Last night saw the return of the Betfred Cup and with it long term bogey team Caley Thistle visiting Kirkcaldy in what was a game both teams needed to win to have any chance of realistically qualifying for the last 16. While the Raith's league form sees them top the Scottish Championship, Caley haven't lost a game against Rovers since the year 2000 in a run which has seen the highland outfit win more games than not.
Both squads made significant changes prior to the match with Rovers resting Jamie MacDonald, Iain Davidson and Kieran MacDonald missing out via injury, Dylan Tait through suspension and Lars Lokotsch being cup tied. In their places, Robbie Thomson, Brad Spencer and Manny Duku all returned to the starting the line up.
Almost immediately, Rovers started on the front foot and carried on their gung-ho approach which saw them cruise to victory over Morton. 10 minutes into the game, Manny Duku opened the scoring with a low finish past Ridgers after doing well to hold off a defender following a quick release from Tumilty. The Dutch forward didn't hesitate with his goal and clearly looked in the mood to cause problems. He was the focal point of many Rovers attacks and was unlucky not to add to his tally with a header from close range and was later foiled by Duffy who got a last ditch clearance to stop him getting a second.
Caley were quick to fight back and on the 23rd minute a floated cross into the box saw Mendy lose his marker and Shane Sutherland floated a header back across Robbie Thomson. The chatboard of RaithTV saw people question the marking and whether the keeper might have done better to keep it out, but ultimately you have to commend Sutherland's poaching instinct.
Rovers then had a golden chance to retake the lead when they were awarded a penalty shortly before half time when Musonda was brought down in the box. Daniel Armstrong took the spot kick but his shot was well over the bar. It was a disappointing end to the first half where Raith could have put the game to bed early doors.
The second half saw a complete change in tempo to the game. Caley were more assertive in midfield with Kai Kennedy putting the strings on the wing against Musonda. Ethan Ross gave Raith the impetus when he went on a tremendous run from his own half before reaching the edge of the six yard box. His cut back cannoned off of Danny Devine and into the Caley net.
The game completely turned on it's head in the 65th minute. Moments after having a potential penalty turned down it was second time lucky for John Robertson's men who were awarded a spot kick. Long term Rovers nemesis James Keating duly dispatched the ball from 12 yards with Robbie Thomson guessing the right way but failing to keep the ball out. Caley smelled blood and were on the front foot. A Keatings free kick rebounded kindly off the post, and with Thomson sprawled out on the ground and the Raith defence static Roddy McGregor poked home into the empty net.
The final ten minutes of the game were then played out at a frenetic pace. Inverness had displayed some really good game management and were happy to take their time with throw ins and set pieces. Rovers promptly went all out in an attempt to find an equaliser and it arrived when Nando Mendy knocked down header in the box which fell into the path of Manny Duku. He rattled home a finish to net his brace and tie the game up.
But there was still action left in this match. Firstly, Keatings had a glorious chance after Allerdyce put through an excellent dinked pass to the forward roughly 12 yards out. Keatings attempted an acrobatic finish which would've been worthy of acclaim but he hit it tamely at Thomson.
The away side then had an appeal for a second penalty turned down leaving them incensed. To wrap things up, Robbie Thomson made a McGurn-esque save to ensure that Rovers ended the game on level terms.
With the match ending in a draw, penalties decided the fate of the bonus point. Rovers took a commanding lead after Hendry, Armstrong and Matthews scored while Todorov and Keatings failed to find the target. While Brad Spence missed his spot kick but it was ultimately irrelevant when Kennedy put his shot past the post.
As ever, here are five things we can take from the game:
A bang for your buck: This game shows both the good and bad of the Betfred Cup format
The change for the early stages of the League Cup to move from a straight knockout to a group stage is one which has divided fans and the game against Caley showed the best of both worlds.
Firstly, this was a game where you can say that any neutral tuning in would've certainly been given their moneys worth: the game had goals and plenty of drama throughout the match. Both teams set out to play aggressive, expansive football against weakened defences. It was a must win game for both teams meaning nobody held back in the match. An example of this was in the second half when it looked like Manny Duku might have succumbed to a shoulder injury. Rovers assistant Paul Smith took plenty of time before leaving Duku on rather than throwing on the untested Luke Mahaday. It was an indicator that they still felt optimistic they had a chance of reaching the latter stages.
