Where did it all go wrong for Gary Locke?

Gary Locke's tenure at Raith Rovers started well - but ended with him being sacked this week after 14 games without a win. Pic: Steven Brown
Gary Locke's tenure at Raith Rovers started well - but ended with him being sacked this week after 14 games without a win. Pic: Steven Brown

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but if Gary Locke’s critics were right – and there were plenty of them – then it was an appointment doomed from the start.

When Raith Rovers announced the former Hearts and Kilmarnock manager as their replacement for Ray McKinnon in the summer, it was clear from the reaction that it was an unpopular choice among fans.

It was also a surprise to many in the media. It certainly caught me off guard. Locke wouldn’t have been top of my list – in fact, he wouldn’t have even been in my top 10.

Not because of his time at Hearts – he seemed to do a decent enough job in the face of administration and a points deduction - but due to the torrid time he endured at Kilmarnock.

During his ill-fated tenure at Rugby Park there was a club record six-game losing streak – the same run that has cost him his job at Raith – and several heavy home maulings to clubs of similar standing.

Extenuating circumstances or not, it was a record that raised questions over his credentials for the Raith job.

The board took criticism at the time of the appointment, some of it over-the-top, and they will have to share a portion of blame for the club’s current predicament.

After all, they’ve effectively admitted they got it wrong by getting rid of Locke after just seven months, leaving a squad that should be good enough to mount a promotion push currently sitting just one place and four points above relegation trouble, and without a win in 14 games.

However, if this piece is sounding overly critical, then it’s not intended to be.

This was an appointment made for the right reasons.

After being impressed by Locke at interview, as well as the size of clubs on his CV (if not his record at them) the board decided that he was the stand-out among less experienced, mostly part-time candidates.

Rovers want to be in the Premiership so they appointed an ex-Premiership manager. Look hard enough and you can see the logic in that.

And I must admit, some of my initial doubts were erased after meeting Locke for the first time at Stark’s Park.

He came across as genuine, upbeat, determined and likeable – traits that he maintained throughout his time in charge, particularly with the media, and for that, I was certainly sad to see him go.

He also provided sound rationale for his failings at previous clubs and said all the right things about bringing through youth and becoming part of the community.

Initially, the signs were encouraging. The critics were being made to eat humble pie as Locke’s side started the season on fire, overcoming defeats to lower league opposition in the cups to sit third in the Championship table at the end of October.

There was even a tactical masterclass at Tannadice when a change in system helped Raith recover from 2-0 down to claim a 2-2 draw – and left the Rovers fans singing the manager’s name.

Free from off field concerns, was Locke finally showing what he was capable of in the dugout?

But even in the early stages of the nightmare run that led to his departure, when Rovers lost just once in nine games, there were warning signs that things were starting to take a turn for the worse.

The team embarked on a run of draws, some good, some bad, but all of them lacking one key ingredient for success – goals. They simply dried up. In fact, Raith have scored just four times in the league since October.

A tight defence was preventing things from falling apart, but once the back door started to creak, draws turned into defeats and before you knew it, Raith were sliding down the table faster than a bobsleigh team.

From third to eighth in three months, and after six consecutive league defeats, the time was right to part company.

So where did it all go wrong?

Locke certainly had some highlights – Ross County, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United all struggled to beat his side – and to put his early season success entirely down to a carry over from the previous campaign would be unfair.

But for every good decision Locke has made, there have been several debatable ones. Using a benefactor’s donation to sign an ageing Rudi Skacel and loaning out Lewis Vaughan to a rival Championship side among them.

But it was the failure to arrest Rovers’ slump in form that proved his ultimate downfall and his persistence with team selection and tactics that clearly weren’t working.

These are mistakes Locke will learn from, and I for one hope to see him back in football in some capacity in the future. He certainly has something to offer the game.

But as manager of Raith Rovers, he unfortunately lived up to the hype.