Updated: Jan 31
Raith continued to work their way through a difficult fixture list by picking up a win against playoff rivals Dundee today at Stark's Park. The win meant that Rovers have taken 6 points from a possible 9 in three games against the league's top two clubs and by 4:45pm had leapt up to second place: It was a welcome boost ahead of Wednesday's highly anticipated Fife derby at East End Park.
It wasn't all easy for Rovers. The game opened with the Dens Park side taking an almost immediate lead. Kieran MacDonald slipped allowing new arrival Paul McMullan to swing in an inch perfect cross for Osman Sow who put the visitors ahead. At this point, some of the more concerned Rovers fans pointed out that we'd failed to put a shot on target in 90 minutes and might be in for a long afternoon.
Fortunately, the Rovers players had more faith and mental fortitude and grew into the game as the first half progressed. Within 15 minutes, Kai Kennedy caught the Dundee defence out to receive a short corner. A ball was dinked in towards the six yard box where former Dee Kyle Benedictus headed home his first goal of the season. It was intelligent play from the hosts who were well deserving of an equaliser and gathered credit for their resilience.
As the game progressed, McGlynn's side grew in confidence. In his second start since returning from injury Lewis Vaughan saw far more exposure on the ball and did tremendously to link up the midfield with loanee Timmy Abraham throughout the match. In an outstanding display of skill, Kennedy managed to chapeau the ball over the head of a Dundee midfielder and break forward to play a through ball to Abraham but his strike was parried away by Jack Hamilton. It would be an indication of the aggression and intent which would be displayed later.
The game was ultimately decided in the second half by two moments of magic which were fit to win any game. Shooting towards the South Stand, a corner was cleared by Dundee as far as Reghan Tumilty who caught the ball perfectly on the bounce from 30 yards (according to BBC's Heather Dewar - who are we to disagree?). The full back thundered home a strike - it was reminiscent of Allan Walker's sensational effort which ended Dundee's unbeaten run back in 2011. The RaithTV commentary team were so jubilant in celebrating that they knocked out the sound of the stream. It was an outstanding strike from the full back who looks to be meeting his preseason agenda of adding goals to his game.
The words goal of the season were being banded around social media among Rovers fans. It wasn't long before it became a question of whether it was the best goal of the game let alone the season. Kai Kennedy weaved his way infield from the Main Stand side and hid a looping shot high into the far side of the net. It was another special moment from the Ibrox loanee which manager John McGlynn described as the "sign of a right top class football player".
The remainder of the second half saw the game fizzle out with both teams causing each other little problems. Kieran MacDonald had an ambitious 30 yard strike parried wide by Jack Hamilton while Dundee never really threatened to reduce the deficit. McPake brought on Jason Cummings in place of Paul McMullan but the former Hibs forward looked out of sorts in a wider position with Osman Sow leading the line. If there was to be any shining light for the away side it would come in the form of Malachi Fagan-Walcott - the 18 year old loanee from Tottenham looked comfortable at centre back against Abraham and latterly Manny Duku. There would be no intervention from the talismanic Charlie Adam today to see any reprieve for the visitors.
At full time, Rovers celebrated an excellent win and a resolute performance. This was a result where fans could see that the two teams had been separated by two moments of outstanding skill and ambition in the second half. Statistically, the hosts dominated possession and looked the more lively of the two sides so were fully deserving of their three points.
It was the perfect way for the side to dispel any frustration from Tuesday night's drubbing against Hearts. Today, they weren't up against seasoned internationalists- they were against a team who looked out of ideas for a large stages of the game. McPake's problems at times came across of his own making - McMullan looked a menace but was withdrawn which nullified any creative threat.
There's no respite for McGlynn's men though. Wednesday brings another huge fixture in the derby. Should they win, then they can go four points above Dundee and seven ahead of Ayr who are in 5th place. It's all to play for at East End Park and fans of the Kirkcaldy club will be feeling confident about their chances.
As ever, here's three talking points from today's game for us to mull over:
"He got a reaction out ye"- Timmy shows that he has the attributes to be a success in Kirkcaldy
Of all the people who found their way to RaithTV there were two guests with international caps under their belt. One was ex-Rovers, Dundee and Hibs hall of famer Keith Wright (who I recently found out scored the first ever Rovers goal I saw back in 1998 vs Airdrie). The other was Chelsea striker and England international Tammy Abraham who was tuning in to watch his younger brother Timmy.
In an unexpected move, the forward traded the banks of the River Thames for a view of the River Forth in a deal which very few Rovers fans could have foreseen. While there's not been much discussion of how the move came about it is easy to speculate that the clubs had familiarised themselves with one another following Kieron Bowie's transfer throughout last year and have maintained a good relationship.
Abraham started the match against a familiar adversary: John McGlynn explained that he had already played against Dundee centre half Malachi Fagan-Walcott at under 23 level for Fulham. Fagan-Walcott put in an impressive display and limited our new signing to one clear cut chance during the game. In spite of this, most Rovers fans will still have a lot of reason for optimism about their new forward.
