Pre-season games to focus on match fitness

Barry Smith (picture by George McLuskie)
Barry Smith (picture by George McLuskie)

Raith Rovers manager Barry Smith has stated he is more concerned about football activities than the off-field discussions about the club’s future.

The main priority for him would be focusing on Raith’s campaign in 2017-18.

“What we have to focus on is what we do on the pitch,” he said.

“What happens off the pitch we can’t have any bearing on, so we just have to concentrate on what we can do on the pitch and fully focus on that.

“It’s not something I want to get involved in – I just want to concentrate on football. That’s the most important thing to me.”

Meanwhile, Smith was confidently looking ahead to the club’s crop of pre-season fixtures as match action began in earnest last night (Wednesday).

The Kirkcaldy squad drew 1-1, thanks to a last-gasp leveller from Jonny Court, away to Edinburgh City.

The new gaffer was looking to build on the game with the formation of a plan for how the side would face up to life in League One.

Rovers are due to meet Clyde on Saturday at Broadwood and then Dunfermline on Monday at Stark’s Park, before the competitive season begins on July 15 with the Betfred League Cup clash away to Dundee United.

Smith said he was satisfied with what he had seen so far in terms of the approach to preparations.

“I am happy with the squad,” he said.

“They have been right at it since the first day I came in during pre-season.

“Their attitude has been superb – we just asked them to continue that into the games.”

Smith said the squad had worked very hard in training and now it was about the matches coming up.

“We want to get off to a positive start and this is the best way to do that,” he added.

“We are looking at performances, looking at the way we want to to play and looking at the fitness levels of the players – but also we want to win games.

“There is no better way to start the season than winning your pre-season matches – we know we have a few difficult games, and ones that teams will be up for playing, and that’s why we chose these games.

“We want to have a good pre-season and continue that into the League Cup and then the league season.”

Smith added Raith were pretty much at their limit as far as recruiting new players was concerned, although he was still looking to bring someone in to the left-back area.

He added Kevin McHattie’s future should be resolved shortly, with a number of clubs, including Falkirk, understood to be interested in the player.

Ahead of the Edinburgh City match, Smith said he knew the capital side would provide a good test for his players, having stayed up following their first season in League 2 and amassed many fine results during the campaign.

Before kick-off, he said: “One of the reasons I picked that match was I knew they had experienced players and made a couple of good signings this week as well.

“We knew they would be tough oppostion but that is what you want in pre-season.

“We want our players to be worked hard and get an understanding for what the season ahead is going to be like.”

Smith added the pre-season diary included games the players would want to be involved in and look forward to.

“We have to get our fitness levels and performances towards the way we want to play,” he added.

Smith said he was looking forward to the whole campaign which lay ahead, at the dawn of his first full season in charge at Stark’s Park.

“It’s a good season to be involved,” he said. “I am genuinely very enthusiastic about what I’ve seen in pre-season and look forward to the actual season starting.”

Team captain Jason Thomson, who recently re-signed with the club, said the games would help the side polish its match fitness and sharpness.

“It’s been like most pre-seasons – you do the hard work and then it’s into the games,” he said.

“That’s what the players look forward to – the games. The manager too can get the way he wants to play across to the team.”

Ahead of last night’s encounter in the capital, Thomson said a team like Edinburgh City, which had confounded numerous expectations last season, would be a good indicator of what Raith could expect in 2017-18.

“We know a few of their players and some have played at a good level,” he said.

“We knew we’d have a tough test and we’d see what we may be up against most weeks with the type of opponents in League I.”

The subsequent matches against Clyde and Dunfermline would probably be lively affairs as well, agreed Thomson, adding they would be taken seriously and not just treated as friendlies.

Everyone would be looking to recapture their sharpness going into a new season and, if there was too relaxed an approach, the atmosphere could become a bit lackadaisical and neither team ended up getting much out of it.

“These are games we want to win to take a bit of momentum into the season before we start the League Cup,” he said. “We want to get the sharpness but also want to give a good account of ourselves.”

The games would help give a further indication to what Rovers knew already about how the squad was shaping up, said Thomson, but the games would be treated in the corrct manner before they headed for the Betfred League Cup tie against Dundee United at Tannadice.

The players knew there would be a big expectation on Raith to make a good start and do well this season, after the big disappointment of last term.

Promotion was the aim and the side would try to win and keep winning, he added.

‘‘Raith are in a situation now where they are in League 1 and they need to get out, and the only way to do that is by winnning,” he said.

Iain Davidson, the longest-serving Rovers player, is just entering the third season of his second spell at Stark’s Park, having spent eight years previously with the Kirkcaldy club.

He had played under manager Barry Smith previously at Dundee and said the boss was already trying to foster a winning spirit among the players.

Reflecting on the pre-season preparations to date, ahead of the Edinburgh City game, he said: “Everything has been so far, so good.

“The vibes are good in the camp and pre-season has been hard but fair, which is has to be.”

Relations between the players and the new manager were good and Davidson added: “There is a good bit of togetherness and connection.”

He added: “Barry (Smith) is trying to get a winning mentality into us already and that’s what’s going to be needed this year in League One.

“The boys have to handle the pressure.

“There is no point in shying away from it – we have to try and win that league.”

The boss had addressed the players as a group on the first day about what would be needed in the new campaign.

The squad would have to thrive on the situation and enjoy it as much as possible, said Davidson.

“We know what’s at stake and we have to handle it, although it will not be easy,” he said.