Ross County could barely have envisaged an easier passage into the third round of the IRN-BRU Cup as they tore apart Raith Rovers – with Brian Graham doing much of the damage against his former club.
The Staggies were five goals to the good by half time, with Graham netting four of them to get his tally up and running in his second spell at Victoria Park.
Jamie Lindsay was also on target as the Dingwall men coasted to victory.
Rovers appeared startled by the onslaught, with Kevin Cuthbert in temporary charge following the resignation of Barry Smith earlier in the week. However most teams would have struggled to stem the flow of a County side that continues to soar with confidence. This was their fifth straight home victory without a goal conceded.
A prompt return to the top flight is the clear priority for County this season but success in the IRN-BRU Cup would come as a fine boost.
With Championship rivals Dundee United, Partick Thistle and Falkirk dropping out at the second round stage, the pathway looks favourable for Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson’s men.
The co-managers reshuffled their side with a first home start for goalkeeper Ross Munro, while Sean Kelly, Jamie Lindsay, Stelios Demetriou and Davis Keillor-Dunn were drafted in. Scott Fox, Michael Gardyne, Iain Vigurs, Don Cowie and Keith Watson dropped out.
The Staggies suffered a 4-1 Betfred Cup defeat to Arbroath in their last encounter with League 1 opposition but, barring an early scare when Lewis Vaughan’s free- kick clipped the top of Munro’s crossbar, there never looked likely to be a repeat.
The opening 10 minutes were fairly open with County failing to hit the target through efforts from Kelly, Josh Mullin and Billy Mckay, while Rovers midfielder Chris Duggan saw a long range effort whistle marginally past the post.
County soon assumed control and it was no surprise when they took the lead on 18 minutes with Graham poised at the near post to turn home Mullin’s cross from close range.
Graham was denied a second on 27 minutes. His header forced a superb tip round the post by goalkeeper Kieran Wright.
But the attacker only had to wait until the resulting corner to double his tally, pouncing from point-blank range after Wright had thwarted Liam Fontaine’s header from Mullin’s corner.
Mullin was the architect of three of the goals but he passed up a handful of opportunities himself, most notably when he blazed over after an exchange with Ross Draper.
Graham was inches away from a hat-trick when his low strike from 18 yards came back off the outside of the post on 36 minutes but the attack did not end there, with Keillor-Dunn immediately returning the ball into the middle for Lindsay to guide a header across goal from six yards.
Graham did not have long to wait until he secured his treble with the attacker able to direct home a header from Mullin’s corner with alarming ease five minutes before half- time.
It got even worse for Rovers just two minutes later with Wright unable to keep out Graham’s header from a Demetriou delivery.
Further chances arrived after the break with Mckay, Fontaine and Tony Dingwall all denied, while teenager Munro made a fine intervention to deny both Chris Duggan and Kevin Nisbet on a highly satisfying day for the Staggies.
ROSS COUNTY (4-4-2) – Munro 7, Kelly 7, Fontaine 7, Morris 7, Draper 7, Lindsay 7, Mckay 6 (McManus 69), Demetriou 7, Mullin 8 (T Dingwall 59), Keillor-Dunn 6, Graham 9 (Stewart 53). Subs not used – Fox, Gardyne, Vigurs, Cowie.
RAITH ROVERS (4-1-4-1) – Wright 6, Watson 5 (Valentine 85), Benedictus 5, McKay 5, Murray 5, Wedderburn 5, Gillespie 5, Matthews 5, Vaughan 5 (Milne 69), Nisbet 5 (Berry 85), Duggan. Subs not used – Thomson, Buchanan, Stevenson.
Referee – John Beaton 6
Man of the match: Brian Graham