Hearts 3-1 Raith: This was a night for Craig Wighton, Peter Haring and a surprise starter

This was a night of milestone moments at Tynecastle as Hearts took care of Raith Rovers 3-1 in the Betfred Cup.
Craig Wighton broke his scoring duck for Hearts.Craig Wighton broke his scoring duck for Hearts.
Craig Wighton broke his scoring duck for Hearts.

Let’s talk about the most heart-warming one first. Peter Haring, the Jambos’ Austrian lynchpin, started his first competitive match since the Scottish Cup final in May 2019. The 27-year-old has made a handful of appearances from the subs bench as he works his way back to full fitness, but manager Robbie Neilson handed him a start in the centre of a back-three and the captain’s armband to boot.

Haring’s persistent groin problems have been well-documented. Sixteen months of pain-staking treatment and rehab have taken him to this point. You must have a heart of stone if you can’t crack a smile for the big guy.

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Haring’s performance was pretty strong. In the first half, he dominated Raith’s lively striker Manny Duku, timing his challenges well and using intelligent positional sense. One wonders whether the plan was for him to play the full 90 minutes, but he did. He looked jaded towards the end, but held firm under pressure.

Hat-trick hero

In normal circumstances, Craig Wighton would be the headline act. The 23-year-old hasn’t gone through quite the same torment as Haring, but since joining from Dundee two years ago, he has found life on the harder-going side. His appearance against Raith was his 25th in maroon and he finally broke his scoring duck. Ironically, like the old bus adage, not only two goals came along at once, but three. He bagged a pair of really well-taken penalties in the first-half past Jamie MacDonald, before completing his hat-trick just before full time. This was, undoubtedly, his best performance in maroon and must have propelled himself into more regular first-team action.

Safe pair of hands

Goalkeeper Ross Stewart also deserves mention. The 25-year-old Livingston loanee was handed a surprise start as Craig Gordon was rested. He had little chance with Raith’s goal, was rock-solid under crosses and made a couple of important saves. He won’t be No.1 when the league action starts, but he cemented his credentials as a viable back-up

How it all unfolded

It took only two minutes for Hearts – who made eight changes to their team – to open the scoring. A free-kick from Elliott Frear struck Kyle Benedictus in the wall and referee Craig Napier awarded a penalty for handball. Television pictures proved it hit the Raith skipper’s back, but regardless, Wighton sent MacDonald the wrong way to score.

A second spot-kick arrived on 40 minutes when Benedictus slipped just inside the box and brought down Euan Henderson. Wighton went the same way as before and made it 2-0 at the break.

Raith, however, never felt out of this match. They gave themselves something to hold on to on 52 minutes when Duku was sent through and his first-time, rasping shot roared high into the net beyond a helpless Stewart.

The visitors pushed for a leveller, but on 87 minutes Wighton exploited space, ran through on goal and coolly slotted home for the match ball.

The win means Hearts lead Group A on nine points, six ahead of their rivals. It would take a set of near improbable results to deny them progress to the last 16. Their attentions now turn to the start of the Championship on Friday, when Dundee come to town.