Raith ready for cup opener despite injury setbacks

Raith Rovers latest signings (from left) Kevin Nisbet and Nathan Flanagan.
Raith Rovers latest signings (from left) Kevin Nisbet and Nathan Flanagan.

Raith Rovers boss Barry Smith believes pre-season victories over Championship opposition will stand his team in good stead as they head into the first competitive fixture of the season on Saturday.

Rovers open their campaign with a ‘home’ Betfred Cup group match against local rivals Cowdenbeath, which will take place at Bayview Stadium due to the ongoing resurfacing work at Stark’s Park.

Raith warmed up for the season opener with three friendly wins over Partick Thistle (1-0), Dunfermline (2-1) and Dundee United (1-0) before completing their pre-season schedule with a 2-2 draw in midweek in a closed-doors match against Stirling Albion.

And Smith believes it has been the perfect preparation for the return to serious action this weekend.

“The boys have certainly had to dig deep in the friendlies to get the wins,” Smith told the Press.

“It was important for us to challenge ourselves through pre-season and I think we’ve done that.

“For as much as they are about getting fitness and match sharpness, realistically, you want to be winning and take that mentality into the season.

“It’s worked both ways - we’ve been getting match fitness and also building a winning mentality.”

Another encouraging aspect of pre-season has been the involvement of the club’s youngsters with teenagers Jamie Watson, Euan Valentine, James Berry and Ryan Stevenson all getting minutes on the park.

And some of them may be required in the opening cup games as Raith are likely to be without a trio of injured first team players.

Lewis Milne is still playing catch-up after missing a chunk of pre-season with an ankle injury, while a hamstring strain forced Nat Wedderburn off early against Dundee United last Saturday.

It is hoped both will be available within a couple of weeks, however, there is longer term concern over Lewis Vaughan, with last season’s top scorer having undergone surgery yesterday (Thursday) to correct a groin problem which has prevented him from taking part in any pre-season action. The 22-year-old could be out for up to eight weeks.

“The injuries are unfortunate but for us the focus is on the good results we’ve had through pre-season and the fact the boys are ready to go into the League Cup campaign,” Smith said.

“If guys aren’t available then it will give opportunities to the younger ones. They’ve aquitted themselves well in the friendlies and did well in pieces.

“We’re now a bit more aware of their capabilities and consistency levels because the Reserve League isn’t a standard you can judge them on.”

Meanwhile, Rovers have bolstered their attacking options ahead of the Cowdenbeath game with the signing of two new players.

Recently released St Mirren winger Nathan Flanagan has joined on a short-term deal until January, while former Partick Thistle striker Kevin Nisbet has pen to paper on a one year contract.

Smith said: “The two of them have come in from the start of pre-season, they’ve worked hard and both shown good levels of commitment, enthusiasm and ability. They will be assets to the team.

“They are young and hungry because they want success, both personally and for Raith Rovers , and that first into the type of people we want here.”

Smith was hoping to complete his squad with the signing of another goalkeeper to provide competition for Robbie Thomson before the weekend.