Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Firstly, I'd like to extend my sympathies if you made the decision to tune into El Clasico over this one - you missed an entertaining game. Rovers heaped more misery onto the Queens who are still searching for their first win of 2020. The first fifteen minutes saw three goals, two yellow cards and a penalty in an enthralling match. There were chances aplenty but Rovers were clinical in front of goal and ran out 5-2 winners with some really well worked goals - it wasn't all plain sailing as Queens created plenty of chances in the early stages of the second half. The victory was the first time Rovers had put five goals past the Doonhamers since January 1988 during Frank Connor's tenure (a stat that I was raging to see Raith TV picked up on).
So what did we learn from today's game against Queen of the South?
1. "The passing! The moving! the tempo!"
Chambers Street, Edinburgh on the 5th October 2017 and John Collins is walking outside Vodka Revolution followed in toe by twitter user @Koybashi who is yelling "The passing! The moving! The tempo!". Collins takes it in his stride and walks off laughing about the whole situation. Had Collins been watching today he might have been repeating those words given the first half display.
From the outset, Raith went out with an attacking game plan and it paid huge dividends. In the first minute, Duku won a high ball which was knocked back into midfield which Dylan Tait dinked through to Ross Matthews who in turn rolled the ball into the bottom left corner. It was a well worked move which would typify the first half performance.
Queens quickly restored parity when Reghan Tumilty brought down Stephen Dobbie who hammered home his second penalty in as many weeks. But after that, the first half was all about the Rovers. Ethan Ross limped off injured but from the resulting free kick Rovers exposed Queen's inability to handle balls into the box. Iain Davidson hooked a ball to the back post where it was nodded home by Manny Duku.
Rovers then added a deserved third goal. Duku and Tait combined to win the ball back from Queens in the heart of midfield before finding Regan Hendry. The ex-Celtic player then picked out Tumilty who put in a perfect pass to Daniel Armstrong who scored his second goal in as many weeks. Rovers went in at half time well in charge of the game and the QotS TV commentary team were questioning how we weren't further ahead.
While the second half performance did see Rovers under a lot of pressure, they did show an ability to regain control of the game. The hard work of both Duku and Tait paid off and both were rewarded with goals in the latter stages of the game. Duku in particular was persistent in chasing a lax header back from Obileye which he netted.
2) Rovers showed resolve and showed an ability to weather a storm
With a two goal advantage and the team perfectly in control, Paul Smith must have been delighted at half time. But the old cliché of football being a game of two halves threatened to rear it's head as the Doonhamers made a positive start and began to pressurise Rovers. The dynamic of the game seemed to change with two half time subs. Ever-present left back Kieran MacDonald was replaced by Frankie Musonda for Raith, while Queens took off Joe McKee and replaced him with Calvin McGrory. McGrory set the second Queens goal up afer he swung in a cross which was met by Ayo Obileye.
For the next ten minutes, Rovers were forced to weather the storm. The sharp, one twos of the first half were replaced by long balls up to Duku. Stephen Dobbie became more of a presence as Queens hunted an equaliser. Fortunately, Dylan Tait successfully restored the two goal cushion after a tidy finish. The second half was a far more uncomfortable affair for Raith but the changes were enforced by injury. After some readjustments, they managed to assert themselves on the game. In previous years, this might have been the type of result where they might have cracked under the pressure but each player on the pitch made sure they did their duty. Regan Hendry in particular deserves credit for two goal line clearances.
3) Young Rovers: Dylan Tait's role in the team has changed and he looks the part.
Last season, Rovers were fortunate to see two fantastic talents coming through the youth ranks. Kieron Bowie netted ten goals and subsequently moved to Fulham in what was a major windfall for the club. While Ziggy has headed off to London, the club managed to keep a hold of Dylan Tait. Rovers picked up Tait after his release from Partick Thistle and he has quickly become a regular first team player following impressive displays against East Fife and Peterhead. Both he and Bowie highlight that if you're good enough, you'll get game time regardless of age. This could be a huge factor for attracting young talents to Stark's Park.