After a quiet spell in the opening stages, Abraham's bursting run to meet Kai Kennedy's through ball showed he's got the alertness to suit the creativity of our playmakers. Throughout the game, he held off the Dundee centre halves at different points and brought the likes of Vaughan, Armstrong and Kennedy in to the game. While he might not have scored it would be understandable for fans to speculate that he'll see more success against some of the less resolute defences of the Championship. While he's in Kirkcaldy, he'll no doubt get the full backing of the fans who will be eager to go from strength to strength.
Return of the King - Lewis Vaughan is back and he's showing he's still got it
In a continuation of Tuesday's match against Hearts there was an feeling of a bonus at the end of today's match. Having suffered his third ACL injury at the age of 23 and with a spell out due to additional surgery for a recurring hamstring problem, Lewis Vaughan made his second appearance and completed a full 90 minutes without any reported issues. During the match, there was only one moment of concern when he went down after a 50/50 tackle but Rovers fans were relieved to see he continued without any difficulty.
It would be an understatement to say he's popular at Stark's Park: as our fans have sung many a time - he really is one of our own. It's incredible to think of the situations which he has found himself in - how many players could get loaned out to a rival and ultimately end up relegating your parent club only for fans to look at them and say "Oh well, it wasn't your fault son, there's no ill-will"? It's a testament to Lewis's character that it doesn't even register with the Rovers support. Similarly, it would have been easy for him to walk away when he suffered his second or third ACL injuries - instead he's shown a resolve which people in all walks of life can draw inspiration from.
Of course, it always helps when you come back to score a hat-trick in a derby win. There's an element of frustration in that we've always known that the forward has bags of potential - were it not for injury he'd have undoubtedly moved up the levels. Having watched Shankland and Nisbet move through the leagues there's always been a notion that Vaughan should fall into that category too.
For now though, fans are just delighted to see him back. There's a universal acceptable among supporters that we'll take each game as it comes. Today's performance saw him able to influence the match to a far higher degree than Tuesday - he looked comfortable in possession and carried the ball forward on numerous occasions while exchanging several passes with Abraham, Kennedy and Armstrong to get the ball into dangerous areas.
There's a feeling that this Rovers team is clicking together and becoming something truly special. While we'll take each game as it comes for Lewis, everyone acknowledges that his return is a huge boost for the club. As a supporter, it would be rewarding enough to see an outstanding footballer get the chance to be out on the pitch and enjoying himself - if anyone deserves it it then it's Lewis Vaughan.
Second Coming - John McGlynn and Paul Smith are quickly becoming story of the season
Today's top flight fixtures saw Kilmarnock lose to St Johnstone 3-2 having had a 2-0 lead at half time. Alex Dyer was promptly relieved of his duties by the Killie board and the search began for a new manager. As ever, speculation will quickly start on who should be their new manager. McBookie have already released a shortlist which includes the expected (Gary Holt, Stephen Robinson, Tommy Wright) and bizarre (Barry Ferguson, Joey Barton, Neil McCann).
After full time, I put out a short thread on twitter which I wanted to extend on here and it's a simple premise: John McGlynn doesn't get the credit he deserves in Scottish football. Prior to re-signing with Rovers a lot of people viewed McGlynn as a figure who had maybe progressed past his level - pointing to spells at Hearts and Livingston for reference. His teams were seen as industrious and hard working but unaesthetically pleasing.
Yet when he returned to Rovers, he and Paul Smith have shown a complete evolution in style. Having spent his time at Celtic scouting across Europe, the returning manager put the knowledge he'd gained to use and has built a team which play expansive, passing football with creative young players. Gone were the balls up the pitch for forwards to chase, instead the meme of 'Sexy Raith Rovers!' was born (my eternal gratitude to a View From the Terrace and Joel Sked for this).
With youth players like Bowie and Tait emerging from FEFA, McGlynn has put his contacts to use to bring in players from across the UK into the club to tremendous effect. While last season was cut short due to the pandemic, there was a belief among the club that they could go on to win the league. For all the crying about goal difference and being a point ahead of Falkirk with 8 games to play, Rovers have completely and utter defied their critics and continued to play the game in their own way at a higher level.
Clubs like Dunfermline and Dundee will have significantly larger budgets than Rovers yet it's McGlynn who has led his side to second spot in February despite playing less games than every club other than Caley Thistle. Despite all this, there's sparse recognition of how well the side have. BBC sport correspondent Tom English was quick to chime in at Dundee United's 5-1 defeat to St Mirren to state that "it's almost like they don't belong in the top flight" and yet you can guarantee there will be no tweet tonight saying that it looks like Rovers have found their level. Our success simply isn't compatible with the narrative.
It's unlikely McGlynn will be linked many top flight jobs despite his stellar work at Rovers. It's something that strikes me as utterly bizarre - there's a certain culture in Scottish football where certain faces will be linked with jobs and given an easy ride either due to their personality or how they've done five or ten years ago rather than on current merits. It should be noted - this isn't a complaint. Give me John McGlynn over a recently retired club legend in the 40s or a character who has been missed from the Scottish game for their 'passion' or 'honesty' any day of the week.