You just knew the story of this Scottish Cup tie would heavily involve Rudi Skacel. The Czech midfielder is winding down his career at Raith Rovers but remains idolised by Hearts supporters for starring roles in two finals of this very competition.
He climbed off the substitutes’ bench with ten minutes remaining looking considerably less mobile than in either of his two spells at Tynecastle. Nonetheless, he was determined to have a pivotal impact on this fourth round fixture.
With Hearts leading 1-0 through Jamie Walker, Skacel entered centre stage. A corner landed with him at the edge of the penalty area and he executed a technically brilliant volley at goal. Fellow substitute Declan McManus flicked his head at the ball and it landed in the Hearts net, causing bedlam inside Stark’s Park.
Skacel’s influence and expertise earned Raith, without a win since October, a replay at Tynecastle on Wednesday. The winners will play Hibs at home – a clear incentive for both sides. Skacel is 37 and physically in decline but that magical left foot still carries the same sorcery. Only this time, it was inflicting damage on Hearts, not for them.
“We’ve all seen Rudi over the years. He’s getting on a bit now and not getting any younger, but he still has those qualities,” said Gary Locke, the Raith manager who was also facing his former employers.
“I’ve said it a million times, I didn’t just bring Rudi here because I have a good relationship with him. He’s a great professional. We’ve got a young squad and these lads look up to him. He’s a great help to them on the pitch and in training. You saw his quality at the end to get us back in the game.”
Mark Stewart would have been more relieved than anyone in Kirkcaldy. He missed the proverbial sitter on 57 minutes. Despite being six yards from goal and unmarked, the forward somehow contrived to strike Kevin McHattie’s cross against the crossbar. It was a quite astonishing waste of a chance to equalise.
McManus saved his blushes, though. Hearts players appealed strongly for offside as the striker celebrated. Referee John Beaton consulted one of his assistants before awarding the goal. Television replays proved him correct.
“There was an initial feeling of offside with the positioning of their player,” explained the Hearts head coach Ian Cathro. “It would appear that wasn’t the case but that was the complaint. If you think a player is in an offside position, it’s one of those areas that seems to be a bit grey at times whether you’re involved in play or not.”
Cathro was aggrieved at the final outcome of a game he felt his team controlled. He fielded all four of his new signings, three of them in defence. Andraz Struna, Aaron Hughes and Lennard Sowah lined up at the back beside John Souttar, with Malaury Martin supporting lone striker Bjorn Johnsen.
Hearts controlled the first half and scored as the interval approached when Raith ceded possession in midfield. Don Cowie’s diagonal through ball was ruthlessly dispatched by Walker. A decisive second goal after the break never looked likely, though.
“There is frustration as well,” continued Cathro. “If we’re going to judge football, then we were the better team. In that sense, is drawing fair? Maybe not. In other aspects of the game, they had some pressure and we obviously had to deal with that. If you don’t repeatedly deal with that, then it’s difficult to feel hard done by.
“A second goal would’ve changed things, for us and for Raith. At 1-0 down, they’re motivated to push and push and push. There were good bits which were down to our work. There were good performances down to the addition of other players.
“The team was okay. We were asked to defend a lot of set-pieces. Maybe we can do better in our own play to avoid that as much. We didn’t defend every single one of them. The new boys did well, they worked well and added to the team. They showed qualities and they get more comfortable every day. It will be a gradual thing regarding how they go from here.”
Locke argued that Raith merited a second attempt at eliminating Hearts. “It was totally deserved. I was a wee bit disappointed in the first half because, even though Hearts had most of the ball, we were well organised and it was our mistake that let them in for the goal.
“We gave the ball away and Jamie did was he does so well and put it way. But we kept the heads up and did well in the second half and thoroughly deserved to get something from the game.”
It was Locke’s decision to introduce both Skacel and McManus for the final ten minutes which swung play in Raith’s favour. “That’s been the story of the last three games. We have been creating chances but not putting them away. When something like that happens you think someone up there doesn’t like you,” said Locke. “The boys kept at it and the changes made a difference. I was delighted for Declan because it’s a goal his hard work has deserved. It’s not been coming off for him but hopefully that goal will give him all the confidence in the world.”
The 41-year-old can now relish the prospect of a return to Tynecastle, where he will try to upset the natives. “I’m well aware of how it can be there. I’ve been on the end of it a few times!
“It’s a great place to play when things are going for you but when things are not going for you it can be difficult. We’ve got to go with the same belief we and if we do that we’ll have a chance of winning.”