There are parallels between Tait and Rovers forward Lewis Vaughan: both initially started further back on the pitch but have progressed into the number 10 role. This season, Tait has struck up an excellent understanding with Manny Duku. The Dutch forward's pace and physical presence offers space in which Tait can work. Today saw Tait score his first league goal of the season after an intelligent run behind the defence before firing past Rohan Ferguson. It's well merited for the Glaswegian youngster who looks to be very comfortable playing at Championship level.
It wouldn't be of any surprise if we see Tait quickly attract the same level of attention which Bowie came to receive. The modern game means that more clubs in England are spending to try to attract younger players from the lower reaches of the SPFL. If Tait continues his current path then there's every chance a club will come calling soon.
With a visit to Dens Park next week, it will be interesting to see how Tait gets on testing himself against the experience of the likes of Ashcroft, Foster and the returning Charlie Adam.
4) Squad depth and utility players will have a key role in this shortened season.
Raith Rovers and injury crises go hand in hand. For the last decade, the club have lost key players each season, sometimes seeing multiple players out with cruciate injuries. This weekend's game continues on that trend. Rovers lost three players at different points: Ethan Ross left the game on crutches following a tackle from Gregor Buchanan. Kieran MacDonald went off after an awkward twist going for a header. Kyle Benedictus was withdrawn with a dead leg midway through the second half.
In past seasons, this might have led to midfielders in defence and exposure for the goal keeper. Today worked differently with Fernandy Mendy and Frankie Musonda taking to the field. Mendy looks to have benefitted greatly from his loan spell at Kelty Hearts and put in a solid display at Tynecastle. The popular French centre back didn't look out of place today without ever having much to do as he joined Iain Davidson in the centre of the park. Collectively, the fan base are right behind Nando given his enthusiasm after a difficult start in Scotland.
The defence was supplemented at half time with the arrival of Frankie Musonda. Much like Duku, Rovers fans weren't familiar with Frankie prior to joining the club: much of his career so far has been spent out on loan in non-league English football after coming through the ranks at Luton. When players like Duku and Musonda sign there can be a sense of trepidation to match the hope you're going to get a potential star. Brought in as a centre half, the 22 year old has been used now both as a left back and right back to replace MacDonald and Tumilty respectively. To his credit, he also didn't look out of place today. He may have to bide his time to feature in the middle of the park, but he looks like he'll have an important role in the team whatever happens.
5) Everything in it's right place: Rovers fans should enjoy moments like these while we can.
Today has pretty much been a perfect day for the Rovers faithful. We've taken 6 points from 6 and rocketed to the top of the league with two displays of attacking football scoring 8 goals in the process. Many predictions will have placed Queens and Arbroath as clubs with a similar position as our own - try to consolidate and survive at Championship level. To open up a 6 point gap immediately is a huge benefit for ourselves: obviously we're well away from the league being completed but the players have already shown that they're well suited to this level. There's no reason why they can't repeat the history of other clubs and make a potential push for the playoffs if they can get momentum.
A look at the League 1 table shows how different life might be. Cove sit at the top with Falkirk's draw at home to Forfar leaving the Bairns second. Partick Thistle sit in 5th place after an opening day defeat away to Clyde. League 1 is hugely difficult for clubs like ourselves: with all due respect to clubs like Forfar and Clyde, teams will try their hardest to take a lead and sit tight to try to win a result. You only need to look at the numerous trips into Angus which Rovers have had over the last few years where they've left with more cruciate injuries than points.
Today saw a game with two teams trying to go out their way to attack: it was what you want from lower league football - goals, penalties, bookings, shots rattling the bar. It's the culmination of hard work from John McGlynn, Paul Smith and the board to try to attract an excellent standard of player to the club: Regan Hendry, Dylan Tait, Dan Armstrong among others. Today is only a snapshot of course and the current pandemic makes this more unpredictable than ever. But as a fan of a club like Rovers you need to savour moments like this.
To score five goals away from home, including two for your new striker is exactly what you want as a football fan. Long may it continue!