Ultimately, both teams ended up in a position where they've eliminated each other from the competition. It will be hugely unlikely for Raith to be able to enter into the last 16 given the limited spots available to second place. Caley's chances were already hamstrung by their draw against Cowdenbeath. This is one of the problems with the tournament - a couple of mishaps means that you're liable to face an early elimination. Ironically, it might be the case that teams progress through based off wins through forfeiture - but I'm sure we won't hear any complaints from Falkirk fans should this be the case in their favour.
STOP THE COUNT: Manny Duku has only just come in the door but will be attracting attention if he keeps up his form
One of the key chances Rovers made for the fixture was the re-introduction of Manny Duku into the starting eleven and he marked it with two goals and a man of the match award. Having missed the games against Dundee and Morton, the former Hayes and Yeading forward didn't waste any time in reminding people of why he's gathered so much press since signing in August.
Both his finishes were composed and he did well to get into dangerous positions throughout the match. Duku is currently under contract until next Summer but Rovers fans are already hoping that the club will be pressing for an extension to ensure he's not departing sooner than later. The Scottish Championship has proven to be a happy hunting ground in recent years for up and coming forwards: Lawrence Shankland was capped and scored for the national team after his performances for Dundee United and Kevin Nisbet isn't far away after taking the top flight by storm following his move to Hibs. While there's a lot of games left to play Duku has all the attributes to hit similar levels of performances.
Death, Taxes and James Keatings: The former Accies and Hearts forward continues his love of playing against us.
Sometimes, some players just love to play against specific teams. They can put in solid performances for their club for most of the season, and then be the kryptonite to one club. For Rovers, James Keatings is that man: it was quickly worked out by Rovers fan Duncan Cameron that he currently has 12 goals and 6 assists against Rovers in his 15 games played against us.
Much like Duku, it wouldn't be unfair to suggest that the forward might have had a hat-trick against us. Aside from his penalty, he had a shot from 40 yards which almost lobbed Robbie Thomson and missed a golden chance at the end of the game which went past the post. There were also two penalty shouts turned down for Caley which you fancy he could have tucked away. The irony is that Keatings was one of three players to miss in the shootout to hand the bonus point to Rovers. Regardless, it still feels like a foregone conclusion he's destined to score against Raith when played as an out and out forward.
John Robertson's men deserve credit for nullifying Rovers midfield
This fell very much into the category of a game of two halves, but unlike the match at Dens a fortnight ago Rovers were the team who became less dominant. Throughout the first half, there were several clear cut chances and the viewpoint was unanimous that Rovers had been the better team. The second half was a completely different affair and Caley deserve praise for how they handled the match.
Firstly, Robertson had to contend two changes which were enforced by injuries. Both Brad McKay and James Vincent were forced off to be replaced by Roddy MacGregor and Robbie Deas. Deas looked assured at the back of defence and showed why Rovers were interested in the Summer and MacGregor put Caley into the lead in the second half.
The main change came with Caley's willingness to adopt a more physical style. Rovers struggled to find the space which had been afforded to them in the first half and suddenly they were players like Hendry and Ross were being doubled up on at points. It was clear that the change swung momentum in the visitor's favour.
Both teams will feel they have a lot more to offer.
It's worth keeping in mind that both Raith and Caley were missing several key players from the game. It wouldn't be a surprise if the fixture in Inverness on 21st November will see two line ups which look significantly different to the cup game. Rovers will likely see the return of Jamie MacDonald, Dylan Tait and Kieran MacDonald who have all been first choice players this season.
For Caley, many of their players were returning to fitness and the match was intended to get them up to the pace of games. For a game where both teams put in a huge effort to try to secure the three points, they will feel that defensively there are huge improvements which can be made. It wouldn't be a surprise if both managers will look at the fixture in the league and see it as an opportunity to make a mark.