Summary of last season – Looking in from the outside it would be easy to think that Raith Rovers had a pretty successful season last year. They grabbed the headlines in April after winning the Ramsdens Cup against Rangers and they reached the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup. However this cup form was not replicated in the league and the club struggled for long parts of the campaign. This was most notable in the second half of the season. Raith’s form after Christmas was nothing short of horrific. They started the season well, they had a good squad of players yet they just didn’t turn up in the second half of the year. Manager Grant Murray didn’t make the right calls at the right times last season and despite their cup success it was somewhat overshadowed by their seventh place finish.
Players in – Christian Nade (Striker, Dundee), Ross Perry (Defender, Rangers), Mark Stewart (Striker, Derry City), Kevin Cuthbert (Goalkeeper, Hamilton Academical), Martin Scott (Midfielder, Livingston), Ryan Conroy (Midfielder, Dundee), Rory McKeown (Defender, Kilmarnock), Craig Barr (Defender, Airdrieonians)
Players out – Joe Cardle (Ross County), John Baird (Queen of the South), Greig Spence (Alloa Athletic), Gordon Smith (Stirling Albion), Fraser Mullen (East Fife), Reece Donaldson (Free), Lee Robinson (Free), Callum Booth (End of Loan)
What they still need – The Raith board have given Murray the chance to have a bigger squad this year and at the moment it looks like the signings they have made will do well for them. Murray can still add to the squad if he chooses and if he does then there is still a distinct lack of pace about the side in particular out in the wide areas where they are short of genuine width. They possibly need cover in the fullback areas and depending on how the new strikers get on they might still need another option upfront. The forwards Raith have signed are not the most prolific so they might need extra options in front of goal.
Key player(s) – One player that consistently performed for Raith last year was Kevin Moon. He holds the midfield together and does the important jobs that sometimes go unnoticed. He is a strong, committed player who is not shy of a tackle and he can pass the ball very well and dictate play. If Moon is not in the Raith midfield then they are much poorer so they will need him to be at his best again this year. The next key man is a player that the term ‘cult hero’ was made for. Christian Nade is a familiar name to Scottish football fans and most recently he helped Dundee win the Championship last season. He is one of those players that can appear cumbersome and sometimes have very quiet games, but he is also one of those players that can provide moments of magic and win games single handedly. As one of the new strikers at Raith he will be the focal point in this side so must have a good year.
Opinion on Raith Rovers – There is no doubt that Grant Murray needs to get off to a good start this season. He will be one of the managers under most scrutiny given the way last year ended for Raith. He has tried to replace the departing players and it looks like on paper he has made a few decent additions. This Raith side need to try to rekindle the form they had at the start of last season or it could be a struggle for Murray to stay in a job. The fans will be really excited for the big games that will be played out at Stark’s Park this year and the board will be counting the coffers as they will get a few big paydays. However all that will mean nothing if the team does not perform on the park. The squad is good enough to do reasonably well this year, it is just up to Murray to get his tactics and his decisions right.
Prediction for this season – 6th
Summary of last season – Rangers did what was asked of them last season. They won League One with a points cushion of 39 and they didn’t lose a single league game all year (scoring 106 goals along the way). Despite these impressive statistics it doesn’t tell the whole story and at times last year there were noises of discontent within the Rangers support. Question marks were asked about manager Ally McCoist as fans felt that the team were not playing the way they should be despite winning matches. In the cups it was a poor year and the team didn’t collect any silverware. An early season loss to Forfar in the League Cup set the tone for the cup competitions. They were beaten by Raith Rovers in the Ramsdens Cup in April and a week later lost to Dundee United in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Although they didn’t have any cup success Rangers are still trying to re-establish themselves and progress through the divisions, so in that sense last season was a success.
Players in – Kenny Miller (Striker, Vancouver Whitecaps), Kris Boyd (Striker, Kilmarnock), Darren McGregor (Defender, St Mirren), Marius Zaliukas (Defender, Leeds United)
Players out – Andy Little (Preston North End), Emílson Cribari (Free), Charlie Telfer (Dundee United, compensation), Chris Hegarty (Linfield), Ross Perry (Raith Rovers)
What they still need – This is a different type of challenge compared to most sides. Rangers have the quality and depth to win the Championship fairly comfortably so what they need to do now is to look ahead beyond this campaign. The plan all along for Rangers has been to get back into the Premiership and begin challenging in the top division as soon as possible. However they will need a number of new players to do that. So rather than identifying players for this season it should be a case that the Rangers scouting team and management are beginning to identify long term targets for the future and for the Premiership. The signings over the past couple of seasons have tended to be slightly older, more experienced players to get them through the divisions but at some point they will have to think about long term replacements.
Key player(s) – It seems an obvious choice but the two key players for Rangers this year will be new signings Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller. Rangers just want to get the job done this year and if those two hit form then they will fire Rangers to the top of the league and the title. It remains to be seen if McCoist will actually play the two together and move away from playing one upfront but you would think that having a strike-force like Miller and Boyd would mean a change in system for Rangers. In Boyd they have one of the most naturally gifted finishers in Scottish football and with Miller you have that perfect foil in a player who is strong in linking the play and working his socks off for the team. You would expect both of these strikers to bag at the very least fifteen goals each this term and with Boyd it could well be in the high twenties.
Opinion on Rangers – Simply put, Rangers have a far stronger squad than anyone else in this division by some distance. With Hearts and Hibs having to begin again they will be weaker but Rangers still have most of the squad that has carried them through the divisions. The addition of players like Boyd and Miller are massive for the club. If those two hit even decent form then they could walk this league quite comfortably but as we have seen in the past couple of seasons Rangers do sometimes make things a bit difficult for themselves. Ally McCoist still has big question marks hanging over his ability as a manager and this will prove to be his toughest year yet. The teams in this division will provide a tough test and McCoist will need to be tactically aware enough to guide this club through the season. Fans will be desperate for them to make a bigger impact in the cup competitions this year but the main priority will be the league. The club are almost at the end of their challenge to get back to the Premiership and they should see it through this season.
Prediction for this season – 1st