Raith launch Ayr raid on Somerset Park as title race heats up
Raith Rovers boss Barry Smith leads his troops into Ayrshire today for a top of the table clash that could have a significant bearing on the League One title race.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that the trip to Somerset Park is a potential six-pointer as Rovers could either be seven points, or one point clear of Ayr United come full-time.
A draw would maintain the status quo, which would arguably suit the Kirkcaldy side more than the hosts, with Raith currently leading the table by four points, although Ayr have a game in hand.
Both sides were kept out of action at the weekend by the snow that forced a blanket closure of all SPFL fixtures, although Ayr are in better form having won their previous two games, 3-0 home wins over East Fife and Airdrie, while Rovers go into the match on the back of two disappointing draws having conceded last minute equalisers against Albion Rovers and Arbroath.
The twice cancelled trip to Forfar, firstly last Saturday and again at the second attempt on Tuesday, meant that both Iain Davidson and John Herron were unable to fulfil their one-match suspensions for accumulated bookings and will now miss the trip to Ayr.
Experienced midfielder Scott Robertson is also a major injury doubt leaving Raith down on key players, but Smith insists he has the squad to cope.
“That’s the way it goes,” he said. “Throughout the season you’re going to lose players to suspensions, but we believe we’ve got a good squad here, and we have to cope with that.
“It doesn’t make it any easier because we’re missing two, potentially three experienced guys, but it gives the young ones a chance to show what they are made of.
“We’ve got belief in the squad that we’ve got here and guys will get opportunties.”
Raith have only lost three league fixtures all season, although one of them was a 3-0 reverse at Somerset Park in October.
Smith insists, however, that Raith will approach the game with confidence.
“It’s a big game, and one that the boys will look forward to,” he said. “We’re in a good place at the moment, we want to maintain that, and Saturday could certainly help along the way.
“We should be playing with confidence because we’ve seen a lot of good things throughout the season.
“We’ve won 17 games, which is good at this stage, and we’ve only lost three.
“Ayr are up there as well because they’ve won a lot of games, but the fact we’ve not lost as many as them (six) means the boys will be going into the game in confidence because it takes a very good team on their day to beat us.”
The snowy weather which accompanied the Beast from the East disrupted Raith’s training schedule with their usual Michael Woods training base in Glenrothes closed for several days.
However, Smith managed to secure alternative venues to ensure the players continued to train as normal.
“The weather dictated that we had to change the schedule a wee bit, but we’ve still been training which is important,” he said.
“The boys have worked hard in any session we’ve given them.”
Ayr, led by 23-goal front man Lawrence Shankland, are the top scorers in Scottish football so it goes without saying Raith will need to defend properly to take anything from Somerset.
However, in Willis Furtado, Rovers also have a striker in good scoring form, having just collected the Ladbrokes League One Player of the Month award for February after notching three times since moving from Airdrie in January.
“He’s done extremely well since come into the team,” Smith said.
“He’s bought into the way we want to play and what’s expected of him on the pitch.
“We know he’s got ability - and he’s scored a few goals which have helped us in February.
“The awards for me are recongition for whole team becuase who team worked hard to create those chances.”