Manager’s Preview: Dunfermline Athletic vs Raith Rovers
After a demanding start to the league season, which saw us face Airdrieonians and take a journey to Tannadice Park, this weekend presents a different challenge altogether. Rivalry aside, Raith Rovers have showcased some impressive football recently. Manager James McPake shared his thoughts leading up to the big game, expecting a vibrant atmosphere and unable to avoid reminiscing about the days when he was on the pitch:-
Fife Derby atmosphere
“There is excitement every time we play at home, we do enjoy playing here. I have never experienced this derby at home. First one this season was a Viaplay Cup game that was live on TV so I don’t know if that had a say in the size of the crowd or not but we certainly took a decent away support.
“From what I am led to believe there is going to be a good support tomorrow and it’s atmospheres like that we want to play in. You want to manage in them, coach in them and play in them. It goes back to that old one, this is when I wish I was a player again. It’s a game against a decent side who have started their season pretty well as well.”
Even without a fixture last Saturday no bounce games were taken. James felt that the schedule had been rigorous, allowing the perfect warm-up leading into the Championship.
“In terms of starting back early with St Pauli, playing Premiership opposition and then going into the Viaplay Cup. We had the week before the Airdrie game with no game to fully prepare as well, which worked pretty well, in my opinion.
“After the Dundee United game we had a few niggles that needed tidied up – Lewis McCann was ill as well but Ben Summers had come into the squad. So we just decided to use the time to recover a few and top a few up. It seems to have worked pretty well.
“Breeny is back from suspension. Lewis is fine, he’s training great, and Kane Ritchie-Hosler is fully training now as well, which is a massive boost for the squad, for the fans, for everybody, but the most important thing is it is a massive boost to the boy.
Kane’s return to full training has been uplifting, given his commendable resilience after an ankle injury that required surgery. However, James claimed that he won’t be rushing him to the pitch this weekend:-
“He’s shown great character throughout that period. He came off the back of a very good season, signed a long-term contract, started pre-season extremely well – strong, done a lot of work over the summer and then he picks up an injury pretty early on. For a young lad, that can be demoralising, that can be tough to take. Again, it’s another wee test of character and he’s come through that flying and now he’s back in full training. I must say, he’s looking very, very sharp.
“It’s a credit to Kane, he’s done that and he’s done everything he can. While he had the boot on, he was always working his upper body. When the boot came off he started his rehab and he’s been out there every afternoon as well as doing gym stuff in the morning.
“It’s great to have him back training. That’s the beauty of having him back, sometimes you forget that when you’ve got players out injured, just how good a player they are. I enjoy watching him, I’m delighted to have him back.
“He’s only trained this week. I’d love to have him in the squad, but I don’t want to be reckless with him. He’s done all this work. He’ll probably play in the reserve game on Tuesday and then we’ll assess it for next Saturday.”
Raith’s recent performances have been noteworthy, especially their outing against Premiership opponents, Kilmarnock and most recently Hibs. James is confident, though, that if Dunfermline play to their strengths, they can counter the Rovers’ threats:-
“They did fantastically well to get out the Viaplay Cup group. It’s really tough to get out that group when you don’t take at least two points in your first game, that’s my opinion. They then went down and beat a Premiership team on penalties. They’ve got some good players. Euan Murray, going back in is another experienced one.”
James McPake played over 50 matches for Hibs between 2012 and 2014 and he returned to watch them take on Raith in the Viaplay Cup:-
“I was at Easter Road on Sunday and I thought they were very good. In the game they went toe-to-toe with Hibs. You see in a minute of football, how it can change – they hit the post, Hibs go up the park, miss a chance, get a corner and score a goal from a set-play. It was a good game of football to go and watch as a neutral – even though I’m not a neutral when I go to watch Hibs! That’s nothing against Raith Rovers, I always want HIbs to win.
“I was impressed with them. They’ve got some really good players. Lewis Vaughan is a fantastic player. For what that boy has went through with his knees – to watch him last week, it’s weird because he’s going to be against my team on Saturday – but you just hope people like that go and have a good run and do well. What he’s went through with injuries, it’s a credit to his character. He’s a good player, I like him.
“They’ve got threats, like every other team, but we’re confident that if we get it right on the day, then they’ll be as worried about our threats as we are of theirs. It’ll have a good atmosphere, two decent enough teams – it’s got the makings of a good game, like the one that was up at Stark’s Park earlier in the season.”
There will be a few former Dunfermline players including Ross Millen, Callum Smith, Ethan Ross, Shaun Byrne and Euan Murray returning in the Raith Rovers squad. James commented:-
“I don’t know Ross very well. Obviously he played in the Kilmarnock team when Dundee played them in the play offs. Shaun is a fantastic player and someone I know really well and have got a lot of respect for. Euan is a player that I like and someone I speak to having got to know him through going to watch games. He is a good signing for them with the experience that he brings. He was a good player when he was here at Dunfermline and did well for them.
“That adds to it as does Kyle Benedictus playing against his old club as well but I think for everybody when it gets to 25 past 2 and both teams are going out to warm up then that goes out the window. Benedictus is just playing against eleven other players, Euan Murray is playing against eleven players, hopefully there is a good atmosphere from both sets of fans and both teams can put on a good show. One team will come out with the three points and hopefully it is the team in black and white.”
The manager is expecting to do business between now and the end of the current transfer window in a week’s time but has nothing yet to report by way of new signings. The situation has eased by some of his injured players returning to training.
“With Kane coming back, Matty Todd and Deniz Mehmet to come back it looks a good squad but we are still looking to do a bit of business. With the level he is at now Lewis McCann will be a full internationalist soon in my opinion. He will get in that Northern Ireland squad this season if he keeps his form up. You cannot ignore his size, his speed, the goals and the work rate.”