Having spent the last week licking their wounds after their Highland fling, Rovers will return to action contesting the Fife Derby against local rivals Dunfermline. The battles between the two clubs has seen highs and lows for the Kirkcaldy club over the last few seasons: the matches are often tight but frequently have flash points which live long in the memory of the supporters for both positive and negative reasons.
The game is one which fans will have looked out for when the fixtures were released. As the autumn progressed, it was clear that fans wouldn't have the opportunity to attend in person but that shouldn't devalue a game which both teams will see as winnable. Dunfermline go into the match in an excellent vein of form: they currently sit top of the league following their surprise victory over Hearts.
Having picked up Kevin O'Hara and Declan McManus from Alloa and Falkirk respectively, Euan Murray has emerged as the Pars top goalscorer so far this season having found the net on seven occasions. It's understandable given that they've scored on seven occasions so far this season from balls into the box on the back of corners and free kicks. Crawford's attacking style of play has seen them also score four penalties so Rovers will need to be disciplined at the back if they want to take three points.
McManus, O'Hara and Murray are all fairly representative of how Steve Crawford handles his transfer business: often the club will try to pick up players from league one who are displaying signs of promise and try to develop them before selling them on. Similarly, they've done well to poach some players who have fallen out of favour with larger clubs such as Dom Thomas and Ryan Dow.
Tomorrow is the second in a series of tests for Rovers. Caley dictated the most recent league match but it was clear that some of the players had niggling injuries which had accumulated over time. The fortnight without games could be a blessing for the club to allow some much needed respite.
As cliched as it is to say, derbies can bring memorable moments to mediocre seasons: the last time the clubs met at Stark's Park competitively saw Rovers romp home to a 3-0 win courtesy of Lewis Vaughan. It was the high point in what proved to be an underwhelming season where injuries prevented the club from every fulfilling their true potential. It's unfortunate to see one injury which rules out a player for the rest of the season but Rovers had three (Thomson, Hendry and Vaughan). The Scottish Cup game saw the first time a player had hit a hat-trick in the derby in decades and it was reminder of why Lewis Vaughan is such a fan favourite.
Over the decades, the two clubs have had a cordial relationship which has occasionally boiled over from time to time. There have been numerous players to have featured for both teams: the dugouts alone have the likes of Stevie Crawford, Jason Dair and Paul Smith all of whom have hundreds of appearances at both clubs.
But in recent times, there's been plenty of drama which has extended along the A92: some of it ridiculous and some of it surreal. The 2010/11 season will remain long in the memory for both fans as the teams hammered away in a brawl akin to two heavyweight boxers. Ultimately, the Pars edged out Rovers but it came at a huge cost - two seasons later they were plunged into administration having spent outwith their means.
The period saw Rovers acquire Joe Cardle who would go on to take his place in the Ramsden's Cup winning squad. It also saw a bizarre proposal from the Rovers board where they suggested that they'd give the away side a share of the gate receipts if they brought over 2000 fans. Both sets of fans were incensed: Dunfermline fans were upset and threatened to boycott while Rovers were disappointed to be bailing out a club who had lived a life of luxury while our own club toiled.
Of course, the incident had come less than two years where Dunfermline had spent a summer transfer window trying to poach John Baird away from the club. Baird recently spoke to the Falkirk fan podcast Walking Down Hope Street and said that Dunfermline had put in five bids and ultimately said that he wanted to leave for the recently promoted club (and ultimately regretted) as they were offering to triple his wages.
Baird rejected Dunfermline and pointed out that he was glad he never joined given the ridiculous financial model which was in operation. The Pars went through their troubles and ultimately, the derby fell to the wayside for a period of time as they entered their banter years. Relegation by Alloa at the end of the 2012/13 season saw a period of exile where Dunfermline didn't return to the Championship until the 2015-16 season under Allan Johnstone. This coincided with the start of the Rovers banter years where Gary Locke was appointed.
