Not too many managers spend zero money and make a near £3 million profit yet manage to achieve success. But that was the case for young English manager Robí di Lathamé as he moved into his third season in Kirkcaldy with Raith Rovers.
He did his bit to bolster the Raith bank balance with several more sales in the summer of 2021. This included Amadou Bakayoko – who’d gotten injured more times than he scored goals since signing on a free 12 months ago – moving to Falkirk for £65k. Centre-back David McKay, who refused to sign a new contract, went to Kilmarnock for £100k and young prospect Mitchell Evans got poached by Hibernian and we got £240k compensation.
We completed the signings of 9 young players on free transfers on the day that the summer transfer window opened. The pick of the bunch were probably Ayr midfielder Stephen Crawford and Celtic midfielder Ewan Otoo.
The squad was also bolstered with loan signings, including bringing back midfielder Jack Turner from Southampton and Celtic defender Finn McRobb. He was joined by Watford striker Ryan Cassidy, Arsenal winger Nathan Tormey, Rangers midfielder Stephen Kelly and Motherwell centre-back Bob Fraser.
The squad was hugely lacking in experience, to the point where 19-year-old striker Darren Shaw was our best option for captain. So I addressed that by bringing in 131-time capped Chilean centre-back Gonzalo Jara on a free transfer. I also tried to snap up former Brazil striker Fred, but his work permit application failed.
This activity means I’ve now signed 20 players for £0 and sold 9 players for £2.8 million after two years in Kirkcaldy. And the summer activity means our starting eleven looks like this…
Betfred Cup progression
The new season began stupidly early as usual with the pointless League Cup group in mid-July. And a 6-1 battering at home to St Johnstone ensured we looked out of it at the first hurdle. However, we then beat Brora and Inverness and ran riot 5-1 on local rivals East Fife, in which Dylan Tait created 3 and Cassidy and Tormey scored their first goals for the club. That ensured we qualified for the next round, which I didn’t think was possible after the opener!
We were drawn against recently relegated from the Premiership Partick Thistle in the second round, and again upset the odds by thumping them 4-0! And that took us to the quarter-finals, where we’ll face our biggest test yet in this save – away to Hibernian.
Championship kicks off
We took the League Cup form into the league as we began the Championship with a huge 4-1 win at newly-promoted Inverness. Last season’s league top scorer Shaw got us started early on and doubled his tally after the break then Tormey and Daniel Armstrong scored late on.
That was followed up with a 1-0 win over the other promoted side Falkirk, with Shaw scoring the only goal and Dylan Tait running the show in midfield. Then a 3-1 win at Alloa Athletic, in which Cassidy scored his first ever league goal, Jara scored his first for Raith with a penalty and Shaw rounded things off with a late screamer, but Tait was again dominant with an assist and 6 key passes.
My 100th game in management came as we entertained Partick Thistle, which came 4 days after we’d thumped them 4-0 away in the cup. This time it wasn’t nearly as emphatic but Tormey’s first-half penalty snuck a 1-0 win to make it 4 wins from 4.
But the goals flowed again as we won 4-2 in a classic match at local rivals Dunfermline Athletic. Shaw bagged a brace, along with a Cassidy goal and a brilliant solo strike by Turner, while Ross Munro made 8 saves.
The winning start extended further as we beat 2nd-placed Hamilton 2-1 with Shaw and Cassidy on target. But came to an end as we went to Greenock Morton, who replaced them in 2nd, led early on through a Cassidy screamer but they equalised late on and we earned a solid away point.
Heading to Hibernian
Our strong start to the season teed us up nicely for our first real match against a Scottish Premiership side, away to Hibernian in the Betfred Cup quarter-final. They scored an excellent free-kick after 24 minutes and absolutely dominated us but we just about held on to go in 1-0 down at the break. I encouraged the boys at half-time and Cassidy immediately got us level, and we survived another battering to take them to extra-time.
Hibernian continued to dominate, racking up 41 shots, but found Munro in inspired form with 13 saves. And we nicked a completely undeserved victory as substitute Kelly teed up Cassidy to double his tally in the 116th minute. We held on for a massive, completely undeserved win that is easily the biggest of this save so far!
This huge means we will make our first appearance at Hampden Park to take on the might of Celtic for the first time in the save.
Refocusing on league affairs
Another tough away day followed as we travelled to 3rd-placed Greenock. Shaw put us ahead on the hour after an awful first half, they equalised 3 minutes later, but Jara nicked it for us by curling home a brilliant free-kick.
A top vs bottom fixture followed as we welcomed Inverness to town and we made our superiority count. We raced into a 3-0 first-half lead through Tormey, Shaw and another Jara free-kick, they get one back just after the break, then Cassidy scored and teed one up for Turner. A big 5-1 win moved us a huge 11 points clear of Greenock at the top!
Celtic in the cup
A 1-0 win at Falkirk then 4-1 at home to Alloa teed us up nicely for the biggest test of the save so far. A huge day in the history of Raith Rovers saw near enough the entirety of Kirkcaldy travel in convoy down the M8 for the trip west to Glasgow to face Celtic at Hampden Park in the League Cup semi-final.
I was expecting us ti get thumped but we made a fantastic start as Dylan Tait broke from midfield, got past two Celtic defenders and thumped in his first ever goal for the club from 25 yards. Celtic didn’t get going and we led at half-time 1-0! But they responded with a screamer of their own then went ahead with a tame Viktor Fischer shot that deflected in off a defender, and added another for a 3-1 win.
Unsurprisingly, that had a knock-on effect and we lost our first league game of the season 2-1 at Partick Thistle, throwing away a lead in the last 15 minutes.
But we had to immediately get back up for it as a local derby at home to Dunfermline Athletic was up next. And we just about got back to winning ways. We raced into a two-goal lead with Dunfermline doing absolutely nothing in the first half. Then they, of course, scored with their first shot and somehow managed to equalise. I was furious so just went very attacking and it worked as Shaw bagged his second of the game to edge it 3-2.
And that vital derby win moved us back to 11 points clear of Greenock after 14 matches.
Join us next time to see how Raith Rovers far in the final 20 matches of the season, with a place in the Scottish Premiership up for grabs!