Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Over the last 15 years of being a season ticket holder for Raith Rovers, I've experienced numerous ups and downs. Throughout that period I've seen eight managers arrive to varying degrees of success playing mostly an industrious style of football. Dalziel, McGlynn (v1) and Smith all largely relied on long balls and hard working strikers to try to forge out opportunities. We've suffered false starts, mid table finishes, a horror show relegation and the occasional moment of glory to remind you of why you continue to partake in the long walk up Pratt Street every other Saturday.
This season has seen two different spells for Rovers: We started it in a bullish, aggressive manner sweeping sides away and gaining plaudits for our passing football and willingness to try to score as many goals as possible. January saw both personnel changes and a COVID outbreak which saw the teamstruggle to gain any consistency while playing a more pedestrian style of football. McGlynn set the challenge for the players to become a bit more streetwise, and results have been hard fought (particularly the late wins over Alloa and Greenock Morton).
So it was always going to be an interesting affair when we met Dunfermline in the Fife Derby tonight. The previous two fixtures had seen Rovers take only one point - the Pars salvaged a 2-2 draw thanks to a couple of goals in as two frenetic minutes. Then came a 4-1 drubbing at East End Park in a match where Rovers didn't do themselves justice - Crawford's side were gifted the ball too often as we put in one of our worst performances of the season.
Historically, the Fife derby has always seen two contrasting styles. Dunfermline have tended to be a more free flowing and expansive team particularly under Jim McIntyre who utilised the likes of Joe Cardle, Willie Gibson, and Steven Bell to great effect. For Rovers, the wins always felt hard fought which brought a different kind of satisfaction.
But the return of John McGlynn in 2018 saw a new style of football arrive at Stark's Park. Out was the route one and knock downs to pacey forwards, in came roaming playmakers and midfield masterclasses. The returning manager has spent the last two years to build his team around midfield lynchpin Regan Hendry. There's been a feeling of unity at the club which has been unparalleled: there's a togetherness among the fans, players and management where everyone is pulling in the same direction. Even lockdowns haven't changed this.
When the game kicked off tonight, it was clear that Rovers were out to prove a point. Almost immediately they were chasing down and harrying their opponents in an attempt to force out mistakes. McGlynn has frequently stated this is the best squad he's ever assembled and rang the changes by bringing in five players. Matthews, Kennedy, Spencer, Gullan and Vaughan were all brought in to replace Armstrong, Tait, Duku, Ugwu and King. The shape was adapted towards a diamond with Hendry playing behind the front two. It was a gamble which ultimately paid huge dividends.
After collecting the ball in the Rovers box, there was a neat interchange between Hendry and Spencer as the ball travelled forward. After reaching the box, the ball was slotted through for Hendry to grab the opening goal by slotting past the helpless Owain Fon-Williams. It was no less than Rovers deserved. BBC counted 11 passes and were quick to join those on social media lauding the goal.
Yet moments later, the scores were brought level: Jamie MacDonald made an uncharacteristic error to rush out and fail to deal with a high ball which gave Dunfermline a throw in high up the park. The resulting throw saw a ball swung into the box where O'Hara nodded home. It was a real question of the resilience of Rovers given how previous derbies had gone.
What followed was one of the most one sided, dominant footballing displays you will see at Championship level. Rovers had put five goals past opposition on three previous occasions (Queen of the South, Morton and Alloa) but this was a different level of performance. It was an attacking performance which will be spoken about for years to come for Rovers fans - every single player exerted themselves and committed to the case. Dunfermline couldn't handle the overlaps on the wings and the rotation of players going into the final third. In the last few games, Rovers had struggled when they reached the opposition penalty box. Tonight, they were both ruthless and fearless.
Kieran MacDonald found his way down the left hand side to slide in a perfect ball for Lewis Vaughan to score his first goal since returning from injury. Vaughan doubled his tally shortly before half time when he sent a deceptive free kick past Fon-Williams at the far post. While the 'keeper should have done better Rovers had been completely commanding in the match so a 3-1 lead wasn't an injustice on the Pars.
At half time, Stevie Crawford made a double substitution but there was nothing which he could do to stop McGlynn's side as they rampaged on. Almost immediately after the restart Jamie Gullan picked up the ball at the edge of the box to fire home a fourth goal. At this point Dunfermline players started to get impatient as their cheap fouls led to numerous bookings. It was a question of how many goals Rovers could score. Gullan got his brace when he drove infield with the ball to net the fifth goal. Vaughan and Tait were both close to adding a sixth goal for Rovers at different points.
The reaction at full time was one of euphoria. It was a game which fans will speak about for years to come. It was a statement of intent from everyone at Stark's Park. Some people had speculated that Rovers were dropping off after their early season start and whether the bubble had burst. Instead, they turned up and humiliated their local rivals on national television. Dunfermline fans might feel that they didn't show up, but that does a disservice to how good each Rovers player was. It was a near perfect performance and the biggest win over Dunfermline in 38 years. It was well worth the wait.
The result saw Rovers put further distance between themselves and the group congregated in 4th spot. They currently sit 6 points above Dunfermline, Caley and Queen of the South with a superior goal difference to each of these sides. John McGlynn was understandably vocal in his praise for the players. Vaughan, Hendry and Benedictus all spoke confidently about the intent displayed in the win and how they feel the club can progress.
Whatever happens for the rest of this season, this is a result which will go down in Rovers folklore. Throughout all my time following the club I can't recall a performance in such a high stakes game where our team has played with such style, flair and aggression. Undoubtedly, there will be a number of suitors who will be looking to contact Regan Hendry's agent based off his performance. Collectively, the whole team deserve immense credit. As a fan, I'm simply enjoying this squad while it lasts: You never know. With the way this season has been they might just go on to promotion if they can replicate tonight. The only shame is that the fans weren't in the stadium to see it. I don't think I would've been able to contain the surreal situation of our fans chanting "We want six".
And if we were to add a cherry to the top of the cake? Guinea-Bissau successfully qualified for the African Cup of Nations next year so a congratulations to Nando and his international teammates!