RAITH ROVERS have reached the final of the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup after dispatching Partick Thistle with little fuss at Firhill.

Kyle Bendictus’ first-half goal gave Raith the advantage going into half-time before Regan Hendry’s strike 15 minutes from time doubled the away’s side’s lead. Lewis Mansell pulled one back for the Jags in the game’s closing stages but it wasn’t enough as Ian McCall’s side were dumped out at the semi-final stage.

It was as close to a full-strength Thistle side that McCall could have picked from the players he had available. With six players out – two injured, four cup-tied – it was a case of all hands on deck at Firhill.

Just one league position separates the two clubs – Thistle are rock-bottom of the Championship while Raith are four points clear of Falkirk at the summit of League One – in the Scottish football pyramid and the game demonstrated two things. Firstly, Raith look good for promotion and can mix it with opposition in the second tier. And secondly, that Thistle rarely can.

Ross Matthews invoked the ire of the home crowd after nine minutes after he went in hard and late on James Penrice. Referee Alan Newlands excited the Firhill faithful by fumbling with his red card, only to flash a yellow at the Raith player. Just two minutes later, Thistle midfielder Stuart Bannigan ended up in the book as well for reciprocating in kind with a poor challenge of his own on Matthews.

Brian Graham had the ball in the back of the net on 22 minutes after the ball fell kindly to him at the back post following a deflected Alex Jones effort, but the linesman correctly raised his flag for offside. Around a minute or so later Graham had another chance – again via Jones – but he failed to pull the trigger when afforded some space at the back post once more.

Joe Cardle was next to have a go; the Thistle winger received the ball at the edge of the box, beating two players as he drifted further wide when he really ought to have shot before skelping his effort over the bar, much to the disdain of the home support.

Then, with half an hour played, the opener arrived. Set-pieces have been a gaping hole in Thistle’s armour this campaign and once again, this proved to be their undoing. Centre-back Benedictus rose to meet the visitors’ first corner of the night to glance the ball in and give Raith the crucial advantage.

Penrice should have done better when Cardle cut the ball back for him shortly afterwards, but Robbie Thomson did well to deny the left-back from close range.

The hosts pushed hard for an equaliser before the half-time whistle; Jones’ effort following some neat build-up play with Graham sailed over the bar before the latter sped through on goal in a lung-busting 30-yard sprint, only to see his shot blocked by the last man. John McGlynn’s side weren’t altogether convincing at the back, but they managed to go in at the break with their one-goal lead intact.

Shea Gordon tested Thomson shortly after the restart with a low, curling half-volley but the Raith keeper smothered the shot without too much hassle before Steven MacLean’s deflected effort rolled just wide of Scott Fox’s near post.

Kieron Bowie squandered a great chance to double his side’s lead as the game approached the hour mark. Tam O’Ware  mis-timed his interception at the back to send the young forward scarpering through on goal. He cut inside before lashing a left-footed effort towards goal but it flew harmlessly over the bar.

Hendry then forced a smart close-range stop from Fox and less than a minute later, the Thistle goalie produced a fantastic one-handed stop to deny Bowie.

With 20 minutes to go, Gordon passed up an excellent opportunity following a high ball towards the back post from Cardle. The 33-year-old winger whipped an inviting cross in towards the midfielder from the left as Thistle countered but Thomson was equal to Gordon’s effort.

Bowie should have put the game beyond Thistle moments later after skewing his shot over the bar from a one-on-one with Fox before Matthews struck the crossbar with a downward header from inside the box.

If that effort from Matthews was a warning, it was one that was not heeded by Thistle. With 15 minutes left to play, Hendry received the ball on the edge of the area, slalomed his way past a couple of defenders and struck a low shot past a statuesque Fox into the bottom right corner. That goal sparked wild scenes in the away end, with 20 or so of the away support spilling onto the pitch to celebrate with the players.

Gordon almost halved the arrears when he rifled a half-volley straight at Thomson with around 10 minutes left, before substitute Lewis Mansell’s glancing header reduced the home side’s deficit with 83 minutes on the clock to set up a frantic finish in Maryhill.

Another of the Thistle subs, Mitch Austin, had the Jags fans off their seat in the 90th  minute as he struck the woodwork from the right of the box and he fired another straight at Thomson in the game’s final moments, but it wasn’t to be for McCall’s side. The final whistle was soon blown, and Raith deservedly booked their place in the final.