After a week where Scotland boogied their way to their first international tournament for the first time in 22 years, Rovers picked up three points as they were eliminated from the group stages of the Betfred Cup in a tight affair at Central Park. The away side bossed the first half of the match and displayed their attacking threats. Manny Duku ran on to a hooked ball from Dylan Tait which was cut back past the Cowden centre back and fired past the keeper in the only goal of the game.
The second half saw the Blue Brazil grow in presence but Rovers kept them at bay to record their third clean sheet of the season with what was a make shift defence. Daniel Armstrong was forced to deputise at left back while Frankie Musonda made his first start in the middle of defence along with Fernandy Mendy. The game fizzled out somewhat with both teams limited in their opportunities in front of goal. Of our Betfred Cup ties, this was the one which won't live long in the memory of fans. We've struggled to put together our Five Things but here's our best attempt:
The Rovers squad have an inherent flexibility
Another game and another line up which was restricted by injuries. For the past few years, it's felt like the treatment table at Stark's Park has had an ever-growing queue. Paul Smith confirmed prior to the match that both Iain Davidson and Lewis Vaughan had suffered long term set backs and that Kieran MacDonald would miss the match through injury.
This meant that Rovers went into the game with a left winger at left back and a new centre back combination. Despite this, the team still managed to keep a clean sheet. Daniel Armstrong deputised at left back and covered well. He continued to press forwards in the first half and looked to overlap with Ethan Ross at every opportunity. At no point did the ex-Wolves midfielder look out of place.
Mendy was imperious in the air and won everything with very little difficulty. There were a couple of stray passes which cause panic but the French centre half was voted man of the match by the fans app. The game also offered a chance for Frankie Musonda to make a mark at centre back. Musonda showed his qualities as a ball playing centre back. For all the injury issues, McGlynn and Smith will have some difficult choices to make as to who will be first choice at the centre half position.
The flexibility of the squad is a positive for the management, but it's something which they won't want to rely on if they have to. Next weeks match against Inverness will hopefully see some respite with the return of Lars Lokotsch and Kyle Benedictus.
The keeper conundrum
The Betfred cup has offered a chance for Paul Smith to provide some valuable game time to Robbie Thomson. While Jamie MacDonald has taken the number 1 position for league matches, Thomson has been involved for the most two recent matches. While he conceded three goals against Inverness, his save at the end was absolutely heroic and it will force the management to make a decision on how to proceed.
Thomson marshalled his defence well yesterday and ultimately had very little to do during the afternoon. Having come back from long term injuries, he'll be intent to try to ensure he's not taking a backseat going forward. Saturday's trip to Inverness will offer a dilemma for the management. Both keepers will have felt that they have staked a claim for the jersey and that they've earned their place in the starting 11.
Looking across the other clubs in the Championship, Rovers are in quite a fortunate position. Historically, our luck has never been the greatest with goal keepers but the club have three players they can depend upon comfortably should the need to. MacDonald has played at the highest level in Scotland and brings a wealth of experience. Most other clubs would then have a back up keeper who might be waiting in the wings to gain experience but Raith have Thomson who will have more game time than most. This is then supplemented by goalkeeping coach and all round legend David McGurn who has shown he can still step up.
Brad Spencer's return provides a balance in midfield.
With Scotland qualifying for Euro 2020, Rovers had the slightest of links to the last time the national team picked up three points at a major tournament. Brad Spence was less than a month old when his dad John Spence was subbed on at Villa Park as Scotland piled forwards trying to add to their goal difference against Switzerland. Ultimately, they would miss out on the latter stages of the competition.
After signing from Forfar at the start of last season, the 24 year old midfielder has formed an excellent understanding with the likes of Regan Hendry and Ross Matthews in the middle of the park. He has had to be patient at the start of the season - at times he's been used on the wing - but he has added a balance to the squad in the games where he has featured He has an eye for a pass and can often be able to anticipate where forwards might run: the prime example of this is the final match of last season where he played a brilliant ball through for John Baird.
