Plucky Raith Rovers had made an astounding start to their second season in the Ladbrokes Premiership. The side was showing that you can win things with kids as they sat third in the league, well behind leaders Celtic but just one point back from Rangers, and looking forward to a League Cup Final against the former.
Manager Robí di Lathamé was deservedly delighted with his side’s efforts to date, and his board were even happier with him. In fact, chairman Robbie McGinn handed Robí an A+ grade in his latest monthly report card.
But the real test to Raith’s unexpected rise was against the Old Firm sides, who obviously have vastly superior resources available to them – to the extent that it’s not a realistic competition. Celtic look almost unbeatable, despite Raith managing to get a point at Celtic Park last season, while Rovers have still yet to take a point off Rangers.
And the build-up to the Betfred Cup final in mid-December began with a game against Rangers in early November. We took an early lead as Marc Roscoe’s header was deflected in by a defender, but Rangers got back into it with a goal from loanee left-back Brandon Williams, who earns nearly twice as much as our entire squad! That was just our second point from eight matches against the Old Firm.
A late Jake Cain goal then nicked us a 2-1 win at Dundee United on the same day that Rangers drew at home to Dundee, which moved us up to second in the league! A narrow 1-0 win over Dundee then a 1-1 at Hearts took us into the League Cup final in strong form.
League Cup Final
We were of course without winger Armstrong Oko-Flex, who was on loan from Celtic, for the cup final against Celtic and were well up against it. However, we made a great start as Cain finished a penalty after 24 minutes and that saw us into half-time ahead. But the game swung on a pretty unfair looking straight red card for left-winger Oliver Higgins on 55 minutes, then Celtic unsurprisingly equalised a minute later.
We held firm to claim a 1-1 draw but, with our players of course tiring, Celtic continued to dominate and eventually got the vital goal in the 97th minute. We did really well but, yet again, a rather unfair decision has cost us against Old Firm sides and Celtic were the League Cup winners.
In the match after the cup final defeat we went behind early at home to Hibernian but a Ryan Cassidy brace ended his incredible 20-hour goal drought and inspired us to a 3-1 comeback. Then a brace by his strike partner Marc Roscoe, in for the injured Marc Parkinson, led us to a 2-0 win at bottom of the league Ross County.
Cassidy was now full of confidence, which inspired him to score twice and create a goal for Higgins inside 17 minutes at home to Aberdeen. The visitors got one back just after half-time and we somehow managed to give them two more, which saw them come back to 3-3. However, Cassidy had the last laugh as he nodded home from close range to win it in the 95th minute. And that saw us move 9 points clear of fourth-placed Aberdeen.
Another injury-time goal earned us a 1-1 draw at fifth-placed Livingston, who were also having a great season. Then we came from a goal behind to thump Motherwell 4-1, with Cain and Cassidy both scoring absolute screamers. Our great form saw Cassidy win the December player of the month award and Cain won goal of the month for his strike against Motherwell, see below…
A 1-1 draw at St. Johnstone took us to ten games unbeaten and saw us go into the winter break in early 2024 sitting in third place. Remarkably, we were only three points behind Rangers and Celtic – who’d seemingly had a huge slump in form – eight ahead of Aberdeen in fourth and 14 clear of European qualification.
Pushing for Europe?
Our first game back after the break was at Celtic, and we put in a great defensive effort only for them to again score an injury-time goal to beat us 1-0. And that was swiftly followed by a trip to Rangers next up! Unsurprisingly, we lost again but also acquitted ourselves well and only lost 3-1 to two late goals – and all three of their goals were from set-pieces.
We’d gone five games without a win in all competitions and things didn’t start much better at home to Hearts, who scored after 22 minutes. But Cassidy soon got us level and we went on to thump them 4-1.
We built on that by sneaking a 1-0 win at Dundee with Cain’s last minute winner, then he struck late again to claim a 3-2 win over Dundee United in a game we’d led 2-0 early on.
But then something very odd happened as we took an absolute battering, 5-0 away to fourth-placed Hibs, which well and truly brought us back down to earth! And when we went behind early at Aberdeen I feared the worst. But we held on until half-time then bounced back with goals from Cassidy and Oko-Flex – who looked way offside – only for them to equalise in injury-time.
Another Cassidy goal got us back to winning ways at home to Ross County, and he was at it again with a brilliant hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Livingston.
A 0-0 draw at Motherwell was followed by a bizarre 3-1 loss at home to St. Johnstone, but results elsewhere ensured we qualified for Europe for the first time. Then our final game before the league split saw us entertain Celtic and they thumped us 5-0.
That sent us into a Scottish Cup semi-final with Dundee United for a chance to lose to Celtic again. But we struggled again and drew 2-2 then, obviously, lost on penalties.
The split in the Premiership table saw us face five games against the rest of the top six. And it began with a 1-1 draw at home to fourth-placed Hibernian, which kept us nine points clear of them.
Then we only lost 2-1 at Celtic, but youth academy centre-back Willie Binnie’s first-ever league goal and Dylan Tait’s wonderful solo goal gave us a 2-1 win at Hearts. And that confirmed that we would finish in Raith’s joint all-time highest position of third in the Premiership, which was first set way back in 1921/22.
We threw away a lead to draw 1-1 at home to Aberdeen then again faced Rangers in the final game of the season and – guess what? – had a player sent off and lost. This time it was only 1-0 though, which isn’t bad with ten men.
But that concludes a brilliant season in which we managed to finish third in the Scottish Premiership and score the third-most goals! And that means Europa League football next season. That’s despite having the lowest salary spend in the league – some 40-times less than what Celtic spend on wages – and only spending £500,000 on transfers, for players that hardly figured this season. Phenomenal stuff!
In addition to that, Cassidy finished as the second-highest scorer in the Premiership with 18 goals – only bettered by Celtic’s Borja Mayoral, who earns more than twice what we spend on our entire squad.
Away from the first team, the Raith Under 18s side won the Scottish Under 18s Tier 2 title and we had a relatively decent youth intake, which shows we have a decent group of young players coming through.
Join us next time as we look back on another amazing season in Kirkcaldy, which saw Raith Rovers become the best of the rest in Scotland.