Twenty years ago if it was goals you were after then Raith Rovers were the team to watch – though they might not have always gone in at the right end.
In the space of a month just three games had the back of the net bulging 17 times – twice as Rovers ran riot, but began with a day to forget in the Bell’s First Division.
John McVeigh’s men welcomed favourites for the title St Mirren to Stark’s Park on August 14, 1999 and completely capitulated as the Paisley side ran out 6-0 winners.
Needless to say FFP reporter Gordon Holmes was less than impressed and under the headline ‘Nightmare On Pratt Street’, wrote: “There was a circus in Kirkcaldy last week. For two hours last Saturday afternoon, they must have been wondering where their clowns had gone.
“It certainly didn’t look like many in the blue strips were playing football and all it needed was a few custard pies and car with its bits falling off to complete the scene.
“But then, there weren’t very many people inside Stark’s Park laughing at this farcical show which plummeted the Raith fans who had gone along with renewed hope and optimism into the very depths of despair.
“John McVeigh knew he had a tough task ahead of him when he took over the reins but he couldn’t have reckoned on this kind of result, especially not at home.
“The manager was keen to turn Stark’s Park into the kind of place that teams fear to visit, a fortress of football, but the foundations have to be strong to achieve this, not made of material that cracks and collapses under the slightest pressure.
“McVeigh will also be aware by the reaction of the fans at the end that the honeymoon period is now well and truly over and it is maybe just as well that Rovers don’t have another home game until September 4, there is time for the necessary improvement to be made before the faithful are asked to come through the gates again.
“Perhaps it was just one of those days and even St Mirren goalscorer Barry Lavety admitted afterwards that they had enjoyed a fair bit of luck but unfortunately most of it was a consequence of desperate play on the part of Raith.
“What could go wrong did and by the end, Rovers looked like they were thinking up as many new ways of giving away goals as they could.
“The visitors were competent and looked a well-organised unit who will pose most teams more than a few problems but if Rovers have any ambitions of joining the elite in the SPL, they have first to be able to compete, and beat, those clubs in the same division!
“McVeigh looked visibly stunned, his hair perhaps a touch more grey, after the game, while Peter Hetherston had the air of someone who was in the middle of a nightmare and just wanted to wake up.
“The manager analysed what went wrong over and over but always came back to the same conclusion Rovers were complete rubbish and got exactly what they deserved.
“And few would argue, not least those who have loyally travelled to the three away games so far this season and seen a hard-working committed team grind out decent results, a far cry from the embarrassing shambles that those in the reasonably-sized crowd were forced to witness.
“Not that everyone stayed to the end, some left at half time, others after the fourth, fifth and sixth goals. Those that remained doing so perhaps only to vent their anger at the final whistle.
“It’s impossible to sufficiently describe how awful Rovers were but a run through of the goals is perhaps all that is needed.
“The first in 18 minutes saw Marvin Andrew – an absolute colossus in every game before this – fail to connect properly with a pass back and Lavety pounced to put the Saints ahead with his first goal since returning to Love Street.
“That set the tone and 11 minutes later, Kevin Gaughan’s tackle from behind on Mark Yardley saw the defender booked and from the free kick, Scott Walker was allowed to ghost in at the far post to knock the ball home from six yards.
“The confidence visibly drained from the home players and when Guido Van de Kamp miskicked a clearance, the ball was played to Junior Mendes whose shot was blocked but it fell kindly for Ian Ross to roll easily into the net.
“The half time team talk in the Raith dressing room was not for the faint hearted and McVeigh gambled all by making three changes at the break Craig McEwan, Davie Kirkwood and young Andy Clark all thrust into the action in place of Jay Stein, Kenny Black and Paul Tosh.
“But it was too much to expect the trio to turn the tide and on the hour mark another free kick was met by the unmarked Yardley to head in number four.
“Substitute Tom Brown then saw a header come back off the bar but Saints did go nap in 69 minutes when Yardley reached an Andrews back header before Van de Kamp and the big striker was able to fire into an empty net.
“It was hard to imagine it getting any more ridiculous but it did eight minutes from time when a high, hopeful ball completely confused Van de Kamp and Greig McCulloch and neither made contact, leaving another substitute Steven McGarry with what will be the easiest goal of his career.
“The end was a blessed relief and let us hope that the memory of the sorry bunch who left the field has been put to rest and the real Raith Rovers will be resurrected in time for the next match.”
