THE sponsors of the Ramsdens Cup promise to turn gold into cash and after this hard-earned victory, Raith Rovers will now be seeking to convert their cup final place into long-awaited silverware.
The Kirkcaldy outfit have not reached a major cup final in almost two decades, their last appearance on the ultimate stage of a knock-out competition giving them one of their most famous hours as they stunned Celtic with a penalty-kicks triumph in the 1994 Coca-Cola Cup final.
Without discounting the Ibrox outfit’s semi-final opponents Stenhousemuir, in a tie to be played on the 29th of this month, it is likely it will this time, in April, be Rangers who stand between Rovers and a trophy that has been given added significance by Ally McCoist’s side’s presence in the tournament.
Raith could not have dreamed of a better opening to the match, being gifted the initiative inside the first minute by Peter Weatherson’s own goal, but they were made to work hard for their rewards thereafter and it was only with two Calum Elliot strikes in the final 20 minutes the on-form Championship side disposed of their League 2 visitors.
“It’s massive for this club to get into the final, huge,” said Raith manager Grant Murray. “Since I’ve been at the club, it’s a tournament we have wanted to do well in. We have felt capable of getting into the final and we’re in a position this season where we’ve got the opportunity to win it. The pictures of 1994 are hanging out there in the corridor and the players see them every time they come in here.
“I’m sure every one of them will want to be the next player that’s up on that wall in a photograph with a medal and a trophy in their hands.”
Weatherson, who made his name as a free-scoring striker but playing here as an old-fashioned sweeper, looked disorientated as he swung his leg at Joe Cardle’s free-kick too late and watched in disbelief as it hit his own net off his knee.
With less than a minute on the clock, the goal was a hammer blow to Annan but, coming so early, it gave the Dumfriesshire side time to make amends.
With ten minutes played, the Galabank outfit thought they had restored parity as David McGurn parried Kieran Brannan’s curling effort, but David Hopkirk was deemed offside before knocking in the rebound.
With Andrew Mitchell then skelping in a 22-yard drive that skimmed the top of the bar, Rovers were rattled. Stringing five men across defence but committing three to attack, Annan still in the tie and, after the break, McGurn needed a great one-handed save to deny Hopkirk.
Whilst staying wary of leaving themselves vulnerable at the back, Raith knew a second goal was likely to earn them the final.But home striker Greig Spence was guilty of what will go down as one of season’s most remarkable misses – before then having a hand in the key second goal as he helped on Callum Booth’s cutback, allowing Elliot to knock home at the back post. And Elliot put the shine on Raith’s victory with two minutes remaining as he engineered some space for himself on the left edge of the box before curling a superb shot into Arthur’s top corner.
Annan manager Jim Chapman said: “There are a lot of positives we can take but we gave a good account of ourselves and certainly made it a real good game. I’m immensely proud of my players for their attitude, efforts and character.”
Raith Rovers: McGurn; Thomson, Watson (Donaldson 46), Hill, Booth; Anderson (Callachan 83), Moon, Fox, Cardle; Elliot (Smith 89), Spence. Subs not used: Laidlaw, Vaughan.
Annan Athletic: Andrew Mitchell, Watson, Weatherson, Swinglehurst (Bradley 80), Chisholm; Black, Flynn; Hopkirk, Davidson (Todd 61), Brannan (Moffat 89). Subs not used: Alex Mitchell, Jardine.