Hard work and patience required as Raith go for title

Raith manager Barry Smith hopes to take the team roaring back to the Championship this Saturday - Fife Photo Agency
Raith manager Barry Smith hopes to take the team roaring back to the Championship this Saturday - Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers can clinch the League One title at Stark’s Park on Helicopter Saturday.

The dream scenario, which seemed so unlikely just a fortnight ago, will become a reality if they beat Alloa Athletic in their final league game.

Failure to do so would open the door for Ayr United to pip them at the post, although the title will remain in Kirkcaldy so long as Raith match Ayr’s result against Albion Rovers at Somerset Park.

However, Rovers boss Barry Smith is only focused on earning the three points that will guarantee glory, and see the league trophy delivered to Kirkcaldy by helicopter.

“We have tried to prepare as we normally would,” said the manager.

“The players fully understand it is a big game but that doesn’t mean we have to change anything.

“We will keep the preparation the same and ensure we are ready for Saturday.

“We said a few weeks ago that we had to win the next three games.

“We have won two out of the three and we have the last one coming on Saturday.

“The picture has changed in terms of where we are but the end goal remains the same – we need those three points.”

Raith seemed certain to be heading for the pressure cooker of the promotion play-offs after falling five points behind rivals Ayr with just three games left.

However, two shock defeats for Ian McCall’s men, coupled with Raith victories over Queen’s Park and Stranraer, have changed the picture completely and put the destiny of the championship back in Rovers’ own hands.

Smith added: “There has always been a belief in the dressing-room and obviously that result (at Alloa) helps.

“Everybody wants to win the league at the earliest possible opportunity, but we now have that chance in the last game of the season and it is one that we must take.

“The boys have been excellent all season but particularly at home.

“We have a great record, but that has come about because of how hard we work in games and, at time,s being patient.

“It is not a case of turning up because we have a good record and just expecting to win.

“We work hard to make sure we win.”

Raith players will be looking to make history as only the eighth team in the club’s 135-year existence to have won a league championship.

The last Rovers team to do so was John McGlynn’s Second Division title winners of 2008-09 after a similar nip and tuck battle with Ayr, then managed by Brian Reid.

Standing between Raith and an instant return to the Championship are an Alloa side who did them a huge favour by inflicting a 2-1 defeat on Ayr in Sunday’s live BBC Alba match.

There were only muted celebrations in Kirkcaldy though, with the appreciation that a home match against Jim Goodwin’s side is anything but a foregone conclusion.

Smith said: “We know Alloa are a very good team and it will be a very tough game on Saturday.

“That’s why we have to focus properly on getting three points and forget about everything else that comes around about it.”

Rovers go into the match in good form having collected 16 points from the last 18 available, but with everything on the line, Smith will rely on his experienced players to calm the nerves.

“We’ve got Iain Davidson and Liam Buchanan who have been there and won leagues before, but we’ve also got guys like Jason Thomson, Scott Robertson and Bobby Barr who give us experience throughout the team,” he said.

“It’s important to use that experience to calm the situation if need be, and to help the younger ones.

“But it should be an enjoyable experience for them.

“You’re in football to win things, and we’ve got that opportunity.

“It’s their hard work throughout the season that has put them into this position, now they’ve got to go out and enjoy it.”

A bumper crowd is expected at Stark’s Park and Smith reckons the Raith fans have a huge role to play in helping the team cross the finish line.

He said: “We ask the fans to come along and support the boys and be patient with them.

“It is not a case of us turning up and the trophy is won.

“Alloa are a good team and we will have to be patient, but if the fans stick with us, then it will give the lads confidence on the park to help get the result we want.

“Their backing has been good throughout the season and we just need that to continue.

“We set out at the start of the season to get promoted and we are in a position to do that.

“We are one game away but we need to win it to achieve that goal of winning the league.”

Raith go into the match with no fresh injury concerns, with goalkeeper Aaron Lennox expected to be the only player to miss out.