Elgin City’s Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup journey is over after they suffered a quarter-final defeat in spite of a brave showing against Raith Rovers.
The Moray outfit made a slow start at Stark’s Park and fell two goals behind by the midway point in the first half, with Kieron Bowie netting two softly-conceded strikes.
Although City responded brightly and pulled one back through Kane Hester before the interval, their hopes unravelled in the second half as David McKay added a third before Rabin Omar was sent off.
Shane Sutherland pulled a second goal back on 83 minutes but the visitors could not find another. City will reflect on an excellent run in the competition, however, with Gavin Price’s men remaining in cup action when they host Championship side Alloa Athletic in the Scottish Cup next weekend.
Elgin knew a first national semi-final was their reward for another upset, having recorded shock wins against Dundee and Airdrieonians earlier in the competition.
City knew they would have to defy the odds once again to defeat League 1 leaders Rovers, who left former Ross County midfielder Tony Dingwall on the bench to keep him and brother Russell, who started in the heart of Elgin’s midfield, waiting for a family match up.
Elgin got off to the worst possible start, falling behind to the first meaningful attack from the hosts after just six minutes. Kieran MacDonald’s cross was headed back across goal by John Baird, setting up Bowie to prod into an empty net from close range.
John McGlynn’s men passed up two fine chances to stretch their lead, with a David McKay snapshot well held by Thomas McHale, before Bowie dragged another low effort wide on 13 minutes.
It was not long before Raith doubled their advantage on the 25th minute, however, with Elgin’s defence failing to clear David McKay’s ball into the middle, allowing Bowie to assume control before rounding McHale and slotting home.
Elgin were denied a way back into the game when Hester saw a low strike saved by the legs of Ross Munro after being played through by Shane Sutherland, while the Black and Whites saw a very strong penalty appeal turned down by referee Euan Anderson when his namesake Steven Anderson appeared to handle inside the box.
Hester was not to be denied on 35 minutes though, with the former Arbroath striker smashing the ball high into the net after Sutherland’s pass had ricocheted off Bowie and into his path inside the hosts’ box.
The almost telepathic link up between Sutherland and Hester was causing Raith all sorts of problems, with Hester seeing a low drive parried away by on-loan Ross County goalkeeper Munro, while the lively Hester was unable to connect with a Brian Cameron cutback.
Elgin emerged for the second half with plenty encouragement given the way they ended the opening 45 minutes, however, it was Rovers who started on the front foot and took the lead 11 minutes after the interval. MacDonald’s cross from the left flank found its way to McKay on the edge of the box, and the midfielder showed excellent composure to drill a crisp low strike into McHale’s bottom left corner to restore the two-goal cushion.
Raith looked to make sure of their progression, with former County winger Daniel Armstrong seeing an effort from the edge of the box deflected wide by McHale.
Elgin’s task was made all the harder on 65 minutes when Omar was dismissed for a challenge which caught Rovers skipper Kyle Benedictus. Although Lewis Allan struck the bar, Elgin ensured a nervy finish for the hosts when Sutherland slotted past Munro seven minutes from time, with Cameron coming closest to an equaliser in stoppage time when his effort from 20 yards drifted over.