Feature: Season Preview – Raith Rovers

By Lewis Michie

As Raith Rovers approach their third season in League One, things have potentially never looked bleaker for Rovers’ hopes for promotion. It has been do or die in every season they’ve spent in the third tier – after having gone down not long following what looked like a chance of promotion to the Premiership for the Kirkcaldy side. Arbroath and Ayr United beat Rovers to the league title in the past two campaigns, Falkirk have been tipped for the title this year – Can Rovers recover from some big departures to beat them to the title? Hądjï 2.0 (@allanhadjihaig2 on Twitter) gave us some insight on the club he supports to help. 

Rovers have had some rebuilding to do this summer – when you look at the ten players who had the most minutes for John McGlynn’s team last season, six have departed – with all three top minute earners (Euan Murray, Kevin Nisbet and Nat Wedderburn)all leaving Stark’s Park.

Euan Murray is a player who received some rave reviews at centre-back and has jumped divisions to join Dunfermline Athletic. Murray was also the joint fourth top goalscorer with five goals, and that is not where the issue of goalscorers leaving ends for McGlynn.

Nisbet also joins rivals Dunfermline, and with him goes 34 goals from last season – and at the age of 21 he feasible could have gotten better for Rovers, meaning he’d have been crucial to their promotion efforts. Liam Buchanan was the second top goalscorer last season for Rovers, and even at the age of 33, having scored 13 times last term he could have been useful, but he’s joined Alloa Athletic. Finally, there is still plenty of hope for Lewis Vaughan who struck nine times in 18/19 – but he’s still out after knee surgery.

Rovers scored 75 goals in the league last season – no other side came even close to touching that amount – however, you’d anticipate that when you’ve got the clear winner of the golden boot on your side. Having lost many of those goalscorers however does strike worry for Rovers fans that they won’t mange to get near that rate of scoring again – and if they do manage to somehow match it, you’d think a league title wouldn’t be far off.

Conceding goals was a bit more of a problem for Rovers –  they let in 49 goals, three other sides let in less, and Montrose only saw one more goal go past them all season. So while the goalscoring rate for Rovers was obviously above average, their defensive numbers were unfortunately mediocre in comparison.

Already having disappointing numbers defensively and then losing your best defender in Euan Murray, and defensive midfield shield in Wedderburn doesn’t bode well – although it could be suggested that neither of those are as big of a miss as some are saying if they’ve not produced better shut-out numbers.

With quite a few negative details to think about for Rovers supporters, Hądjï made sure to stress there are positives too, he said:

Positives for this season will undoubtedly be Regan Hendry who oozes class, Lewis Vaughan when he comes back and Tony Dingwall along with a very exciting 16 year old in Kieran Bowie, this season will be a strange experiment from McGlynn lets see how it pans out”

So who has come in to try and push Raith towards a jump up the division at the third time of asking? Starting with that back line, the first bit of business McGlynn had to get completed was in the net – Robbie Thomson was the number one last season, but he’s out with a long-term injury. Ross Munro comes in on loan from Ross County – he started at the weekend against Dundee – and David McGurn has been recruited from Cowdenbeath. The 38 year old looks like he will play back-up and act as a bit of a learning tool for Munro who is 21 years his junior.

Most additions to the back-four come at full-back, Right-back Michael Miller and left-back Kieran MacDonald both played in League One last term, with Brechin City and Airdrie respectively. Against Dundee Miller started on the bench, with David McKay playing at right full-back, and MacDonald took his place on the left side.

35 year old Iain Davidson had the most minutes of any remaining Rovers player last term, he retained his position at the heart of defence – partnered by another recruit, Frenchman Fernandy Mendy.  The 25 year old joins from Championnat National 3 side Racing Club Flechois, who play in the fifth tier of French football – the defender has formerly played with Angers.

In the centre of the pitch, Brad Spencer arrives from league rivals Forfar Athletic – the former Kilmarnock man played 33 times at Station Park last season. 21 year old Regan Hendry joins after this release from Celtic – he’s previously had a loan spell at Stark’s Park, so he’s very much a known quantity. Out wide Grant Anderson arrives from Stranraer, after scoring seven times last term.

Hądjï was quite positive about the additions made in defense and the midfield, saying:

Losing Gilliespie is a bigger loss than Wedderburn – solid replacement in Brad Spencer and Miller (who will play midfield not right back those spots will be filled my McKay and Watson) Jurys still out on Nando Mendy but MacDonald will be a massive improvement at left back…..”

Up-top of course is where Rovers have seen their biggest departures, so it was crucial they recruited well in this area. What they have managed to do is bring in a couple of players, but neither are by any means sure things.

First of all there is 30 year old Joao Vitoria who arrives from Airdrie, after completing last season on loan with Anderson at Stranraer. At his age Vitoria doesn’t really represent a long-term solution, nor is he a player who has played in the division he aims to bring Rovers to. Rovers have however, recruited themselves a player who has scored 17 times and assisted a further six in League One throughout his career.

The other recruit is 22 year old Lewis Allan, who arrives after his release from Hibs – With this signing it appears Rovers are attempting to recapture what they had with Nisbet, who was released at a young age by Partick Thistle, who of course they managed to turn into a bit of a goal machine.

Allan has had decent minutes for his age, having played 25 times in League Two and 15 times in League One over the past few years. The worrying part of those numbers however, are that he’s only scored six times in those loans, with just one goal in League One. However, many young players have struggled to find their feet until they’re at the right club, Allan will hope that’s the case here.

Hądjï feels the striking posistions could leave a little bit of a question mark for many supporters, saying:

The loss of Nisbet, Buchanan and Duggan trying to replace there goals with Anderson as a makeshift striker and Allan who has struggled in league one and two previously leaves a gaping hole up-top along with untested youngster in Smith all Rovers fans are worried about goals”

Rovers also started with 16 year old Kieron Bowie on the wing against Dundee – this shows that further recruitment may be required as relaying on players that young to get promoted is not a tactic often employed – however, as the saying goes, if he is good enough, then he is old enough.

The goal this season should remain the same for Rovers, getting themselves back into the Championship. This looks like it could be harder than ever to accomplish this goal however, so this will be a real test as John McGlynn actually gets a summer window to put his stamp on the side.

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