It has been just over two weeks since Barry Smith took over as manager of Raith Rovers but the former Alloa and East Fife boss has already stamped his authority down on the Kirkcaldy club with three new additions to his playing squad.
“We knew that these players were available. They [Raith] didn’t score enough goals last season and we have looked to sort that out by bringing in guys like Greig Spence and Liam Buchanan. Lewis Vaughan is also back and we have Jonny Court signed up too. That is an area which is strong at the moment; to win this division, you need to score goals and that is our aim. I think in the few years Greig has been away [from Raith], he has gained a lot of experience. He played a lot of games at Raith previously – maybe not as many as he would have liked, but, we are getting back a more experienced player; a guy who has scored goals in this division and a guy who wants to play for Raith. I’ve worked with Liam before, also at Alloa, and Liam knows how I work. That was a major reason in him signing – he had an offer from Livingston but he felt that this was the right move for him.”
Euan Murray is the third signing to have been brought in last Friday. With Craig Barr announcing his departure from Starks Park via Twitter, it could be argued that Murray is a like-for-like replacement for the experienced campaigner.
“Euan is an aggressive centre-back who can play in numerous positions across the back four – hence the reason we signed him.”
Only a few days into his two-year-contract, Smith feels he is settling into the job comfortably.
“I feel I am settling in – we have now got the majority of the squad signed up and we can now add the three players which were announced on Friday, which we are delighted to get the services of, so everything is going well and we are just looking forward to pre-season starting now.”
On the prospect of trying to fit a lot of good players, into eleven starting spaces, Smith continued:
“It is a great dilemma to have. There is a lot of competition for places, especially the striking places. We have three guys who are going to score goals in this division. These kind of decisions are excellent for a manager. It is excellent that I have the opportunity to work with these three guys, plus Jonny Court… who is to say three of them won’t play?”
“You need experience at the back – we have got that with Kyle Benedictus, Jason [Thomson] staying; even Euan has a fair amount of experience as well. We also have Iain Davidson who plays through the middle but can also play at the back as well as Scott Robertson, who should be signing in the next couple of days. We’ve got a good base to work from – it gives us plenty positivity heading into the season.”
With the announcement of Thomson imminently putting pen to paper, Smith expects the 29-year-old to remain as Club Captain.
“I don’t see any reason to change it; I will have a better idea once I get to work wth the rest of the players but, Jason is obviously a valuable member of the squad, I was very keen to keep him and by all accounts, I believe he is a good leader too.”
It was confirmed by Smith that transfer targer Mark Docherty would not be signing for the club, with the midfielder instead preferring to stay part-time, after joining league rivals East Fife.
“We spoke to Mark but he has a very good full-time job and to come to Raith he would be a full-time player, so it would be a big sacrifice for him as he would need to leave his job so unfortunately, it looks as if that deal is now dead in the water.”
With pre-season training beginning on the 22nd of June, preparations are well under way for the season ahead.
“It [the friendly vs Dunfermline] is a game which has a bit of meaning to it. I think you need a bit of a meaning when playing games before the actual season starts, so, there is nothing better than playing a local rival,” explains Smith, who continued by saying “but when it comes down to it, it is all about getting the players fit and tuned in and ready for the beginning of the season. We have other games lined up and these will be announced in due course.”
The Rovers have been drawn into Group C alongside Dundee United, Dundee, Cowdenbeath and Highland League champions, Buckie Thistle.
“It is a good group to be involved in. Playing against Dundee and Dundee United will be a massive test for us, then, having to travel up to Buckie before playing Cowdenbeath; we want to do well and we will be doing everything we can to progress. I wouldn’t say playing the two Dundee teams first is ideal, but you have got to play them at some stage and it is games the players will relish playing in. It is two massive tests and it’ll give us a good indication of where we are as a squad as well. When you are drawn against teams, such as Buckie, you know it is going to be a test going up there – however, the players have to handle that. We will keep our preparation the same, as it would before any other game. We will do the right things, beforehand, to make sure we are well prepared. Similarly, with the home game against Cowdenbeath – Gary Locke will have his team fired up, so that’ll be another tough test but we will just take evey game as it comes until then.”
“If the players come back fit, as I suspect they will, then we can get the ball out and work with the ball to get them prepared for the games. I fully expect them to come back at a level of fitness which will allow us to go straight into the ball work, to help us work on the way I want to set the team out. It is great we can train somewhere that we are settled,” says Smith, of Raith’s training base at the Michael Woods Centre in Glenrothes. “Having the same place to train every day, is ideal and we will look to use it to it’s full capacity.”
With just over 600 Season Tickets having been sold at Stark’s Park so far, the manager feels as if a corner has been turned.
“I think we have shown our intentions, by signing two of last seasons top goalscorers in this division. With myself coming in with a positive attitude, I hope that rubs off on the fans: we want to give them something to shout about. Obviously, they had a difficult season last year so hopefully we can put a smile back on their face with the signings we have made and the ones we have been able to retain.”