Raith Rovers go for third time lucky after promotion bid that looked doomed from the start

Raith Rovers loanee Jamie Gullan - credit- Fife Photo Agency
Raith Rovers loanee Jamie Gullan - credit- Fife Photo Agency

Shaughan McGuigan is an avid Raith Rovers fan and panellist on the BBC Scotland football programme, A View From The Terrace, which will return for a second series next season.

The Game of Thrones finale wasn’t the only disappointing conclusion over the last week.

Shaughan McGuigan from BBC Scotland's View from the Terrace

Shaughan McGuigan from BBC Scotland's View from the Terrace

The ending to Raith Rovers season may have been a little more predictable than Jon Snow’s, but what transpired at Palmerston Park in the second leg of the 3-1 aggregate defeat was underwhelming nonetheless.

It was a result which not only brought the curtain down on the campaign, but also on full-time football for Raith, with a move to a mixture of full and part-time an inevitable step after two failed attempts at extricating themselves from the financial strait-jacket that is the third tier.

In truth though, this side never looked up to it.

Right from the get go in the League Cup group stage, where Barry Smith presided over defeats to Cowdenbeath and Cove Rangers, it was apparent the squad had an imbalance about it, as well a dearth of depth and more importantly, quality.

Only three subs were named in that opening day defeat, with four central defenders strung across the back four, and two teenage full-backs in Jamie Watson and Euan Valentine occupying the wide midfield roles.

It was the line up of a team which appeared ill-prepared, ill-equipped and uninspired for the season ahead.

Nothing epitomises the situation more than the fact the team started the campaign without a recognised first-team right-back. That the previous occupier of that spot, Jason Thomson, was up at Gayfield playing a pivotal role in Arbroath’s campaign only underlined the ridiculousness of the situation.

By September, the manager’s position had a vacancy, with Smith’s relationship with the Board seemingly untenable. Few, if any fans lamented his departure.

John McGlynn’s arrival coincided with an increase in the playing budget, and with Daniel Armstrong, Callum Crane and Regan Hendry all on-board, it was expected that Arbroath would be reeled in, but instead, they continued to pull away.

Not all the blame can be directed at McGlynn’s door. ACL injuries robbed him of two of the division’s finest talents in Lewis Vaughan and Hendry, while Armstrong was tempted to Ross County at the end of January.

However, the failure to address the right-back issue was a glaring omission, and while the defence has struggled at points, they were playing behind a midfield that struggled to retain possession and gave scant protection.

Ending the season with the fewest number of clean sheets is a bad enough statistic on its own, but when you’re the only full-time team in a part-time league, it’s extraordinary.

McGlynn has a massive rebuilding job on his hands, and not just in regards to the playing staff. A lack of belief in the stands has been palpable since the Gary Locke disaster, and after two failed cracks at promotion, an apathy has crept in.

Only a winning team can change that, but with Falkirk now dropping into League One, next term will be the first time Raith will start the season as the underdog, rather than the favourite.

As Arbroath proved though, that needn’t be an impediment. Here’s hoping it’s a case of third time lucky.