Momentum can tip play-off balance in Raith's favour
As the lowest seeds in the overbalanced Premiership play-offs, everything is stacked against Raith Rovers winning promotion.
From having to successfully negotiate six games in three weeks, to playing all the second legs away from home, it’s a mountainous task.
Throw in the fact that they are up against clubs with considerably superior resources, then it really starts to look like mission impossible. Or is it?
There is one significant thing that Raith do have in their favour - momentum.
While the league table doesn’t lie, and Rovers finished fourth behind Hibs and Falkirk, nor does the form guide which currently has the Kirkcaldy side way out in front of their rivals.
Since January 31, after the closure of the transfer window, Rovers have collected 10 more points than any other side in the Championship - and almost double that of Hibs.
It’s a remarkable statistic, and one that should give them a chance of going all the way.
They also have a team packed with winners and a fantastic manager who has shown himself to be a master of motivation, among other things.
And while being at home in tonight’s quarter-final first leg against Hibs may have been considered a disadvantage, Ray McKinnon hopes to prove otherwise.
“I think it’s an advantage for us playing at home first because if we take anything into the game on Saturday, I think the pressure will be on them massively,” he said.
“For us it’s just about making sure we’re in the game going into the second leg.
“Even a draw at home we would take because that would put the onus on them to come out and open up a wee bit. It’s very interesting.”
McKinnon has rotated his squad to good effect in recent weeks while maintaining an 11 game unbeaten run, however, he has a firm idea over who his strongest XI would be for tonight’s opener.
“I’ve had a team in my head for about three weeks, and it didn’t matter who the opposition was,” he said. “I’ve probably got two decisions to make going into the game, that’s it.
“I’m pretty settled on my team. We’ve got a game plan and it’s worked for us over the last wee while, so hopefully it works in the play-offs.”
While McKinnon has kept his play-off rivals guessing over his potential line-up, he admitted he is also slightly unsure over how Hibs counterpart Alan Stubbs will line up.
“We’ve played them five times so we know their players inside out and however they set up we’ll know how they’ll play,” he said.
“But does he come at us and go really offensive, or does he play more defensive and think about taking us back to Easter Road? We’ll have a fair idea when we see their team lines.”
Stark’s Park has been a fortress for Raith all season and McKinnon is hopeful that big turnouts in the play-offs can help roar the team to promotion.
“It would be great if the fans could come and give the boys the backing because they’ve had a fantastic season and they deserve to get the backing of the Kirkcaldy public,” he said.
“We go in with no pressure or expectations on us.
“We’re up against a team that’s playing in two cup finals this year, beaten numerous Premiership teams and proven their quality over the season, so we know it’s going to be a tough game.
“But, equally, we’re in great form right now and I’ve got a lot of winners in my team, so I think it’s going to be a cracking two games.”