Roth Raivers: Part 18 – A European Final!

I recently watched a well-known FM YouTuber talk about the importance of morale on Football Manager. And this episode of Roth Raivers goes to prove exactly how right he (Zealand) was.

After the high of finishing third in the Scottish Premiership there was seemingly only one way for Raith Rovers to go in the 2024/25 season. That’s how it appeared as we sat in a still respectable 7th position heading into the new year – when morale was very low. But things were about to go to whole new levels of over-achievement in season six with Raith – as moral went very high.

To put these achievements in context, we still have the lowest salary in the entire league. We have a weekly wage budget of £72,000 and we’re only spending just over half of that at £44,000 a week. We’ve only spent just under £500,000 in transfer fees in the last six seasons, of which only £10,000 has been spent this season.

That financial situation seemed to be getting a helping hand when midfielder Enrico Donati attracted the interest of Juventus. But Donati, who’d rejected Liverpool the previous summer, then also rejected the Italian giants after we accepted a bid worth around £7 million. However, a host of clubs entered the race, including Inter, Spurs and West Ham, but he eventually joined Man United for £7.5 million. A player we’d signed for £4,000 two years ago!

We did make one signing in January, bringing in Celtic centre-back Stewart Fleming for just £150,000 and is already worth £700,000 having joined Celtic from Hearts for £950,000 two years ago. So I think this is a good deal!

Time to step up

Donati’s departure meant we had a few more pennies in the coffers, but his former teammates would have to step up. And one of them did in our first league game of 2035 as 21-year-old midfielder Glen Cranston scored a screamer to seal a 1-0 win at home to Motherwell.

Captain Dylan Tait had been quiet so far this season, but stepped up to score the opener in a 3-1 win over Livingston then the only goal as we defeated Hibernian. And our flying start to 2025 drew us level on points with fourth-placed Hibs. But it came to an end with a narrow 1-0 loss at Rangers, who dominated us by 26 shots to 7.

Tait was on fire as he provided two brilliant assists for Ryan Cassidy in the first half against St Johnstone, before Rangers loanee Cole McKinnon wrapped up a 3-0 win. We backed that up with a 2-2 draw at third-placed Aberdeen, in which we took an early lead through striker Marc Roscoe only for goalkeeper Andrew Richards to gift them two goals. So I hooked him at half-time and we got a late equaliser through Alan Bayliss.

Europa Conference League progression

That uptick in form teed us up nicely for Raith’s – and, I’m pretty sure, my – first-ever Europa Conference League campaign. We were drawn with Romanian side Astra Giurgiu, who we faced in the home leg first.

Marc Parkinson was really finding his feet after a massive goal drought and put us ahead with a rebound from Cassidy’s shot. Cassidy then bagged a brace before right-back Godwin Uzeh sealed a 4-0 win in injury-time. What a win! A 2-1 loss in Romania was enough to send us into the next round.

That took us through to the second round, where we faced off against BATE Borisov. Home advantage again gave us a solid first leg lead, with Callum Wigley putting us ahead then Cassidy and Tait adding to it. And a late goal from Mick Turner at the Borisov Arena sealed a 4-0 aggregate win.

Tight European places battle

Cassidy kept his good form going by giving us the lead in the first half at Celtic Park, but they came back to win 2-1 with an 87th-minute winner. Annoying but deserved.

I was hoping for midfielders to step up after Donati’s sale and one that has is Wigley, who scored his first-ever league goal in a 2-0 win over Greenock Morton. And he did it again with the opener at home to Hearts then scored a sensational injury-time solo strike to win it 2-1. Check it out here:

That win proved vital as we moved up to fifth in the league with three games remaining before the end of season split. We were just one point behind Hibs in fourth but crucially six points ahead of Hearts.

A huge game followed away to Rangers, for which I deployed our full-on defensive formation again – and we earned another 0-0 draw! That’s our fourth draw against the Old Firm in six games this season. But we then lost 3-1 at 10th-place Motherwell – which says a lot about our consistency!

That took us into the regular season final day at home to Dundee United, who were level with us on 50 points. But the boys stepped up to beat them 2-0 with goals from Cassidy and his replacement Roscoe. That win sealed an impressive fifth-place as the Premiership split in half.

Conference League latter stages

We were drawn with familiar foes in the Europa Conference League quarter-final as we took on Hibernian. Another home first leg gave us the advantage, as Willie Binnie stepped up to slam home a late penalty for a 1-0 win.

We then got the perfect start at Easter Road as Wigley repeated his wonderstrike against Hearts – nearly exactly! Check it out below. They curled in a free-kick before the break then scored a penalty just after it and suddenly we were only ahead on away goals. But we managed to hold on for a 2-1 loss that moved us into the heady heights of a European semi-final!

Raith Rovers in a European semi-final! What an amazing final season in the 134-year history of our Stark’s Park stadium. Our opponent there was Celta Vigo, with the other tie between Saint-Etienne and Torino.

This time we were in Vigo first, so we set up defensively and got through to half-time at 0-0. Cassidy, playing pretty much on one leg, hit the post on 60 minutes but we continued to defend magnificently until the ref gave them a very dodgy looking late penalty. However, Richards stood big to save it and earn a fantastic 0-0 draw at Balaidos!

Celta must have been in shock when they rocked up in Kirkcaldy for the European semi-final second leg at the 8,867-capacity Stark’s Park. But they didn’t show it as they took an 11th-minute lead through Pavel Kaderabek. But we dragged ourselves level as Roscoe nodded home from close range just before half-time.

I encouraged the lads in the changing room, then gave them an ‘Encourage’ shout, and out of nowhere on 66 minutes little Dylan Tait picked up the ball on the edge of the box, beat his marker and slammed the ball into the far corner. At this point, I am so glad I’m not streaming Football Manager as… I went absolutely berserk celebrating. I composed myself, went on the defence and time-wasting and we held on for a 2-1 to reach the Europa Conference League Final!!

Premiership post-split

Our top-six finish earned us at least qualification for the Europa League Conference next season. Which was lucky as we had Celtic at home, Aberdeen and Hibernian away with a knackered squad in the build up to the European semi-final. I rested our core first eleven and we lost all three without scoring. Three days after the semi-final second leg our rotated side earned an important 2-2 at Dundee United, with exciting 18-year-old striker Kevin MacPherson scoring both. And they closed out the season with a respectable 1-0 loss to Rangers, which sealed fifth-place.

Raith in a European Final!

The Europa Conference League Final took us back to Romania, as we faced Torino in the Arena Nationala in Bucharest.

We started out cautiously and Torino showed the vast gulf in class as they dominated from the start. But their creation of chances wasn’t resulting in goals as we moved towards half-time until they were given a very dubious looking penalty six minutes before the break. But that man Richards again stood big to save from Andrea Belotti!

The barrage continued after the break and Patrick Cutrone eventually headed home his 34th goal of the season to give Torino the lead after an hour. And it stayed that way, as Torino sealed a 1-0 win to lift the Europa Conference League.

Just to put this in context, Torino have 15 players that earn more every week than our entire squad combined. While Belotti alone earns £140,000, which is three-times our entire squad. So to reach the final and lose so narrowly is a monumental achievement!

Join us next time as we reflect on a season that went from looking like ending in failure to ending in another ridiculous over-achievement!

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