AS Bobby Madden’s full-time whistle sounded and Matej Poplatnik lapped up the cheers of the tiny band of Livingston fans watching through a gap in the Tony Macaroni Arena’s four walls, Raith Rovers’ players hunched to their knees in disbelief. 

For nearly 100 minutes, Lewis Vaughan’s swirling, deceiving free kick had given the Championship side reason to dream of an upset and for so much of the game John McGlynn’s men impressed in a thrilling third round tie in the sun. 

But they couldn’t hold on and deep into injury time Nicky Devlin found a burst of pace no one could match to give Poplatnik the easy job of sealing the Lions’ place in the next round and with that his own personal glory. 

HeraldScotland: Lewis Vaughan's stunning free kick had opened the scoring Lewis Vaughan's stunning free kick had opened the scoring

Unless you’ve been living under a particularly stubborn rock, you’ll have noticed a lot has changed in the months since these sides met in last season’s Scottish Cup. Least of all the playing squads, with only ten players this time around having played a part for either side in Livingston’s 3-1 fourth round win. 

Raith’s Regan Henry was one of them and he was a standout today, especially in a first-half in which the Fifers’ energy had Livingston on the backfoot. With the the flick of his left boot and the jink of his hips, the former Celtic youngster always seemed to be able to find a way to squirm away from his marker, using his talents to force Robby McCrorie into a fine save one minute or calmly brushing off the attention of Scott Pittman to set his team charging towards Livi’s goal the next. 

His was an easy motion and he wasn’t alone in suggesting the Fife side wouldn’t look out of place in next season’s Premiership. Kai Kennedy was another, his flair on show in a raking, 30-yard pass to the feet of Jamie Gullan which landed perfectly and deserved better than the striker’s effort, which was neither a shot nor a cross and wasted the ease with which he’d floored Jack Fitzwater on his dance into the box. 

In those opening exchanges Vaughan, too, was a menace and either side of his 12th minute goal he dropped deep, picked up the ball, and orchestrated the Raith attack, coaxing his teammates to drift into space, ensuring it was an uncomfortable opening half for the usually resolute Fitzwater and Jon Guthrie. Were it not for some fine McCrorie saves from Reghan Tumilty it could so easily have been two at the break. 

For their part, Livingston struggled to get going but did have the game’s first real chance when Craig Sibbald’s corner was headed towards goal by Nicky Devlin, only for Dylan Tait to clear. Later Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ cleverness created a half yard for him to burst into and force Jamie MacDonald to push around the post, but the Lions’ lacked any real bite and looked shaken by Vaughan’s thunderbolt. 

Some choice words from David Martindale at the break seemed to do the trick, however, the Livi manager rewarded for his persistence. 

HeraldScotland: David MartindaleDavid Martindale

His team flew out of the traps in their hunt for the equaliser. Jason Holt’s passes seemed a touch zippier and Sibbald - who also played in last year’s cup match - suddenly had no trouble finding space as Raith looked all at sea amid wave after yellow wave. 

When Tait was again forced to clear off his own line 50 minutes in, this time from Jackson Longridge’s bobbling drive, McGlynn’s visitors were given their first real warning but failed to heed it and less than 20 minutes later the sides were level. 

It was a goal out of nothing, a poorly conceded corner leading to an even poorer equaliser albeit a deserved one for Livi. Substitute Josh Mullin’s cross found the head of Guthrie, who gleefully nodded it back across the box to Fitzwater and the big defender was given the freedom of West Lothian to swivel and volley beyond MacDonald.  

From then on penalties seemed inevitable but then out of nothing Devlin put on the afterburners, found space on the right, and set up Poplatnik for the winner.