back of the penalty area where substitute De Vita had time to volley past goalkeeper Murdoch.