Raith Rovers overcame a stoic showing from Banks O’Dee, allied with their own profligacy, to finally emerge 3-0 winners at Spain Park on Saturday.
Goals from Sam Stanton, Matej Poplatnik and Aidan Connolly secured progress to the last-16 of the Scottish Cup, where a mouth-watering trip to Celtic Park lies in store.
Courier Sport made the trip to Aberdeen to wrap up the talking points following a professional job by John McGlynn’s men.
Celtic boost for coffers
Come 7.30 p.m., Rovers’ victory was even more consequential.
Landing a second trip to Parkhead this term is a grim proposition from a footballing perspective, handing the Fifers a Herculean task against Celtic.
However, it is an undeniable boon for the club’s finances.
Raith can now count on an unforeseen six-figure boost due to their 50 per cent cut of the gate receipts (albeit that becomes closer to 40 per cent once the deductible costs of hosting the fixture are considered).
Further TV money could be forthcoming if the tie is chosen for live coverage.
All of which will give boss McGlynn food for thought in the final week of the transfer window.
Although content with the balance and quality within his squad, the Rovers boss has made no secret of his desire to add one more player to the group; some additional inspiration for what promises to be a fraught promotion race.
That has just become much more viable.
Response from Zanatta and Connolly
Dario Zanatta boasts nine goals and four assists this season. Aidan Connolly has now rippled the net six times, teeing up another four.
Twenty-three goal contributions between two players.
🎥 // Sam Stanton's first goal for Raith, and a pivotal one to break the deadlock vs Banks O'Dee and help tee up a trip to Celtic
— Alan Temple (@alanftemple) January 23, 2022
The duo have endured something of a slump in recent weeks — mirroring the Rovers squad as a whole — but they remain pivotal performers with genuinely match-winning quality.
As McGlynn noted, they need their ‘mojo’ back. Saturday may be the first step towards that.
Zanatta was aggressive, direct and unlucky not to score in the first half. Connolly changed the game after climbing from the bench, inadvertently creating the opener before making it 3-0 in the dying embers.
Tougher tests lie ahead, but this was much more like it.
Composure the key for Jamie Gullan
If there has ever been a player too desperate to get off the mark (for the fourth time), then it was Jamie Gullan on Saturday.
The former Hibs striker was presented with three fine chances in the first period against Banks O’Dee, forcing a fine low stop from Fraser Hobday with the most challenging of the opportunities.
He skewed another Zanatta cut-back wide and rippled the side-netting from six yards; visibly snatching at both. Rushed.
However, Gullan did exactly what Rovers fans have been crying out for this season: he planted himself in the penalty box and got on the end of deliveries and through-balls. That final touch — admittedly important — was all that was lacking.
If he continues to get in those positions, the goals will come.
“The boys in the dressing room were all so buzzing for him,” confided Connolly as he casually chatted on the touchline at Spain Park following the full-time whistle.
The ‘him’ is Matej Poplatnik.
Despite failing to command a regular starting berth and finding the net just four times this term, the Slovenian striker remains an incredibly popular member of the Rovers dressing room.
He is a consummate professional, supportive teammate and willing worker — regardless of the role he is asked to play.
It would be foolish to surmise that finding the net against Banks O’Dee will open the floodgates, but one can guarantee that few are grafting harder on a daily basis to get the goals flowing.