Raith Rovers ended their 3 year exile from the Scottish Championship with a bang as they defeated Arbroath 3-0 at Stark's Park. The Red Lichties romped home to the title two seasons ago leaving Rovers miles behind.
A cagey affair was expected but Raith ultimately ran out comfortable winners. So what can we take from the victory?
1. If there are questions over our defence, MacDonald looks to be a good answer.
Since Ray McKinnon's departure, a recurring worry for the Rovers fans has been the consistency of the back four. Throughout this time, Kyle Benedictus and Iain Davidson have had their Jekyll and Hyde moments. Sometimes, they'll cruise through games and at other points they'll suffer mishaps. Both defenders will often look to play their way out of trouble to varying degrees of success.
There's also a lack of confidence in the players who have been between the sticks. Various keepers have come and gone during the last three seasons: Graeme Smith and Aaron Lennox both left after error strewn games. Robbie Thomson has been solid enough but been unlucky on the injury front. Last season, there was a degree of concern whenever Ross Munro would come to collect a cross. Munro came in on loan from Ross County but was another who had numerous gaffes which led to questions being raised.
In the summer, McGlynn moved quickly to capture the experienced Jamie MacDonald as his first signing. The former Hearts keeper had spent last season on a successful loan at Alloa after failing to make the first team at Kilmarnock. The first half saw Arbroath in the ascendancy. Former Rover James Craigen fired in an inviting cross for Michael McKenna but MacDonald clawed away the effort. This, along with Luke Donnelly missing a chance after beating the offside trap, signalled a turning point in the match. If Rovers are to have any degree of success in consolidating their position this season, they need to ensure they're keeping it tight in defence and MacDonald will hopefully give confidence to our centre halves.
2. Defensive Deja Vu with Reghan Tumilty
It's often said that the modern full back will now double up as a winger and this is something which John McGlynn has bought into. Last season Rovers were asymmetrical in their shape in many games. Kieran MacDonald found his way both to Starks and won plaudits for his bombing runs forward which netted the ex-Airdrie left back goals, assists and numerous awards including player of the year. On the right side, Rovers alternated between Michael Miller and Dave McKay who didn't offer the same attacking impetus.
Tumilty offers a direct option going forward for McGlynn. Against Arbroath he was a menace on the flank where he linked up with Daniel Armstrong. His intelligent back hell to Armstrong allowed for the winger to cut in field for the opener. This was quickly followed up when Dylan Tait played a superb ball into the channel where Tumilty had continued his run. The full back showed composure and awareness to fire past Derek Gaston who had charged off his line. It was an excellent end to a well worked move where Rovers showed that they can carve open chances if given space.
3. Ethan Ross is making a name for himself
In all honesty, I'll confess to being a bit out of the loop about Ethan Ross when he recently signed with Rovers. Aberdeen have brought through (or acquired) various young talents in recent years including Bruce Anderson, Dean Campbell and Lewis Ferguson and I hadn't followed how our new winger got on at Dunfermline where he went on loan.
So far, Ross has came in and put in some solid displays for the Rovers. The young winger made a good impression in the pre-season game at Brechin and caused issues against East Fife. He made an instant impact against Hearts where he found space before teeing up Dylan Tait who in turn threaded through the pass for Duku's goal.
Against Arbroath, Ross looked like a player high in confidence. He had a similar role to what might be expected of Lewis Vaughan: glide about the pitch and find space to cause troubles. With Manny Duku proving a handful for Thomas O'Brien and Ricky Little, Ethan Ross was given plenty of space to drive into.
4. Oh Manny, Manny
Premier Sports coverage of the Rovers on Tuesday was filled with praise for new forward Manny Duku. The forward has certainly made an impressive start since joining from the English non-league. His pace and physical presence have caused pretty much every defence he's faced some problems at different points.
Duku's performance against Arbroath was solid enough despite not making the scoresheet. Last season Rovers had very little aerial presence going forward, but Duku's determined presence means that there's a share of flick ons and knock downs to be won for our attacking players.
The striker was unlucky when he hit a shot from the edge of the penalty box which crashed off Gaston's bar. Towards the end of the game, Duku was unfortunate when a shot from Ethan Ross richochet off Gaston and spiralled over his shoulder. The striker tried to catch the ball on the turn but it spiralled out with the goal gaping. It's also telling that he was immediately looking to take the second penalty which was ultimately missed by Hendry - justice given the frankly ridiculous handball rules which are currently being enforced.
Duku clearly looks hungry and seemingly looks intent to use the opportunity at Rovers to set his stall out. Many players have come to north to Scotland to different degrees of success (Motherwell's recruitment and Falkirk under Hartley spring to mind). Rovers fans should be encouraged by his displays and it wouldn't surprise me if the club are caught questioning whether to look to extend his contract to avoid a repeat of when Ross County poached Dan Armstrong two seasons ago.
5. Attack might be the best form of defence for Rovers
One of the biggest positives for the Stark's Park faithful tuning in to Raith TV yesterday was the abundance of attacking threats on display. In his first spell, McGlynn's team had a reputation for being industrious to the point where they would sacrifice aesthetically pleasing football for results (we didn't really care in all honesty).
The second coming couldn't be more different. Prior to the game, the discussion was about how different our current squad is compared to the one which finished so underwhelmingly below Arbroath. Rovers were an inconsistent team and struggled going forward as players like Nat Wedderburn, Grant Gillespie and Jamie Barjonas all failed to offer any movement going forwards.
Changes have been wholesale. Regan Hendry has grown immeasurably with more game time and has been used as a lynchpin for the attacks. The ex-Celtic youth looked a class above at league one level and carried that on yesterday by continually dictating the play.
Out on the wings, MacDonald, Tumilty, Armstrong and Ross all looked comfortable at running at the Arbroath defence and created numerous chances. Duku put in a solid shift and was eventually replaced by Grant Anderson for the closing stages. It's worth also remembering that McGlynn is still waiting on both Lewis Vaughan and Gozie Ugwu to return to the fold (Vaughan featured briefly against Hearts but was spared against Arbroath).
At 06:22 on the highlights from Raith TV, it's a completely different picture. 5 players stream forward with Duku leading the charge in a move which ultimately saw the ball go wide, inches from the outstretched Dutch forward. At this point, Arbroath had committed bodies forwards in an attempt to get back to the game but it showed a willingness which had been missing before.
Finally I'd also like to take a moment to acknowledge the superb work done by Raith TV. Nobody foresaw 2020 resulting in football being played in front of empty stadia. The last few years has seen a group of volunteers travel up and down Scotland 'from Dingwall to Stranraer' filming and commentating games. They've put in relentless work which we're now seeing a huge benefit from. Rovers fans are completely in debt to their efforts.