Smith wants Raith to embrace title challenge

Raith Rovers manager Barry Smith. Pic: George McLuskie
Raith Rovers manager Barry Smith. Pic: George McLuskie

Raith Rovers boss Barry Smith wants his players to embrace the expectancy levels as they kick-off their League One campaign at Alloa on Saturday.

Rovers start as joint favourites for the title, alongside fellow relegated Ayr United, and the pressure will be on both clubs to bounce back at the first time of asking.

While acknowledging that the division will be tough to escape, Smith says Raith should enjoy the challenge and approach the opening game with confidence.

“It’s a tough league but if we’re not expecting to win a lot of games this season there’s something wrong,” Smith said. “The players have got to handle that expectancy and embrace it. It’s a challenge for them, but they should enjoy it.

“It’s about recognising how difficult the league is, but also that our players should be confident going into every game as long as they do things properly.

“And the first thing that should be is working hard for the team and their team mates.”

Rovers failed to progress to the knock-out stages of the Betfred Cup, but there was enough encouragement in the performances, even in defeat, to give the club cause for optimism.

Indeed, a feature of Raith’s early season form has been an attractive brand of football, particularly Saturday’s first half showing against Cowdenbeath, although Smith admitted that winning is all that matters.

“We try to work hard at certain things and it’s great to see them come off in games,” he said. “But when it comes down to it, my only request to the players is to win games.

“If we can play good football and win, then brilliant, but there will be times throughout the season, especially in the winter months, when that might not be possible.

“It’s about having that steely determination that we’re still going to win no matter the way we play.”

Bobby Barr has returned to fitness after missing part of the Betfred Cup with a rib injury and Smith admitted that the winger may have to be patient to win his place back in the side.

“You want all your best players playing,” he said.

“Unfortunately at the moment Bobby, who has been excellent throughout pre-season, has found himself out the team simply because the boys that are playing are doing so well.

“If you’re looking at getting that wee spark then Bobby is a great one to have coming off the bench, and he knows if he does well, he’ll get back in the team.

“From that point of view, we’re in a fortunate position, but different games will require difrerent formations.

“We won’t always play the same way, so there’s plenty options there.”

Iain Davidson is suspended for the opening two league games and teenage centre-back Dave McKay is expected to take his place after being handed his senior debut against Cowdenbeath.

“Dave’s a young boy and has got a lot to learn, but he’s deserved his chance,” Smith said. “We could easily have played Euan Murray in there, but we felt Dave was the right option for that game, and he did away fine.

“He was professional in what he did and was part of defence that got a clean sheet, so there’s not a lot going wrong there.”