Raith Rovers make their long-awaited return to Stark’s Park on Saturday as the club’s brand new artificial pitch is officially opened for action.
The squad started training at the stadium this week – switching from their previous base at the Michael Woods Centre in Glenrothes – as they got accustomed to the new £750,000 surface ahead of the League One fixture against Stenhousemuir.
The match will be Raith’s first proper home game of the season after renting Bayview from near neighbours East Fife for pre-season and Betfred Cup games while the installation work was ongoing.
Rovers have an unbeaten home league record stretching back to February 2017 and boss Barry Smith is looking forward to this weekend’s homecoming.
“Everybody is excited to get back in front of our home fans, and back at Stark’s where we have had such a good record in recent times,” he said.
“Hopefully a big crowd turns up for the opening of the new pitch, and everyone gets behind the boys, and behind the club more than anything else, because part of the thinking is that it allows more opportunity for fans to get involved once it opens as a public facility.
“I’m sure the fans will want to come and see what the new surface is like and how well we’re able to play on it. The players don’t want to disappoint in that respect either.
“We’ve trained on it this week and it was important that we got a feel for the pitch and the way it’s playing.
“I don’t think it’s bedded in properly yet so I think it will still be a few weeks before the pitch is at its best.
“But if we can get wee bit water on it, then it will allow us to play the game at a high tempo, and that’s what we want to do.”
Raith head into the match still searching for their first win of the campaign after last week’s 1-1 draw at Stranraer in the league opener followed a winless Betfred Cup group section.
Smith was disappointed with the team’s second half performance at Stair Park but admitted a point from a difficult venue was not the worst start for his injury-hit side.
“I’m not saying we wouldn’t have accepted a 1-1 at Stranraer, it wouldn’t have been the worst result, but having been in the lead, we would expect to win,” he said.
“We didn’t start the second half properly. They got a chance within two minutes and that’s us not starting the game properly and allowing them an opportunity.
“In the first half and parts of the second we passed the ball pretty well.
“We should have worked their ‘keeper more, but our build-up play was good so there’s a lot to build on.
“Other teams will go down there and find it difficult.”
A reduced playing budget means Raith are currently running with a smaller squad than last season.
A plethora of early season injuries have already shone a spotlight on the lack of depth, with just two outfield players on the bench on occasion, however, Smith insists he will meet the challenge head on.
“We’re running with 15 established first team players – and that’s including Jamie Watson and Dave McKay, who are still developing,” he said. “The rest are young boys.
“It’s a tight squad, and you’ve just got to manage it the best way you can. Some guys will play carrying wee knocks and niggles, but sometimes you can’t keep asking them because it’ll just get worse.
“It’s always challenging to win any league, and running with the small squad we’ve got brings it’s own challenges.
“But you meet the challenges head on, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
With the transfer window in Scotland remaining open until August 31, Smith is hoping to supplement his squad with a loan signing, most likely a striker, but he admitted he was still uncertain over whether any additional funds would be made available.
Raith were dealt a fresh injury blow this week with on-loan Rangers goalkeeper Kieran Wright disclocating a finger while training with his parent club.
With Robbie Thomson also injured, Raith are left with 17-year-old schoolboy Sam McGuff as the only fit goalkeeper.
Smith is now frantically trying to source another ‘keeper to provide short-term cover in time for the match against Stenhousemuir.
Rovers will also be without injured front men Chris Duggan and Lewis Vaughan, with Duggan close to making a possible return for the Irn-Bru Cup game against Aberdeen U20s in midweek.
Recent injury absentees Nathan Flanagan, Lewis Milne and Nat Wedderburn have all taken a full part in training this week and are available for selection.
Iain Davidson remains suspended.