New-look St Johnstone got the job done with a bit of comfort in the mud at Cliftonhill.
Much changed from the weekend, as Tommy Wright had promised, and much younger, this Saints team gave their manager the performance he was hoping for after Saturday’s poor show against Partick Thistle.
There were plenty of players who seized their chance to shine – albeit against a team struggling in League one – none more so than Chris Kane.
He scored a hat-trick and set up another for teenager Kyle McClean.
The only survivors from the Thistle starting line-up were captain Joe Shaughnessy, Liam Craig and Denny Johnstone. Jason Kerr made his Saints debut, with 19-year-old McClean given a chance in midfield.
Saints were slow starters at the weekend but it was the exact opposite in Coatbridge, with the opening goal coming after less than three minutes.
Shaughnessy’s long throw from the right wasn’t dealt with at the near post by the Rovers defence and when it fell to Kane he lashed a first-time finish high into the home net.
It took Rovers a while to settle into the contest but on 10 minutes Michael McMullan floated an inviting cross into the box that looked like reaching Joao Victoria but Murray Davidson just got to it before him.
Saints won the first corner of the game on 18 minutes and after Rovers half-cleared, Paul Paton tried his luck from 25 yards. The shot was well struck but didn’t trouble Kieran Wright.
Kane was looking the part and held the ball up well before releasing wing-back in the 3-5-2 formation, Liam Craig, down the left on the overlap. Craig’s cross didn’t have the same accuracy and he couldn’t pick anybody out in the box.
The game had been a bit of a slow-burner but tempers were lost near the corner flag just before the half-hour mark when Kerr was trying to usher the ball out and Connor Shields came through the back of him.
This hadn’t turned into the one-sided affair that the early Saints goal suggested it might and, with Rovers’ confidence growing, Ross Davidson let fly from all of 30 yards out, forcing a save out of Alan Mannus.
Just before the break Kane nearly book-ended the first half with another volleyed goal but this time his fiercely struck shot on the turn flew over.
Kerr made a name for himself as a goal-scoring defender on loan at Queen of the South and you could see why when he attempted an over-head kick from a set-piece that broke to him in the box. He kept his effort on target but it went straight at the keeper.
Saints got the breathing space they were looking for on 52 minutes when the hard-working Kane crossed for McClean, who timed his run to perfection and side-footed home from close range.
It was game over five minutes later, with an unmarked Kane nodding home a Craig cross for his second of the night.
A short headed back pass from McMullan was punished by Kane when he drilled the ball under Wright from 18 yards for his hat-trick and Saints’ fourth.
The fact that he was up against third tier defenders has to be used as context but this was the most accomplished striking display from a Saints forward this season, and a few months in Dumfries has clearly worked wonders for Kane’s confidence.
St Johnstone hat-tricks don’t come along too often. Steven MacLean got the last one in 2015 and you have to go back to Allan Moore against Ayr United in 1991 for one in the Scottish Cup.
Now that they were safely into the next round, 18-year-old Ali McCann was given a debut off the bench.
Saints were content to keep control of the match in the last 10 minutes or so and Rovers didn’t come close to a consolation.
Hearts now await the Perth men in the fifth round.
Albion Rovers – Wright, Fisher, McLaughlin, Lightbody, McMullan, Holmes (O’Kane 82), Shields, Davidson, Victoria (Guthrie 74), Higgins (Watters 74), McLeish. Subs not used – McCann, Gallagher, Potts, Queen.
St Johnstone – Mannus, Alston (Comrie 69), Shaughnessy, Davidson (McCann 71), Kerr, Johnstone, Paton, McClean, Gordon, Kane (Wotherspoon 82) Craig. Subs not used – Hurst, Anderson, MacLean, McCann.
Referee – Mat Northcroft.
Attendance – 1,130.