Raith Rovers chief executive Eric Drysdale has stressed that the club was not guilty of negligence over the goalkeeper fiasco that forced Ryan Stevenson to wear the gloves in Tuesday night’s defeat to Ayr United.
The 32-year-old striker was left to deputise between the sticks when Rovers failed in a request to postpone the match after injury left them without all three recognised goalkeepers.
With first-choice Kevin Cuthbert recovering from hernia surgery and Aaron Lennox out with a broken jaw and hand, the situation reached crisis point on Saturday when Conor Brennan suffered a foot injury against Queen of the South.
A deal to bring in Celtic third-choice ‘keeper Logan Bailly collapsed late on Monday night, a move that would have resulted in on-loan Aberdeen ‘keeper Lennox signing a permanent deal, as the Kirkcaldy club has already hit the maximum loan players allowed.
The situation led to Raith asking for a postponement on Tuesday morning, a request which was turned down by the SPFL board.
A spokesman for the SPFL said: “Raith Rovers had a number of options open to them once their only fit goalkeeper was injured at the weekend.
“Options included bringing in an under-21 goalkeeper; signing a free agent; or seeking permission from the SPFL board to sign a goalkeeper of any age on an emergency basis.”
However, Drysdale explained that he was kept in the dark about the possibility of making a case to bend the rules until it was too late.
“From Saturday night to Tuesday lunchtime I had 10 substantive phonecalls with SPFL officials, and it was only on the last of these, on Tuesday afternoon, about an hour before the team bus was scheduled to leave for Ayr, that I was advised that there was a rule that allowed the SPFL board, in exceptional circumstances, to effectively waive the normal rules, and sanction the signing of a goalkeeper on a short-term deal, rather than until the end of the season.
“The normal rules are such that if we were signing somebody on a contract it would have had to be up until the end of June, when the transfer window opens again.
“That restricted what we could afford. On Tuesday afternoon, for the first time, it became clear that we could have been looking for someone we could sign for a month, or a fortnight, or a week in the circumstances we were in. That would make any signing much more affordable.
“Up until then we had been fishing in a small lake, but all that time from Saturday to Tuesday, we could have been searching a much wider area for goalkeepers we could afford.
“That is very frustrating. Had we been able to look more widely then we would surely have done a deal before the game on Tuesday night.
“This is a rule that has never been used by the SPFL before in its four years of existence, which is why I didn’t know about it as a director of the SPFL.
“I’m not suggesting the SPFL was negligent in any way in not telling us, but I wish they’d told us earlier. It would have helped us enormously.”
Conor Brennan had been the only fit goalkeeper on the club’s books since replacing an injured Kevin Cuthbert in a 3-0 defeat at Tannadice on February 4.
However, Drysdale insisted that the club had been working behind the scenes on bringing in a young goalkeeper as cover on the bench.
“Ever since John Hughes was appointed, we’ve been trying to identify a keeper,” he said. “Within the financial constraints that we have, and within the rules and regulations as we understood them, it was quite a narrow group of people that were available and that we could afford.
Rovers’ predicament echoed that of a situation Hearts found themselves in last year, when a request to postpone a match against Inverness, ironically managed by the current Raith boss, was approved due to having no available goalkeepers.
“I don’t want to go down the route of saying there’s one rule for the big clubs and one rule for us – not at all,” Drysdale said.
“It’s a harsh and unsympathetic decision that could have been made no matter who the club was. It’s perhaps unfortunate that we’ve played things by the book.
“We’ve engaged with the SPFL since the moment we had the problem. Perhaps if we’d just kept our trap shut, and instead gone to the SPFL on Tuesday morning and said we have no goalkeeper for tonight, they might have had a different decision.
“But because I engaged with them, and the perception is we had three days to do something about it, that this decision has been reached.
“The issue for me is we were fishing in a very small pool, and we didn’t have to be. I’m not being heavily critical of the SPFL but I’m trying to make it clear that we have not been negligent. Had I been advised of this additional rule that had never been used before, the outcome would have been different.
Raith now have seven days to find a goalkeeper before the relegation six-pointer against St Mirren at Stark’s Park next Wednesday.
Drysdale added: “Now that we have all the information, and we are able to extend our search to a wider group of players, we will find a goalkeeper between now and next Wednesday.”