Friday 5th August 2016

AS part of Sons 24, we are taking an in-depth look at the nine teams who stand between Dumbarton and the points they need to achieve their goal this season.

Part six sees us look at arguably the sensation of the Championship last season – Raith Rovers. The Kirkcaldy side were tipped to be one of many challenging for the top four along with Rangers, Hibernian and Falkirk. Few people, though, could have seen just how convincingly Rovers would secure fourth place, finishing 19 points clear of their nearest challengers Morton. Since then, Raith have discovered the price of success, losing their manager to a newly-relegated divisional rival, but still have the quality to trouble many teams in the Championship this time around.

Please note that the views in this article are not necessarily those of Dumbarton FC, its board or any staff.

Dumbarton v Raith Rovers: Saturday, November 19 and Saturday, March 11

Raith Rovers v Dumbarton: Saturday, September 24 and Saturday, January 28

Last season’s meetings with Dumbarton: SPFL Championship unless stated –

Saturday, September 26 2015 – Raith Rovers 1 Dumbarton 0
Saturday, November 21 2015 – Dumbarton 3 Raith Rovers 3
Saturday, January 23 2016 – Raith Rovers 0 Dumbarton 0
Saturday, April 16 2016 – Dumbarton 2 Raith Rovers 3

Season 2016/17 so far: Betfred League Cup sectional matches –

Friday, July 15 – Cove Rangers 1 Raith Rovers 2
Tuesday, July 19 – Raith Rovers 2 Montrose 1
Saturday, July 23 – Ross County 1 Raith Rovers 1 (won on penalties)
Saturday, July 30 – Raith Rovers 0 Alloa Athletic 1

Signings: Bobby Barr (midfielder, Morton); Joel Coustrain (midfielder, Sheffield United); Chris Johnston (midfielder, Kilmarnock); Aaron Lennox (goalkeeper, Aberdeen, loan); Kevin McHattie (defender, Kilmarnock); Declan McManus (striker, Fleetwood Town, loan); Jean Yves M’Voto (defender, Zawisza Bydgoszcz); Yaw Osei (striker, Chalfont St Peter); Scott Roberts (midfielder, Rangers, loan); Rudi Skacel (striker, Mlada Boleslav).

First four league games: Ayr United (A); St Mirren (H); Dunfermline Athletic (H); Dundee United (A).

The run-in (last four league games): Morton (H); Hibernian (A); St Mirren (A); Ayr United (H).

Analysis: Although they fell at the first hurdle in the play-offs last season, going 2-0 down within 12 minutes of the second leg at Hibernian where they were defending a 1-0 lead, Raith Rovers came out of last season with huge credit. From Tuesday, January 12, they lost only to runaway champions Rangers in the league before the play-offs – indeed, they have only lost to Hibs and Rangers away from home since October. All of this masterminded by Ray MacKinnon, a manager in his first season at the club, and his first in full-time management.

That, though, was to Raith’s ultimate cost. As soon as Dundee United’s managerial post became vacant MacKinnon, a former player with the Tayside club for two spells, was strongly linked with it. He knows the division they are coming into, and clearly has ability as a manager, so nobody could blame the men from Tannadice. He did, though, leave Raith the parting gift of having most of last season’s squad already signed up for another crack at the Championship. So far, only defender Lewis Toshney has followed him to United, and has been replaced at the back by towering Jean Yves M’Voto.

But Raith now have a real challenge – after coming so close last season, just how do you follow it up? They will need to find new outlets for goals as the loan spells of Ryan Hardie and Harry Panayiotou, from Rangers and Leicester City respectively, expired at the end of last season. It is hoped that Rudi Skacel can be one of them, at 37, while at the other end of the age scale, Lewis Vaughan has returned to fitness having missed most of last season with a bad injury. Mark Stewart, a regular goalscorer against Dumbarton over the years, is also still at Stark’s Park.

There is another void to fill in attacking midfield, with Aidan Connolly now away from Kirkcaldy and playing for York City down south. His skill in midfield was to the cost of many teams last season – including Dumbarton, with that excellent goal he scored in Raith’s 3-2 victory in April. New boss Gary Locke will be hopeful that new signing Chris Johnston, who played under him at Kilmarnock, can fill that void, while Bobby Barr, already signed by MacKinnon on a pre-contract deal, is another option.

The summer of change at Raith means that it will be a big ask for them to repeat last season’s feats. There will be stronger competition for places in the top four – St Mirren will be more of a force to be reckoned with than last season for a start. Equally, though, it would be surprising to see a complete U-turn in fortunes which mean a battle at the wrong end of the table. If that was to happen, it would perhaps be the clearest sign yet of MacKinnon’s ability as a manager and the effect it has on his team.

Another fine aspect of Raith Rovers last season was that they never stopped, however well a game was going, until the final whistle. You just never know what can happen. A lesson they may very well have learned at the Cheaper Insurance Direct Stadium on Saturday, November 21 last year.

Verdict: Hard to see Raith Rovers repeating last season’s heroics and finishing in the top four, but enough of the squad has already been re-signed to ensure no battle at the other end of the table.

Join the debate @dumbartonfc and #sons24

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