The most enjoyable season I’ve ever had says Raith Rovers boss McGlynn
The second part of Raith Rovers season review finds management duo John McGlynn and Paul Smith face a full-blown crisis.
2020 had ended with a disappointing home defeat to Queen of the South but a quick return to the pitch was put on hold as the club was hit with an outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
McGlynn remembers: “There had been a lot of stops and starts over the season, we hadn't really been getting a run at it.
“Games against Dunfermline, Dundee Hearts and Inverness had all been postponed for one reason or another, so for us to then suffer a Covid outbreak was a real blow.
“I was concerned about catching it myself. You can't muck around with something like that. I'm 59 and Paul is 58 and that was the age group that was catching the virus and it was serious.
“For so many of our players to get it, it was worrying when you had been coming into work everyday.
“But what can you do? We shut down but nonetheless when you come back you're still worried because it had been rife. Not just here but across the nation.
“Thankfully, the older members of staff here didn't catch it, which was surprising, but with the players we didn't know how it was going to affect them. There's long Covid as well.
"It was a worrying time.”
What McGlynn and Smith could never have imagined was that after just one training session, the team would come back and record their first win at Tynecastle over runaway league leaders Hearts in 30 years.
“To be a penalty kick away from being 4-0 up at Tynecastle, it was, wow! Dreamland stuff,” McGlynn says
“At that stage Hearts were still flying at the top of the table so to beat them 3-2 was just fantastic.
“It was a terrific game. For the small number of people at Tynecastle, what a brilliant game of football they witnessed.
“We could have even been beaten but Jamie MacDonald saved us right at the end, he was different class.
“In the dressing room afterwards the feeling among the players, having come back from Covid, was elation.
"They were delighted.”
A smarting Hearts got their revenge back at Stark’s Park four days later, beating a drained Rovers 4-0 but once again the Kirkcaldy side rallied and recorded a fine 3-1 over Dundee.
Smith said: “We were top drawer that day. We won quite comfortably at the end of the day.
“It was another great team performance and to take six points from nine in three games against Hearts and Dundee was fantastic.”
However, Rovers next match saw them come back down to Earth with a bump as they slumped to a 4-1 hammering against arch rivals Dunfermline.
“We had a few players out that night unfortunately and they caught us at the right time,” McGlynn says.
“Kyle Benedictus, Regan Hendry and Ross Matthews all missed out and they're all big players for us.
“They hit us on the counter attack for the first two goals. They executed both exceptionally well.
“We pulled a goal back but were at sixes and sevens after that. We can't deny the fact that on the night they were the better team.
“So we went to Morton next and we changed our style and formation. We felt the pitch wasn't going to be great or conducive to passing the ball so we picked a team based on that.
“We ground out a win which we don't normally do. Iain Davidson scored a header from a free kick and we stuck in.
“It was really pleasing because it's not something we're renowned for but we battled our corner.
“Everyone worked hard that day, defended really well and got a clean sheet.”
A 1-0 defeat away at Arbroath, "horrible day, horrible conditions, didn't play well at all", was followed by a 3-1 win over Alloa, before Rovers went into a busy seven-match March which began in stop-start fashion but ended with another famous win.
Smith said: "That 0-0 with Ayr, we just couldn't get the ball in the net that day. We absolutely battered them.
“That game was crying out for a fit Lewis Vaughan to go out there and do something special because they camped in and looked for a draw.”
McGlynn added: “A 0-0 up at Inverness, again we battered them. Gozie Ugwu should have scored early doors.
“It was actually a good 0-0 with regards to entertainment.
“Then back here we lost to them 1-0, but we were down to 10 men for a long time in that game.
“Down to Ayr, we took the lead and they came back into it for a draw, so in that spell of four games, we only scored one goal, but we only lost two goals.”
Smith adds: “You can twist any stat you want. You can say four without a win, or just one defeat in four!”
A Scottish Cup victory at Stirling was followed by a 1-0 win at home to Morton before Dunfermline came calling and Raith got their revenge for the earlier Fife derby defeat in spectacular fashion, thumping the Pars 5-1 with their best performance of the season, in a game televised live on BBC Scotland.
"I had said to the players before the match that it's been many years since I was a player but you always remember special games that you played in,” Smith says.
"That game will live with John and I for the rest of our lives and it will remain with the players as well.
“20-30 years from now that's one of those games that they will always remember.”
April began with an excellent showing in the Scottish Cup, taking Premiership side Livingston to extra-time at their own ground before succumbing to late winner, before a 2-2 draw with Arbroath in the Championship.
McGlynn says: “Next was Queen of the South away and another massive win. It was a good dressing room to come into afterwards.
“The players were ecstatic at how they'd won that game. We had to dig in and defend but the work rate and the team spirit shone through.
“At Alloa we went 1-0 down and had to fight back. We got a penalty, they lose their goalkeeper and we finish it off 2-1.
“That guaranteed us top four with two games to go. I couldn't have been any happier.”
Raith lost the last two league games away to Dundee and home to Hearts before a mouth-watering play-off quarter-final where, once again, they bested the Pars.
“It was a great tie for Fife and there was a lot at stake,” says Smith, “we went to East End Park for the first leg and Dunfermline had the better chances so we were more than happy with a 0-0 to bring them back here.
“In the second game we were well on top for the whole of the second half and got our just rewards with the two goals.
“Another great day against our local rivals.”
The Premiership semi-final saw Rovers take on Dundee, who had pipped them to second spot in the table by a single point, and a moment of controversy during the 3-0 defeat in first leg still rankles with the management duo, with Smith stating firmly "the damage was done in the 44th minute".
McGlynn added: “We look back at that and it would have made a big difference going in at the break at 1-1, rather than a goal down.
“Everyone can see that Reghan Tumilty is not offside when he scored and if that goal had stood I firmly believe that we would not have gone to Dens Park with a three goal deficit.
“If it's 1-1 at half time, I don't think we're getting beat 4-1.
”But fair play to the guys. We went up there in the second leg and they put every ounce of effort in, beat them 1-0 and gave them a fright.”
Thus, the season ended with a bittersweet win but for McGlynn and Smith it’s a campaign of which they can be justifiably proud.
"They were a fantastic group of boys to work with and every single one of them has contributed something over the course of the season,” Smith says, but for McGlynn, it can summed up quite simply.
"It's the most enjoyable season I've ever had in football management.”