The next match would see Rovers put on a much-improved performance in the CIS Insurance Cup with a 2-2 draw at home to Premier Division Motherwell, who only progressed thanks to a 5-4 win on penalties.
Rovers then left leave Cappielow with a point in a 1-1 draw with Clydebank before a midweek trip to Stranraer saw them win by two goals to one, courtesy of Marvin Andrews and a late Craig Dargo winner, to progress to the quarter-finals of the Bell’s Challenge Cup.
On Saturday, August 28 it was back to league business with a trip to the Shyberry Excelsior to take on Airdrie.
Rovers gave a first start to a Frenchman called Didier Agathe who would end the day leaving the ground with the match ball after a debut hat trick in a 4-1 win – Raith’s first league win of the season. Needless to say Mr Holmes was a bit happier this time...
“It was difficult not to get carried away on a wave of all things Francais as Rovers at last shone this season, and all thanks to some real French polish.
“The appearance of Didier Agathe in the Raith line up was a complete surprise to everyone at the Shyberry but by the end, the Rovers support had suddenly struck up a modern version of the Auld Alliance although it will obviously take time for them to come up with a more original song than ’Didier, Didier, Didier” to show their appreciation.
“The more cautionary amongst us may wish to reserve judgement on the 24-year-old until he has played a few more games, the list of ‘flash-in-the-pan’ foreign players is endless, but on first show Rovers may just have struck lucky this time.
“After a slow start, Agathe looked quick and alert, his sharpness demonstrated in all three of his goals, first of all to nip in to beat an Airdrie defender to the ball and then showing great awareness and pace to pounce on two poor pass backs.
“You can’t ask for more than a hat-trick on his debut and the grin on John McVeigh’s face at the final whistle was worth a thousand words.
“And given that Agathe admitted, through his interpreter, that he was still well short of match fitness, it will be interesting to see what he can do when he is at the top of his form!
“Not that this first league win of the season was a one man shoe and there were several good performances in the Raith team, none more so than from 18-year-old goalkeeper Craig Coyle who looked confident and assured and was only beaten by a highly dubious penalty.
“It has to be said that Airdrie were a pale shadow of the hard-working, battling side of old and perhaps they missed the influence of Kenny Black, the veteran midfield man returning to haunt his old club and even having the temerity to open the scoring with a low 20 yard drive after just three minutes, following good work by Steve Tosh, Agathe and Craig Dargo.
“It was also significant that when Black was substituted near the end, he received a warm ovation from both sets of fans.
“The rather low home support had by that stage given up the ghost anyway and it must be worrying times for manager Gary Mackay after a series of poor results.
“Rovers, on the other hand, should take great heart from this display and if Monsieur Agathe is able to produce the goods consistently, the potential is there for a good season.
“After Black had given Rovers the early advantage, Airdrie enjoyed the bulk of possession but rarely threatened, although Craig McEwan did have to head an Eddie Forrest volley off the line and Coyle did well to stop a Frank Conway shot with his legs.
“Eight minutes from the break, Rovers stretched their lead with a goal of simplicity and elegance.
“Moving quickly out of defence, Dargo released Tosh down the right and when his cross came into the box, Agathe was there first to slide it past Scott Thomson into the net.
“Many observers in the press box thought it was an own goal which proves how much football writers know! But one or two of us were convinced it was Agathe who got the final touch and we were glad to be proved right at the end.
“The home side came out more determined in the second half but it took the intervention of referee Clyde to let them back in the game, the official judging that McEwan had pushed Steve McCormick in the box and pointing to the spot.
“Paul Jack made a good job of the penalty and it looked like we were in for a tense final half hour.
“But then up stepped Frank Conway with two moments of madness that made him a contender for Raith’s player of the match.
“In 65 minutes, a long ball from Alex Burns, strangely subdued in a deeper midfield role, seemed covered by Conway but his header back was too short and Agathe raced past him before sending a beautiful lob over Thomson and into the net.
“Seven minutes later, Conway tried the same feat with his er, feet, but again Agathe was too quick and this time he rounded Thomson and stroked the ball into the empty net for a spectacular hat-trick.
“If Airdrie thought things couldn’t get any worse they were wrong two minutes from time when Gareth Evans, booked in the first half for persistent fouling, let his frustration get the better of him and aimed a kick at McEwan which left the referee with no option but to send him for first use of the hot water.
