Roth Raivers: Part 24 – Raphael Varane and a Title Challenge?

Manager Robí di Lathamé and his plucky band of Raith Rovers players have taken the Fife side to some fairly unlikely heights. Having begun in Scottish League One obscurity, they’ve gone on to win the Europa Conference League, won a League Cup, finished runners-up in the Scottish Premiership, and earned a point at Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Buiulding on that, the next step is the fairly insurmountable looking task of challenging perennial title winners Celtic, who’ve won 14 of the last 15 Scottish Premierships. And, aim to become the first team other than Celtic or Rangers to become champion of Scotland since Aberdeen in 1985 – 42 years ago!!

That challenge was certainly a possibility as the clock ticked into 2027, with Raith sitting pretty at the top of the Premiership one point clear of Celtic with 17 games remaining (and 12 until the table split).

Devastating start to 2027

Our chances of challenging Celtic were dealt a cruel blow as striker Ryan Cassidy broke his leg in a cup match against Kilmarnock and his loan from Watford was cancelled. That left us with Philip Cohen and academy product Kevin MacPherson to lead the line, both of whom are considered Championship level strikers… And our chances of a replacement weren’t helped by not being able to buy anyone non-British, and all British players being massively over-priced.

We went into our first league game of 2027 with no fewer than SEVEN players suspended! Luckily, we were playing next to bottom Ross County and won 3-1 with goals from backup winger Steve Jung, MacPherson filling in on the left and left-back Joshua Willis.

We carried that into a flying start at home to Aberdeen in which centree-back Stewart Fleming and left-winger Niall Quinn scored two goals inside a minute then Callum Wigley scored a third on the verge of half-time, when Willis also got himself sent off. But Aberdeen offered nothing and also got a sending off as we eased to a 3-0 win.

Bolstering the squad

Off the pitch, we made a bit of a coup as I appointed Marc Overmars as Director of Football, mainly to try and get some better player recommendations given our limited pool.

He did deliver a couple of useful signings as we snapped up Grzegorz Jakubowski as a new strike option. He was joined by Liverpool’s Jordan Baxter and Chelsea’s Paul North, who I think are probably better options as wingers than strikers.

But the big news was Overmars making the recommendation of a bonafide legend of football. That man was Raphael Varane, who must have been impressed by our performance at his former club Madrid, as he agreed to sign before retiring at the end of the season. Admittedly, he’s low on pace now, but I think he still has enough to do a job for us.

Back to the league

An increasingly tired squad kept plugging away with a 3-1 win at S. Johnstone. That racked up five consecutive wins heading into a home game against Rangers, in which we played really well and created chances but just couldn’t score. However, a clean sheet against Rangers is always good as we drew 0-0.

Wigley then inspired a 3-1 win at Dundee, curling in an early free-kick then whipping in a corner from which Varane scored his first Raith goal. Then Niall Quinn’s first-half goal edged a 1-0 win over Hearts.

The close of the season was dealt another blow as Wigley, who’d been our second best player this season, suffered an abdominal injury that ruled him out for a huge three months. But we dealt with that by beating Motherwell 3-1, although it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. We led 2-1 through Colin Rebello and a Cranston screamer, then Motherwell hit a long ranger that hit both posts and rebounded back to Alex Simpson. But we went down the other end and Cranston hit another long ranger.

Celtic finally slipped up with a 0-0 draw at Dundee, which gave us a chance to climb above them in the league. And we delivered with a 4-1 thumping of Hearts, in which Jakubowski got his first league goal for the club and right-winger Mark Frost got a goal and an assist. However, we then threw away that advantage with a bizarre 2-1 loss at the flying Greenock Morton who, in fairness to them, battered us and have the league’s top scorer.

That teed up a huge clash at home to Celtic, who were two points clear of us. And the boys responded to that defeat with a magnificent defensive effort. Frost, who’s only 5ft 6in, was somehow allowed to head home from an early corner and Binnie tucked away a penalty just before half-time. We then repelled everything Celtic threw at us to go top of the league!

An early goal went against us as Dundee United’s Lawrence Shankland scored his customary goal on seven minutes. But we bounced back superbly with two goals in two minutes before the break from Quinn and Rebello, with the inspirational Varane claiming the player of the match award.

The final game of the regular season saw us go up against fourth-placed Hibs, who misssed an early penalty and we punished them with a Jakubowski opener, Cranston scoring just after the break and a Rebello screamer. And that ensured we were top of the league going into the league split!

Join us next time to find out whether this plucky Raith Rovers side can achieve the seemingly impossible!

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