Celtic progressed from their fifth round Scottish Cup tie after three second half goals eventually broke the resistance of a hard-working and organised Raith Rovers side.
However, Raith will feel harshly done by, following what appeared to be a soft penalty decision which presented Kris Commons with the opportunity to break the deadlock from the spot.
As Raith tired in the final stages, a quickfire double from James Forrest and Charlie Mulgrew sealed the victory for the Hoops, on an afternoon when the Scottish champions dominated possession but found clear-cut opportunities hard to come by for much of the match.
A capacity crowd of 7,144 at Stark’s Park witnessed a first half in which Celtic kept possession well, with much of their attacking moves originating on either flank. In particular, Charlie Mulgrew looked lively on the left flank, where he repeatedly sent deliveries into the danger area, but to no avail.
Raith, meanwhile, maintained defensive discipline throughout and looked to capitalise on any errors from the men in Hoops on the counter-attack, with Brian Graham playing a lone striker role for much of the game.
In the early stages of the second half, Raith seemed to assert themselves far better in midfield and fashioned a number of opportunities to take a shock lead, but were restricted to long-range efforts from the edge of the box.
The breakthrough came in the 55th minute when Kris Commons appeared to go down softly in the area following a challenge from Rovers defender Simon Mensing. Referee Steven McLean nevertheless awarded the penalty and Commons stepped up to slot the ball into the bottom right hand corner.
Raith looked bright following the set-back and enjoyed a spell of pressure as they searched for a way back into the tie. However, they were again restricted to efforts from outside the penalty box, and could not make the most of their set-pieces.
Celtic doubled their advantage in the 82nd minute when Gary Hooper and substitute James Forrest played a give and go, which allowed the latter to lift the ball neatly over onrushing Rovers goalkeeper David McGurn.
Three minutes later, Celtic put some gloss on the victory when Charlie Mulgrew found himself on the edge of the area with time and space, and he deftly curled the ball high into the top right hand corner.
With that victory Celtic set up a quarter final clash with St.Mirren, who had knocked Neil Lennon’s side out of the Scottish Communities League cup last weekend.
After last Sunday’s elimination from the League Cup at the hands of St. Mirren at Hampden, Neil Lennon had been critical of his side, comparing them to ‘spoiled children who hadn’t got their way’.
This week though, the Celtic manager was far more satisfied with his team’s performance, he said: “You could see the pitch is very heavy and it was pretty gusty, but we had to go more direct today to account for the pitch and I thought we started the game strongly. It was a good, professional performance, and I thought once we got the first goal that the game would open up for us and thankfully it did.
“Kris took a great penalty and then we could introduce Anthony Stokes and James Forrest and open the game up.”
“We were patient for the first goal and then the game opened up. I thought we were great in the final third for the last twenty minutes.”
On the return of youngster James Forrest for injury, Lennon added: “James is a brilliant player. You can see what he brings to us and he’s dying to play. So we just had to drip-feed him back in gently. We just have to be careful that there’s no reaction following his injury. I think he’s a wonderful talent and one of the best Scottish players we’ve produced in a long time.”
Grant Murray was decidedly more philosophical in his view of his own team’s performance over the 90 minutes, he said: “Firstly we’re very disappointed to lose the game. It’s always disappointing to lose a game, no matter what the opposition. But we’ve just been beaten by a Champions League quality team, which is no disrespect to our guys whatsoever. They put everything they had into the game.”
“Even at 1-0, we still felt that we were creating chances and having a right good go at them. In the end though, the quality of Celtic shone through.”