AS the players wandered around a near-empty stadium posing for photographers, it was an experience that few of them had been through before.
Twenty years on from their famous League Cup triumph over Celtic, Raith Rovers have rewritten the history books – enjoying the only dramatic moment of a tepid final to become the latest new name on the Ramsdens Cup.
A feeling of ecstasy filtered through the stadium – the unthinkable had been done. An achievement that ranked among the greatest shocks ever pulled off.
They were expected to come away with their first silverware under Ally McCoist and lift the mood around Ibrox. Football just doesn’t work like that. Raith had other ideas.
Beating the Old Firm in a major cup final is something to cherish. It doesn’t happen very often. Rangers were there for the taking and John Baird stepped up to be the hero of the hour, three minutes before the penalty lottery. Right on time. Right on cue.
The former Dundee striker has been a relevation. He only joined in January and has already stitched his name in the club’s folklore with the most decisive contribution possible. Delivering a cup final winner.
The stuff of legends. A fairytale ending to a story of few chapters that had the feeling of a disconcerting romantic novel. It just never got going.
Raith skipper Jason Thomson admitted that is how he envisaged before going to bed on Saturday night. It’s not every day you lift a trophy at the expense of Rangers in front of 17,000 supporters (well less than that, most of the Gers followers had long gone at that point).
The Challenge Cup may not be the most glamorous competition but try telling that to the patrons of Kirkcaldy, who will be partying long into the night, with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown (an ardent fan of the Fifers) leading the celebrations.
The Raith faithful were outnumbered by a considerable ratio of three to one. It was their 4,000 voices that could be heard all the way back to Stark’s Park when referee Kevin Clancy blew up for the final time.
Rangers had an off day, nothing went right for them. Take nothing away from Raith though. Despite being from the higher division, Grant Murray’s men were the unfancied underdogs. They knew that, everyone did.
The Fifers must be lauded for their handling of that tag, restricting the Gers to a handful of chances and kept plugging away. The game plan was carried out to perfection.
Murray spoke before the contest like an Olympian – expressing his thirst for winning a gold medal – and revealed how disappointed the players were by their underwhelming first half display.
Raith could not get a touch on the ball in the opening 45 minutes, Rangers did not allow them to. The tables turned after the break.
The Gers could not find their rhythm and Raith grew in confidence. Fatigue was always going to be a factor in extra time but appeared to affect the favourites more than the part-timers.
Fine margins settled the outcome. Lucky breaks. Moments that can change the complexion in an instant.
Minutes after Nicky Law’s luck was out (his volley rebounding off the post), a determined Raith did not give up hope and utilised every ounce of energy to eventually inflict the blow that few saw coming.
Bilel Mohsni summed up the lethargy and complacency that plagued the Gers with a naive pass on the edge of his own box. Greig Spence barged his way through and found Cammy Bell in his way. The ball rebounded fortuitously back to Baird who was never going to miss.
Fortune definitely favoured the brave. This did not follow the script but unfolded in just the way that Raith would have planned.
Having surprised Terry Butcher’s Hibernian in the Scottish Cup earlier this year, Raith may wish they can play at Easter Road every week.
The victory in a showdown that offered a dress rehearsal ahead of next season (when the two sides will do battle in the Championship) would have been all the sweeter for former Hearts defender Murray, coming on Hibs territory.
Should their on-field progress continue, trips to Leith could become a regular occurrence – in the hotbed of the Premiership.
The Fifers boss was reluctant to single out certain players for special praise and was right to do so. From the defensive rock Dougie Hill (who soldiered on with a shoulder injury in the latter stages) to former Rangers goalkeeper Lee Robinson. Each and every one was a hero in their own right.
A rather unforgettable 120 minutes may be quickly erased from the memory banks. For Raith, their day out in the Scottish capital will be forever treasured. It was their day of destiny.
Raith Rovers FC Stadium Image by Geograph.org.uk via Creative Commons License