A flying start to a second campaign in the Scottish Championship saw Raith Rovers sitting pretty 11 points clear at the top after 14 matches. But could young manager Robí di Lathamé maintain the spirit amongst his group of young players and chase down an unlikely promotion?
A big challenge to that was consecutive games the other two sides in the top three. First, away to Hamilton, where we led 2-0 and threw it away, then led 3-2 only to concede an injury-time equaliser. Then we welcomed second-placed Greenock Morton and beat them 1-0 with loanee left-winger Nathan Tormey’s goal, which left us 12 points clear at the top.
The good form continued with a couple of away draws and wins over Falkirk and Alloa Athletic. That all built up to a 5-1 thumping of Partick Thistle with five different goalscorers, including both our in-form strikers Darren Shaw and Ryan Cassidy moving on to a combined 30 goals.
Six key matches
A string of huge games followed, starting with a rival clash, games against all of the other top four sides and a cup semi-final.
This began with another Fife Derby at Dunfermline Athletic. We started well with winger Jordan Elliot running for 40 yards before finishing from the edge of the box to score just his second goal in 21 league games, then an own goal and another Shaw strike sealed a 3-1 win.
Then we welcomed 3rd-place Hamilton. A tight first half ended 0-0 but Tormey steered home his 10th goal of the season 3 minutes after the break then loan midfielder Stephen Kelly – who’s been in outrageous form lately – doubled the lead, while Tony Watt scored a late consolation.
A Scottish Cup 5th round tie at Premiership side St. Johnstone followed, which turned out to be a bit of a classic. They dominated the first half only for us to take the lead on 44 minutes, they got a penalty a minute later, we retook the lead just after the break, then they took control in the second half. We got one back late on but slipped to a 4-3 defeat.
We then faced a top of the table clash at 2nd-placed Greenock. The game sparked into life after the break with Tormey opening the scoring, Greenock going down to 10 men then we somehow allowed them to equalise. However, loan midfielder Jack Turner stepped up to hit a 25-yarder to nick it 2-1.
Away from the league, we then had a Challenge Cup semi-final against League One side Airdrieonians. And we booked our place in the final with an impressive 5-1 demolition job.
The string of big games ended with us entertaining 4th place Ayr United. We went behind to an early penalty but took hold of the game in a mad 15 minutes at the start of the second half. We scored 3 goals in 8 minutes to go 3-1 up and we were 4-2 ahead before the hour mark! They got a consolation but a 4-3 win secured our place in the playoffs and moved us 20 points clear with 10 games remaining.
Chasing the Championship
The title countdown began away at Falkirk, who did their best to hand us the match as they had a player sent off after 8 minutes then gifted us an opener 2 minutes later. Turner’s shot hit a defender’s arse and fell to Shaw to tap home his 20th goal of the season.
We swiftly turned the screw as Finn McRobb nodded home, then a Cassidy brace and McRobb again made it 5-0 inside half an hour from just 10 shots! We eased down in the second half and even allowed Falkirk two goals back before Cassidy wrapped up his hat-trick to seal a 6-2 away win.
We then had two home games against bottom of the league Inverness then 7th-place Alloa, knowing that if we won both then we would be champions.
We got off to a flyer against Inverness with Turner hitting a trademark long-ranger for his 12th goal of the season. Tormey added a late second and they pulled one back in injury-time but we held on for a narrow 2-1 win in a very tight game.
That put us within touching distance of the Scottish Premiership as we took on Alloa, who’d just sacked their manager. Things didn’t start well as Alloa striker Kevin O’Hara opened the scoring on 15 minutes. But we pulled level through Cassidy on 33 minutes, and he then went goal mad as he wrapped up a six-minute hat-trick and bagged another in injury time to send us in 4-1 up.
Shaw scored seconds into the second half, Cassidy added his fifth and substitute Daniel Armstrong added a late seventh. O’Hara also bagged a hat-trick due to some dodgy defending on our part, but saw himself on the wrong end of a 7-3 defeat! Shaw and Kelly also bagged assist hat-tricks.
And that huge win sealed our fate… Raith Rovers were Champions of the Scottish Championship and promoted to the Scottish Premiership!
Cassidy’s five-goal haul set new team and league records and teed us up nicely for the Challenge Cup Final.
Silverware on the line
One week on from lifting the Championship title, we had an opportunity to do a double as we took on Ross County in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup Final. However, it wasn’t to be as a shocking defensive performance saw us lose 3-0 despite both sides having 12 shots in a pretty even affair.
Despite winning games, our defensive work lately has been awful and we need to improve it drastically for next season.
The season concluded with a bit of a champions tour, in which we played local rivals Dunfermline and all of the other top five sides.
We beat Partick 4-0 away with left-back Josh Reid scoring his first Raith goal and 36-year-old Gonzalo Jara defying time with a player of the match performance. Jara is retiring in the summer but has been absolutely superb at centre-back for us this season.
My succcess as Raith manager had not gone unnoticed, as Aberdeen came forward with a job interview. I attended purely out of intrigue, but had no plans of taking it even if I was offered it. That said, I was slightly offended when they gave it to Steve Evans ahead of me.
More goals flowed as we beat local rivals Dunfermline 4-2 with a brace from Cassidy taking him past 25 goals for the season. But the wheels started to come off as we had consecutive 0-0 draws with Hamilton and Greenock then lost 2-1 at Ayr.
We closed the season out by getting back to winning ways and revenging Ross County’s Challenge Cup win. Cassidy scored the only goal of a game that Ross dominated, which took him to 28 goals for the season. What a loan signing he has been!
That final day win ensured we finished on 85 points, 19 clear of second-placed Greenock. We also scored the most goals and had the second-best defence. Our players also dominated the league individually, but more on that in the reflection post next time. And the league success earned us a much-needed £700k in prize money – as we were absolutely flat broke before that and the club haemorrhages money on a monthly basis.
It has been a massively successful third season in Kirkcaldy. Not only have we well and truly dominated the Scottish Championship, we also reached the League Cup semi-finals and the final of the Challenge Cup. Building on this by going into the Scottish Premiership and staying there is going to be a massive ask and require plenty of our young talents to progress very quickly. We’re also working with very limited finances so will have to rely on the loan market once more, but I’m sure safety is doable.
The season ended with Gonzalo Jara retiring after 443 league appearances and 131 caps for Chile to become and Under 18s Coach at Raith. His 6 goals this season was the highest tally in his 21-year career and accounted for nearly one-third of his career league tally of 17. What a legend!
Join us next time as we take a look back at Season 3 and assess the key players and some of the stats from our title-winning campaign.