Roth Raivers: Part 11 – Premiership Rebuild

Young English manager Robí di Lathamé had been granted the luxury of a few days off by Raith Rovers chairman Robbie McGinn. He’d taken a quick weekend break to soak up some sun in the south of France and visited a few pals back in London who’d been keeping up with his Scottish management exploits.

But he was happy to be back in Fife and was currently putting in some much-needed practice on the fairways of Kirkcaldy Golf Club. Suddenly his phone started blaring from his golf bag, so he stopped mid-swing, grabbed his phone and answered.

A very excitable McGinn was on the other end, clearly still riding on the elation of Raith’s promotion to the Scottish Premiership – which would certainly explain the sudden lack of money in the Rovers bank balance.

di Lathamé could only really hear the noise of whatever bar McGinn was frequenting in Tenerife with the occasional drunken mumble of various players that the chairman was working on deals for. He thought he heard “Beckham” and “Kane,” which would certainly be an interesting proposition, but he told Robbie the line was breaking up and agreed to meet him for lunch tomorrow.

The duo met at The Waterfront Restaurant with McGinn looking somewhat worse for wear having apparently just landed on his helipad aka the local playing fields.

However, the lack of cash available for di Lathamé was starkly sobering. Survival in the Scottish Premiership would require him to work even greater wonders than he’d achieved in leading the club to promotion from League One and the Championship over the last three seasons.

di Lathamé pulled out his laptop and started writing down the current squad list, which didn’t take long as there were just 11 names, and started taking note of what was required… Two goalkeepers – sorted. One right-back, a centre-back and a couple of left-backs – needs work. A couple of midfielders – needs strengthening. A couple of decent wingers – needs more quality. But plenty of strikers – maybe a bit more strength needed.

Club captain Gonzalo Jara had just retired, so yet another headache was that the squad was also lacking in leadership.

Wheeling and dealing

di Lathamé identified a few loanees they’d like to bring back for another season. The key one was Ryan Cassidy, who Watford eventually allowed to return on fairly hefty wages. But needs must after last season’s 28 goal return.

Deals were also extended for Celtic defender Finn McRobb and Southampton midfielder Jack Turner, who scored 13 goals in last season’s promotion charge.

di Lathamé also had his eye on an older former loanee in Jake Cain. The young Liverpool midfielder had been instrumental in the club’s first Championship campaign then had a decent season on loan at Aberdeen. And he arrived for a second spell with Raith.

Wide quality was added with the addition of Rangers winger Glenn Middleton, who’d been on di Lathamé’s shortlist for years, and more firepower up front in the form of Arsenal attacker Folarin Balogun.

That left the manager comfortable with his attacking options, but the defence was still in need of work. They dipped into the free market to sign versatile full-back Liam Smith, who’d just been released from Dundee United. Then even more trust was put in youth as Simon Ireland arrived after leaving Hamilton, then another loanee in Arsenal youngster Zech Medley.

di Lathamé was relatively satisfied with his transfer efforts on a shoestring budget. The squad may not quite have the quality required for Scottish Premiership survival but it does contain plenty of potential. All that was left for him to do was to announce his squad numbers and get started with the Betfred Cup group stages.

And, this is the first eleven the manager is looking to go with in Raith’s first season in the Scottish Premiership.

Early start in Scotland

The summers are all too short in Scotland, with the Betfred Cup kicking off on 9 July! This year may be especially early due to the Winter World Cup in a few months.

It began away to new League Two side Kelty Hearts and a 5-0 win in which Balogun, young striker Billy Doig, Middleton and Medley all scored their first goals for the club. We then beat Inverness 3-1 led by a Balogun brace before earning a great 1-1 draw at Aberdeen then, strangely, won a penalty shootout to decide it. And we qualified in style by thumping Brechin City 6-0.

Into the Scottish Premiership

Raith Rovers’ first game back in the Scottish Premiership for the first time in 16 years was at home to Aberdeen, against whom we’d just done well in the League Cup. And we again did alright in the league, but this time lost 1-0 to a first-half goal as we struggled to create anything bar a very dubiously ruled offside goal.

On the plus side, we did set the club’s record gate receipts of £100k, which offers a bit of a positive – and we might hopefully be able to stop losing money…

But we got our first Premiership win at St. Johnstone, who the media expect to be right in the relegation mix with us. The game didn’t start well as we gave away a penalty but Ross Munro went and saved it. Then 2 minutes later we were given a penalty of our own that Balogun smashed home down the middle. From there we survived a bit of a battering with 25 shots faced and Munro making 11 saves. But, how can a keeper make 11 saves, including a penalty, and only play a 7.2?

Our biggest league test yet followed as Rangers – who are no longer our senior affiliate as we’re in the same division – came to town. To put this in context, we are spending just over £900k-a-year, while Rangers are spending over £25 million! Celtic, while we’re on the topic, are spending over £47 million!

And we did really well to only lose 1-0 to Rangers, with the only goal a very dubious looking penalty awarded way over the allotted amount of injury-time in the first-half. It looks like we’re going to have to get used to really dodgy decisions against us then… We of course broke the gate receipts record again, bringing in £130k with our first-ever stadium sellout!

It quickly became 3 defeats out of 4 as we fell 2-1 at Hearts in which we were pretty defiant in the face of another 28-shot battering – but in fairness, we have played three of the sides expected to finish in the top five.

That said, the games that would matter this season were clashes with the other teams down the bottom. This included away to St. Mirren who, along with St. Johnstone, had lost all 4 matches. But things weren’t looking well as Kyle Megennis fired the hosts in front early on. However, we got level as Balogun got on the end of a Middleton free-kick and looked to be headed for a well-earned draw. That was until Dylan Tait floated a ball through the defence and Balogun raced onto it to smash home a volley to earn us our first away win in the big time!

Exciting times ahead at Raith?

The win at St. Mirren saw Raith Rovers sitting in mid-table with six points from five games. Manager Robí di Lathamé was well and truly chuffed with a second win of the season and was taking positive vibes from the performances even in the games they’d lost.

As a result, he treated himself to a nice lie-in before taking a stroll along Kirkcaldy Bay. As he paused to take in the scenery, the serenity was broken up by his ringtone as chairman Robbie McGinn was calling.

Once again, the chairman sounded delighted and, thankfully for 11am on a Sunday, a little more sober than the previous phone call. “Robi!” McGinn exclaimed, “what a result that was yesterday” he continued in his broad, excitable Fife accent. “Yeah, it was a pretty good win, wasn’t it?” di Lathamé responded.

“Listen,” McGinn continued, “you know that the board is delighted with your work at the club last season, and that seems to be continuing this season. So before it becomes an issue with your deal expiring next summer, we wanted to kick off contract talks with you.” di Lathamé was a little taken aback but delighted by the news and immediately agreed to meet McGinn and the other board members at Stark’s Park for lunch and contract talks.

The board and manager agreed terms on a new three-year deal worth £2,500-a-week with bonuses in place for avoiding relegation from the Premiership and, somewhat ambitiously, winning the Scottish Cup.

That seems a good place to bring this post to a close, so join us next time as we move further into Raith’s first season in the Scottish Premiership.

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