Over the last decade alone, there's been plenty of reasons to look forward to the derby. We've enjoyed Sammy the Tammy declare war on our fans in his cardboard tank resulting in the national press questioning the ethics of Scottish mascots (the same press failed to mention a significant portion of Rovers fans chanting about Sammy being a sex predator).
The games have seen numerous flash points which the fans love to see. The first derby of the ill-fated 2016/17 season saw Ross Matthews embrace his inner Shawn Michaels and go in neck high into a tackle with Joe Cardle. The fact that he only walked away with a booking ranks behind "Why Gary Locke?", "Why are we loaning Vaughan to Dumbarton?" and "How can an SPFL board member not understand the rules leaving us to play Ryan Stevenson in goals?" as the biggest mysteries of that season.
It also produces iconic images for the fans: Step forward Dougie Hill. Josh Falkingham arrived at Dunfermline with a reputation for being a bit of a pain in the arse. A spell at Arbroath saw the Pars sign the diminutive midfielder who had infuriated many lower league fans and players alike. The first derby of the season at East End Park saw Falkingham open the first 30 seconds of the game with an outrageous tackle on left back Eddie Malone.
The second match at Stark's Park was an ill-tempered affair which saw Allan Walker sent off midway through the first half. Things quickly got worse for Rovers when at half time an announcement over the tannoy came through that Dougie Hill had been shown a straight red.
Fans were bemused that Rovers were forced into playing with 9 men for the second half. The post match photos showed the referee might have had a point as a truly iconic image emerged. Hill would ultimately write his name into Rovers folklore with a man of the match performance against one half of the old firm in a victorious cup final. Falkingham plies his trade at League 2 in England with Harrowgate.
The match can also give rise to cult heroes. Players can make one appearance in a derby and it can put them on a plinth. Fans will still idolise them years later (whatever their misgivings). One standout figure in the Rovers corner from recent years is Damian Casalinuovo. In 2009, social media was in it's infancy compared to today's live-twitter updates where fans are updated immediately about signings. It was the dying embers of a period where you could rock up to a match, look at a team sheet and say "who the fuck is that?".
On the 29th August 2009, John McGlynn made one of his raids into the loan market. Previous seasons had seen mixed results: some players were good for the time (Marco Pelosi, Craig Wilson), some blew hot and cold (David Goodwillie and David Templeton) and some weren't worth remembering (Dennis McLachlan). But as the teams warmed up at East End Park: a lumbering, unfamiliar figure was among the ranks.
Casalinuovo had arrived in Scotland to Dundee United but suffered setbacks in preseason meaning he lacked match fitness. Craig Levein agreed to send the Buenos Aires man to Kirkcaldy for a spell to get him up to speed. What followed was one of the most memorable derby moments for Rovers fans.
In an incredible sequence of events, a Dunfermline corner was clawed away by David McGurn. It was one of the numerous saves which typified why "the Witch" has gone down as a club legend. Dunfermline were 1-0 down and it had been a chance which would have restored parity. Instead, the ball broke out to the wing. The forward charged down the pitch before playing a pass out to winger Darren Smith. Seconds later, a cross was fired into the corridor of uncertainty where the forward tucked the ball home. In the space of fifteen seconds, a cult hero was born.
The big man leaped over the advertising hoardings only to realise he was on a booking. He promptly vaulted back over. After a couple of more appearances, Levein brought the striker back to Tannadice but did leave a parting gift by sending a young Johnny Russell to bolster the attacking options. Casalinuovo would return to Stark's Park unexpectedly two seasons later to save us from relegation but that's another story for another day.
Tommorow's game will represent a huge test for Rovers. But players like Casalinuovo show that these games are there for the taking. Vaughan's hat-trick shows that anything can happen even if you're in the midst of a season where things aren't going your way. Hopefully, Rovers can provide fans with more reasons to be positive after Dylan Tait signed a contract extension which will take him through to June 2024.
As ever, the match will be available on Raith TV at the reasonable price of £14. In the mean time, if anyone actually knows what animal a Tammy actually is, can they please drop an email to email@example.com?