“In fact, Mr Clyde had a liking for flashing his cards, and the only black spot for Rovers was four more bookings, to Black and Davie Kirkwood for fouls and Burns and Tosh for dissent, while Dick also saw yellow for Airdrie.
“At the final whistle, Agathe came back on to take his bow in front of the Raith fans and they rose as one to acclaim their new hero.”
Buoyed by their first league win Rovers returned to Stark’s Park the following for a visit from Ayr United on Saturday, September 4 and went one better in the goal stakes by running riot with a 5-1 win, with new hero Agathe on the scoresheet once again in front of a crowd of 2,368.
The FFP headline this time was ‘Rovers Walk On Ayr’ and the match report read: “Marvin Andrews has been called many things during his time in Scottish football but a fleet-footed winger is not one of them – however even that description is now apt after another incredible day at Stark’s Park.
“The last time Rovers played a home league game they were humiliated by St Mirren, this time is Ayr United’s turn to be on the wrong end of a drubbing and if this keeps up, the crowds will soon be flocking back for the entertainment value if nothing else!
“After the four-goal show at Airdrie, no-one could have really believed another feast was on the cards and it was actually quite noticeable that for five minutes after Rovers had scored three goals in as many minutes midway through the second half, there was an almost stunned silence around the ground.
“No-one could remember the last time Rovers had scored nine goals in two games but the one thing it has guaranteed is a bumper crowd for the next game – Dunfermline on September 18!
“To be honest, the final score possibly didn’t reflect the game and certainly, too many of the Ayr players seemed to accept defeat very easily after the second goal, but that’s not taking anything away from this Raith side who are now brimming with confidence and belief that they can score every time they go up the park.
“The ironic thing was that Frenchman Didier Agathe hat-trick hero the week before was probably the least effective Raith player but he still managed to claim a goal and perhaps just his presence helped lift the rest of the team.
“Craig Dargo is definitely benefiting from a strong striker beside him, although for both his goals he had cause to thank an unlikely source.
“Step forward again big Marvin who, for sheer entertainment value alone, must be the best player in the division at the moment.
“It was his header down from Jay Stein’s corner that Dargo hooked in from almost on the goal-line after just seven minutes to give Rovers a great start and in 63 minutes, Andrews found himself wide on the left after a free kick, raced past a defender into the box and cut the ball back for Dargo to knock in his second.
“Rovers had gone two up minutes earlier when Alex Burns drilled a low shot into the corner from 18 yards and amazingly, less than 60 seconds after Dargo’s strike, Stein made an almost carbon copy run down the left and this time it was Agathe who was on the end of the cross to make it four.
“Ayr were completely shell-shocked, while the home fans celebrated in a mixture of ecstasy and disbelief.
“The fact that United had dominated the opening 15 minutes of the second half in a search for an equaliser didn’t really matter after that and when they did finally find the net nine minutes from time thanks to an Alex Bone header, it was difficult to even call it a consolation.
“And on a day when the sun shone so brightly and the temperature soared into the 70s, believe me, that’s too warm for watching football, it was inevitable that Rovers would have the last word.
“Substitute Andy Clark had been on the field barely two minutes in place of Agathe when he turned in a Burns cross from 12 yards to score his first league goal for the club and bring up the nap hand.
“It could have been more as Andrews was unlucky with a powerful header which just went over, while Dargo a most scored a spectacular hat-trick with a well-executed volley which also flew narrowly too high.
“Mention should also be made of the Raith defence who are looking a whole lot more assured these days, the combination of Andrews and Paul Browne at last showing its potential, while the experienced head of Davie Kirkwood and the energy of Craig McEwan have also made a difference.
“And in young Craig Coyle just 19 on Monday, Rovers have a top-notch goalkeeper in the making.
“He was confident, athletic and brave and his handling all afternoon was assured, a point that manager John McVeigh was keen to make after the game.
“Two saves from long range efforts were particularly impressive and there’s no doubt that Guido Van de Kamp faces a fight for his place, although it may be asking a lot to heap all that expectation and responsibility on Coyle’s young shoulders straight away.
“What is sure, is that Rovers have now set themselves a standard which they have to aim to achieve every week and while it is unlikely they will be able to maintain their current scoring rate, this at last looks like a team where you can actually see where the goals could come from.
“This seems to be the season of freak results so far – Cowdenbeath hit six last week for goodness sake! – and Rovers must now prove that this performance was the norm and not the exception.”