After yet another break from league duties last weekend, Raith will travel to Clackmannanshire to face Alloa Athletic in a Boxing Day fixture. Alloa are another team the Rovers support will be familiar to having crossed paths both in the league and cups on various occasions throughout the last decade. The Wasps will be looking to move away from the bottom end of the table and attempt to build on their successful Betfred Cup which saw them eliminated at the Quarter Final Stage (having beaten Hearts in the last 16).
The last time the two sides faced was (like our last opponents Ayr) during the ill-fated 2017/18 season where Rovers suffered three nightmarish results who were managed by Jim Goodwin at that point. The final day of the season saw Lewis Vaughan infamously hit the post with seconds left in a game where a win would have seen Rovers lift the title. The playoffs beckoned and the midweek tie at Recreation Park saw Barry Smith's side concede two sloppy goals which typified the poor defending seen throughout the season.
The home leg didn't fare much better for the Kirkcaldy side. Jordan Kirkpatrick gave the Wasps a three goal aggregate lead with a stunning free kick. Euan Murray headed home a corner but Ross Stewart (who scored in the first leg) sealed Alloa's route to the final with a cool one-on-one.
Since that tie, Alloa have retained the core of their team. Jim Goodwin moved to St Mirren and was replaced by former Celtic and Norwich player Peter Grant. Looking at their squad, it's clear they have opted for one which is very heavy in experience: Parry, Cawley, Graham, Buchanan, Trouten and Robertson are all over the age of 30 but represent some of the most consistent part time players in the country. Both Cawley and Trouten have scored against Rovers on numerous occasions so fans will know the danger they present.
In the summer transfer window, they did manage to make some interesting acquisitions to add to supplement their squad. There will have been more than a few eyebrows raised throughout Scottish football when they pulled off what seemed like a coup when they signed Stefan Scougall. Scougall, who was previously with Livingston before appearing for Sheffield United, St Johnstone and Carlisle, made the move to the club having initially been looking to relocate to Australia prior to COVID-19. Both he and Trouten missed the win over Caley and it remains to be seen whether they'll return on Boxing Day.
Similarly, they also took on board Ray Grant who was previously with Clyde. Grant (who is son of the manager) looked assured for the the Bully Wee last season and had drawn praise for his ability from many who watch that level.
It often feels like some pundits in Scottish football can lazily write off part-time players as being tired legs after a day's work and less fit or organised than full-time teams. The past few years have shown this to be a distant memory: with more and more clubs ensuring a focus on nutrition and sports science part time football is thriving while the rise of a fitness culture has seen more and more players work in an environment where they can use their experience in sport to earn livings (East Fife player and long term Rovers nemesis Scott Agnew for example teaches those looking to become personal trainers).
Already this season, Alloa have shown they shouldn't treated with any complacency. Cup escapades aside, they've already beaten Caley Thistle at home (it's well worth checking out Innes Murray's fantastic free kick here), drawn with Dundee and won at Gayfield against Arbroath. They'll be looking to string together more consistency in a shortened league season in an attempt to secure a 4th consecutive season in the second tier.
Recreation Park is always a ground which Rovers fans have always had an uneasy attitude towards. Our last win there came back in the spring of 2015 courtesy of a Grant Anderson finish in the Championship playoff promotion push under Ray McKinnon. Over the last 20 games between the two sides, Rovers have won 7, drawn 6 and lost 6 and historically the games have always been quite tight affairs with the occasional game where teams have run away with the match. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would be confident enough to predict a comfortable win for either team.
To make an already difficult tie more tricky, although there is some uncertainty: full back Kieran MacDonald initially tweeted he'd tested positive for COVID before deleting the post raising questions over whether he'll be available. It's unclear whether there are any further issues for the squad though Paul Smith did confirm that Jack Smith had returned to training following an injury.
The game will be available to stream via Alloa's website here. This season they've opted to use Pixelot though have done so with a manual camera operator. The 'admission' is £12 and purchasing the game is very straight forward given you can use your Facebook account for registering.
We contacted Alloa fan Brian Roach who took the time to answer a few questions about the club and how they're doing so far this season:
What are your first memories of watching Alloa?
My Dad would take me on a semi regular basis as a kid in the mid 80s. The usual typical factors appealed to me as a kid- the noise, the language, Alloas gold strip and winger Frankie Cole. But the first team I really remember watching every game was the First Division promotion winning side of 1988/89 under Gregor Abel- probably a favourite team for a whole generation of supporters.
Alloa are now in their third consecutive season at this level and after a tricky start have now picked up back to back wins: how optimistic are you that they can now kick on?
I certainly think we can push on, but would like to see a couple of additions in January if possible. We lost arguably our two best players in summer- midfielder Iain Flannigan and striker Kevin O'Hara- and understandably they've been big gaps to fill. Flannigan in particular gave us real structure and balance in the midfield. The manager is still working on getting that midfield balance fine tuned but with Stefan Scougall being integrated more recently I think hes almost there. We have some gifted players at the club such as Alan Trouten and Kevin Cawley, with a strong established defensive unit- we'll challenge everyone as we always do.
Peter Grant replaced Jim Goodwin: has the style of the team changed compared to Goodwin and Ross?
We probably play slightly more expansive under Grant, but he has really done what any manager should do- utilised the best system to suit the players he has at his disposal. The core squad has remained at the club for some time. He tweaked the system to a diamond when he first arrived, but reverted back to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1. But in terms of approach and strategy, not a lot has changed under Grant, who is tactically very knowledgable. Who is the most underrated player in the Alloa team?
Liam Dick at left back. So consistent in defence, a solid 7 or 8 out of 10 every week. For me he has been Alloa's best player so far this season.
Stefan Scougall is seen as a huge coup given the level he has played at: how has he started at the club?
We are only beginning to see him regularly in the past 3 or 4 games. When he joined in summer he hadn't played since January, so it's taken him some time to get to match sharpness. Ability wise, he has shown what hes capable of. He has a great touch and turn which you rarely see at this level. His integration into the lineup on a regular basis will be a key factor in our success this season.
In the last few years, Alloa have seen numerous promotions and relegations but have ended up spending a good amount of time in the second tier: what's been your favourite moment from during this time?
Alloa have had a decade which probably surpassed any prolonged period in the clubs history. Victories over Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Rangers have all been special, but in more recent years the Championship play off final win against Dumbarton in 2018. 1 down from the home leg, we levelled the tie at Dumbarton in stoppage time, finally breaking their defensive resolve. Then Jordan Kirkpatrick popped up with an out of this world strike to win it. Speaking of memories, what are your best and worst memories of games against Raith?
I was on the pitch at Starks in 2006 when Alloa avoided relegation with a win over Rovers to complete their "great escape" under Allan Maitland. Also, the 2018 play-off semi final games were excellent. Rovers were understandably low after losing the league on the last day, but we put in 2 brilliant performances there.
Starks Park isnt generally a ground where we do all that well, and I've seen plenty of defeats in Kirkcaldy. There was also a 0 0 draw between the clubs at Alloa back in John McGlynns first spell which was quite possibly the worst game of football I've ever witnessed.