Livi Topple Resilient Rovers in Extra Time
Both overachievers in their respective leagues this season, Premiership quality just outweighed their Championship counterparts as Livingston pipped Raith Rovers in extra time to progress in the Scottish Cup. Cameron Wanstall reports.
Livingston needed extra time to see off an impressive Raith Rovers side in the Scottish Cup third round. A magnificent Lewis Vaughan free kick was cancelled out by an acrobatic Jack Fitzwater finish in the second half, before a back post tap-in for Matej Poplatnik after 110 minutes sealed the home side’s place in the fourth round.
The four points collected in recent league outings to Hamilton and Hibernian clearly satisfied Livingston manager David Martindale as he made zero changes for a third consecutive game. New signing Djibril Diani made the bench, as did defender Alan Lithgow who returned after a 15-month injury layoff.
John McGlynn made two changes to the Rovers side that trounced local rivals Dunfermline 5-1 on Tuesday. Dylan Tait came into midfield to replace Ross Matthews, who dropped out entirely. A second alteration was made shortly before kick-off as Kieron MacDonald felt the continued effects of a knock sustained in the Fife Derby, allowing Iain Davidson to step in for his 500th Raith appearance.
On a beautiful sunny day in West Lothian, the first clear-cut chance of the tie fell to Nicky Devlin. A dangerous corner met the head of the commanding full-back, but Dylan Tait was in the right place to clear the deflected effort off the goal line.
Tait was soon fouled by Marvin Bartley at the other end of the pitch, resulting in a dangerous free-kick on the edge of Livi’s box. Lewis Vaughan stepped up and wonderfully whipped the ball past the wall and an outstretched Robby McCrorie to put the Championship side ahead.
Reghan Tumilty almost doubled the Championship side’s lead just minutes later. A mazy dribble from the Rovers right-back left two Livi defenders in his wake, before a strong front-post strike was parried wide by the increasingly under pressure McCrorie.
The home side’s next major chance came from a quick free kick, with the visiting team incensed by Bobby Madden’s decision to allow Jason Holt and Craig Sibbald to take the set piece before the whistle was blown. Fortunately for the Rovers, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas could only hit the side netting after turning past Iain Davidson.
As the half-hour mark approached, Raith were beginning to take control. John McGlynn’s men were expertly drawing their opposition in with quick, short passes before bamboozling the Livi high-line with dangerous through balls. Meanwhile, David Martindale was becoming frustrated, and getting louder, as his side failed to break down the opposition backline.
After Tumilty was caught in possession, Alan Forrest was brought down in the penalty area by Davidson. Despite plenty of calls for a penalty, Madden waved away any claims as Raith counter attacked. Jamie Gullan broke free of his marker and had Vaughan in space, but the Hibernian loanee instead played a weak cross into the arms of McCrorie.
Unfortunately, that was the last moment of note from Gullan as he picked up an injury and was replaced by Manny Duku before half-time. The forward received lengthy treatment after his exit.
The final kick of the half was so nearly a second goal. Tumilty composed himself after finding himself in space just outside the opposition area before striking a swerving volley toward goal. McCrorie excellently palmed the effort wide as Madden whistled for half-time.
Livingston grew into the game in the second half. Shortly after Emmanuel-Thomas was denied a cheeky backheel goal from a last-ditch block, Longridge was then denied the opportunity to score a great equaliser too. The left-back’s mazy run past multiple defenders was thwarted by a second goal line clearance of the game by Tait.
Raith, after a period with their backs to the wall, soon created chances for themselves again. An ambitious volley from Hendry and a blocked Duku effort were the most dangerous of the bunch. Livi continued to attack also and it was only a matter of time before a sun-kissed Almondvale witnessed another goal.
That goal came in the 70th minute and it was an equaliser for the home side. A corner towards the back post was met by the lofty Jon Guthrie, who nodded the ball back across goal to his centre-half partner Jack Fitzwater. Fitzwater reacted sharply, with his back to goal, to acrobatically volley the ball past Raith ‘keeper Jamie MacDonald and the numerous defenders frozen still in the goal mouth.
Soon after, Brad Spencer was hard done by to pick up a yellow card for dissent – as nearly every player had shouted worse toward the official by that point (as did a fan outside the stadium whose exclamation cannot be repeated on this website). Madden did little to endear himself to the visiting side when substitute Dan Armstrong was brought down as the last man by Longridge with no card brandished or free kick awarded.
With third round replays scrapped this year; extra time awaited the two sides. Winger Josh Mullin had an excellent opportunity to put Livi ahead just minutes after the restart, but his low, side-footed strike was easily captured by MacDonald.
The West Lothian sun was still shining bright, but clouds of doubt appeared over the Raith players on the pitch. The Fife outfit sank deeper and deeper into their own half as Livingston pressed with more intensity and began to create far more chances than their opponents.
After 20 minutes of endless corners and half-chances, Livingston found their winner. Devlin, as he had all game, sped past his marker on the right wing before lashing a low cross across goal. His cut back found unmarked substitute Matej Poplatnik at the back post, allowing the Slovenian forward to tap the ball into the net with ease.
The home side held on to their narrow victory to progress to the fourth round of the Scottish Cup, while today’s visitors can now fully focus on their potential promotion push.