Raith Rovers: Boss Murray glad to focus on league quest

Raith Rovers boss Ian Murray didn’t hide his relief that the group stages of the League Cup were at an end – with the start of a fresh new league campaign confronting Scotland’s senior sides this weekend.

By Ralph Mellon
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 12:18 pm
Updated Friday, 29th July 2022, 11:58 am
Ian Murray, boss of Raith Rovers (picture by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Ian Murray, boss of Raith Rovers (picture by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Rovers have one of the most appetising encounters in Saturday’s cinch Scottish Championship diary – a trip to the Balmoral Stadium in Aberdeen to play newly-promoted Cove Rangers.

Saturday will see the second visit to the Granite City in seven days for Murray’s men, after their concluding group A game in the Premier Sports Cup competition ended in a 3-0 defeat against Jim Goodwin’s Dons at Pittodrie.

Murray felt there were a number of good aspects to the performance, despite the result – but was happy there could now be a clear focus on the league quest.

“I think all the clubs are quite happy the group stages are out of the way,” he said.

“It is a hectic schedule.

"Pre-season is hard – even harder if you have the cup, and that's what we are in.

“It gets our players up to fitness and it was quite a good run out against Aberdeen – a good side and a good occasion.

"But, ultimately, we are looking forward to a little bit of structure and a little bit of normality in terms of schedule.”

Veteran defender Christophe Berra has announced his retirement from playing, effective forthwith, but goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald and attacking midfielder Dylan Easton both trained for Rovers this week.

Shotstopper ‘Jamma’ missed Sunday’s Aberdeen trip with a groin issue and Easton had bruising on his foot after a crunching challenge by Anthony Stewart late in the game. But both should be in contention for a place against Cove.

Murray said: “Cove Rangers have done extremely well over the last three years – two promotions and I think it was 26 games undefeated last season as well, so they have that at the back of their head as a club to maintain. But that run will come to an end at some point – everybody knows that.

"We need to go up there and show why this squad finished fifth in the Championship last season but, without doubt, this is a tough game.

"There’s a bit of added spice with it being the unfurling of their league flag. So we expect a good crowd and a little bit of excitement on the opening day, as there normally is, but this is just a wee added one.

"I know Cove probably as well as anyone in the league and they are a good side, with good players and a new management team. But, ultimately, you’re as good as your players – and they have good players.”

The search for new players was continuing at Stark’s and Murray said he hoped one or two might come in by the weekend, just ahead of the announcement that two defenders and a striker would be joining – Irishman Ryan Nolan and Malawi international Kieran Ngwenya, the latter on loan from Aberdeen, plus Kyle Connell on loan from Kilmarnock.

Murray added: “It’s a hard window for us all, with the amount of games all teams are playing. We will keep concentrating just as much on the boys we have here and get them ready for Saturday. We’ll also keep working hard to help the boys and enhance the squad in terms of depth and quality.”

Harking back to Sunday, Murray said Rovers were hurt possibly more than anything by the timing of Aberdeen’s three goals but they had competed well for large portions of the game.

“It’s always small, small mistakes against that calibre of players that you get punished for and we were punished,” he said. “That’s what happens – it’s a great learning curve for all our players.

"We have a situation and tiny, tiny things within the game can actually have a huge effect on the scoreline.

“But, in terms of the actual play, between the goals, in the first half, we played some OK stuff. We gave ourselves a wee bit of a chance and managed to be a little bit brave and go high.

"In the second half, the boys got a bit tired – Aberdeen have a huge amount of talent on their bench as well to come on and they were worth their win.

"But I felt, in the first half particularly, we did make life difficult and I saw enough from our players to know we gave a decent account of ourselves, without being brilliant.

"We showed we can go and compete and, in the Championship, sometimes that is half the battle – being able to compete, being able to be nice and compact at times.

"But we know it is going to be changing and different from week to week.”

One pivotal moment in the game was Aberdeen’s second goal – Ross McCrorie’s stunning effort shortly before half time when Rovers had been playing well.

"I look at it from both sides,” said Murray. “It was a fantastic strike by McCrorie – but we lost it from a goal kick.

"We were not strong enough from a header and the ball bounced about the park. Small details like that will hurt you eventually.

"In the middle of the park, there was a physical contact lesson for our younger players. Even in front of goal, we had a few shots blocked – but you don’t get time.

"These guys are a wee bit sharper than what we are used to, they are a wee bit quicker to the ball, they move their feet quicker and are more physical, so that’s the level we aspire to get to, individually and as a team.

"In the general game, we did show signs of decent stuff at times but, of course, we’re disappointed with the goals.”

Meanwhile, on the eve of the Cove Rangers visit, Rovers reported a record number of season ticket renewals, with almost 1300 season tickets sold so far in total.

“Season tickets will be on sale for another eight days up to our opening home match versus Dundee and can be bought online at www.raithrovers.net/season-tickets, in person at Stark’s Park during office hours Monday to Friday or by calling 01592 263514 during office hours Monday to Friday,” said a club spokesman.