Additionally, Spencer isn't afraid from putting in a combative performance. He'll happily go toe to toe against his opposition and will show a willingness to get stuck in to make things difficult. The start of the season has seen a lot of plaudits for the displays from the likes of Hendry and Tait but Spencer also represents a key player that Rovers fans would be happy to get an extension moving forwards.
It was Spencer's knock down to Tait which set up for the only goal of yesterday's game. Moving forward, it wouldn't be surprising if he becomes a mainstay in the Scottish Championship or higher.
The same result but a different story: Rovers can take positives from the Betfred Cup
It's indisputable that the Rover's finest hour came on 27/11/1994. So it's slightly ironic that the changes to the League Cup competition have seen the club have a bit of a torrid time. Rovers are yet to qualify for the last 16 of the competition since it was amended in the 2016/17 season. During that period, they are always seen to have underperformed. The cup now starts earlier in the year meaning less pre-season games and squads don't tend to be finished articles. No club will be dismissive of the competition but a poor result in the opening game can often be a enough to put you close to an early exit. All the while managers will look to be trying to figure out what their best teams are.
This season was a different story: Rovers opened positively with their game against East Fife where they snatched a 90th minute winner. The defeat at Tynecastle against a weakened Hearts team was disappointing but it was ultimately on the back of two penalties being awarded to the hosts and Rovers being denied their chance from 12 yards after a clear hand ball. The break between the game against the Jambos allowed for us to play Arbroath, Queen of the South, Dundee and Morton on league duty winning three and drawing one.
The confidence has grown as the squad to continue to gel meaning that we've had a league cup campaign which has felt more positive. Players like Mendy and Musonda both got extra game time under their belts and it allowed for Rovers to have a proper go at avoiding elimination. The game against Inverness ultimately meant yesterday was pretty much a dead rubber but it provided a chance to provide game time to players. Ultimately, this will stand the club in good stead.
"You might win something playing kids...": A day for the FEFA and youth prospects
One of the key developments for all of the Fife clubs over the last few years has been the move to a collective Elite academy system with the arrival of the Fife Elite Football Academy (FEFA). FEFA was started in 2014 to consolidate the youth systems of Raith, Dunfermline, Cowdenbeath and East Fife into a set up which would allow for the four clubs to work cooperatively at an Elite youth level. The academy has seen a stream of young talents arrive at Stark's Park including Kieron Bowie who secured a lucrative move to Fulham in the summer.
Saturday's game saw five players in the Rovers squad who have qualified through the youth ranks appear in the squad. Ross Matthews has recently made his 200th appearance for the club and his arrival preceded the formation of the academy. He came through in a period where the club became far more proactive with young talents which saw the development of Ross Callachan, Lewis Vaughan and Ross Laidlaw.
Dylan Tait is now a stand out performer for the team and looks to have experience beyond his years: at only 19 there's a real confidence in his play and it seems inevitable that larger clubs will be circling to try to poach such a young talent. Quinn Coulson also made an appearance from the bench late into the second half for a 15 minute cameo. While Coulson didn't get much of a chance to make a mark on the game, there's high hopes that for him moving forward. In preseason, the attacker netted three goals and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him get given more time to develop over the course of the season.
Both Aaron Arnott and Luke Mahady were unused subs during the game. Arnott looked impressive in his display in pre-season at Brechin where he put in a comfortable performance. Mahady also looks an interesting prospect having previously been with Celtic's youth system previously. John McGlynn will be hoping that he can continue his track record of developing young talents. It will be interesting to see how Rovers continue to utilise young talents going forwards - the emergence of Bowie and Tait also means that the club might be able to attract talents who are keen to try to break into senior football.
The hosts also had their own youth element in their team. In what was a difficult first half, Jacob Glass looked comfortable in defence for the Blue Brazil. At just 17 years old, he did well to marshal Manny Duku and to keep chances limited throughout the game. Gary Bollan will undoubtedly be delighted with how the young defender held his own during the game.
For Rovers, it certainly does look like an avenue where they might see huge financial rewards. The players coming through have shown that they can step up to the plate historically and it is something fans should be excited about moving forwards.