Raith hope to overcome goalkeeper crisis as they face former boss at Tannadice
Raith Rovers will be hoping to put one over former manager Ray McKinnon this Saturday when they make their first visit to Tannadice in almost 20 years.
McKinnon left Raith after their play-off defeat to Hibs at the end last season to take up the hot seat at relegated Dundee United, before returning for last season’s Supporters Player of the Year, Lewis Toshney, who was sold for a five-figure transfer fee.
Saturday’s match will also see Raith assistant Darren Jackson return to Tannadice for the first time since he was sacked as part of Jackie McNamara’s backroom staff last September.
While both sides will have a point to prove, Raith boss Gary Locke believes the match will have more significance for McKinnon.
“It’s more of a controversial game for Ray than myself,” he told the Press. “Ray did a fantastic job here but he’s a Dundee United man, he’s gone there, and it will be good to see him.
“With Darren going back there as well it will be an intriguing game but hopefully another one we can do well in.
“We just want to build on the good start we’ve had, at what is a really difficult venue.”
Locke dismissed suggestions that McKinnon will have an edge over him due to his knowledge of the Raith squad.
“I don’t think it gives us problems,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of signings so there’s a lot of players here he doesn’t know.
“He’ll be well aware of the likes of Matthews, Callachan and Benedictus and know their strengths and weaknesses, but I know the Dundee United players, and Darren knows a lot of them well, so it will cancel that out.
“They are a formidable team. When you look at the size of their squad and resources they’ve got, they will be up there with Hibs I’d imagine.
“This will be a really tough game but, the way we’re playing, it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
United sit fourth in the standings having dropped five points in their opening three games, while Raith sit top of the table with a 100 per cent record.
However, Rovers are facing a goalkeeper crisis ahead of the match with Aaron Lennox and Kevin Cuthbert both ruled out, and no third choice ‘keeper on the books.
Rovers are hoping to sign a new ‘keeper in time for Saturday and have had former Kilmarnock stopper Conor Brennan and ex-Dundee United youth Joe McGovern - the younger brother of Northern Irish national team ‘keeper Michael - in training with them this week.
Locke said: “Very rarely at a football club do you get two goalies injured at the same time – especially when you’ve only got two!
“That’s been a big problem for us. The budget is spent and we don’t have any money left, but hopefully we’ll be able to do something to get another goalie in because we are short.
“We’ve got a couple of trialists in, but they are young – and at the moment we’re looking for a first choice ’keeper.
“We’ll assess Kevin this week and see how he is, but we’re scouring the market for a goalkeeper because we need cover.”
Iain Davidson returned to training this week after missing the start of the league season with a back injury, and he could feature in the squad at Tannadice, but both Scott Robertson and Craig Barr require surgery and are out for the forseeable future.
Injuries to experienced players further emphasise the impressive start Locke has made at Stark’s Park, and Saturday’s Fife derby victory over Dunfermline has gone a long way towards winning over any fans who were still sceptical over his appointment.
Locke’s Rovers side have been a joy to watch in the three league games thus far and he hopes it can continue – but he is not getting carried away.
“Obviously, you want the fans to like you and get behind you, but I’m well aware that you’re only a couple of defeats away from them not liking you,” Locke said.
“But I was delighted with the amount of fans that turned out on Saturday. It was a great atmosphere and it was end-to-end.
“I was delighted for our fans, it was a big result and hopefully we can keep building on it.”
Rovers are currently ahead of Hibs at the top of the Championship table on goal difference, but Locke is not putting pressure on his players to stay there.
“Myself and Darren don’t really set too many targets,” he said. “It’s a great motivation but it’s not something we hammer home to the players.
“We’d like to be top of the league every week but it’s going to be difficult for that to happen.
“You obviously want a good start and the more points we can get on the board now, if and when we do have a blip, we’ll still be in and around the mix.
“I’m delighted with the start we’ve made, but it’s important we keep our feet on the ground and keep doing what we’re doing because the boys are working ever so hard, and getting their rewards.”
Rovers’ substitutes have also played their part in recent weeks, none more so than Mark Stewart who came off the bench to score a stunning goal to seal the 2-0 win over the Pars.
“I’ve said it since the season started – it’s not just about the starting 11, it’s about the whole squad,” Locke said.
“For us to have any success at all, we all have to be together and so far so good. Of course you’re going to get headaches because the subs are coming on and looking sharp, but the boys that are starting games are doing well.
“It’s all about players, it’s not about myself, Darren or the backroom staff. If the players are producing on the pitch it makes our job easier and so far everybody is doing that.”