It is unfortunate that my first entry as the Raith Rovers fan columnist comes in the midst of a slump in form which has seen the Rovers fall out of the tussle at the top and into the mid-table battle with Falkirk and Livingston. Indeed, a failure to arrest our current slide could potentially see us dragged into the battle for survival.
While this season’s performances, particularly of late, do not merit a position any higher up the table, the Rovers squad and occasional impressive spells, suggest they are underachieving – and an increasingly poor disciplinary record is only compounding our difficulties. Indeed, our most recent loss against Hamilton demonstrated once again how an indifferent performance can be compounded by indiscipline.
The Rovers ran out at Stark’s against Hamilton, without the influential Simon Mensing, who was missing through suspension. The imposing figure of Mensing has been a pillar of consistency this season, and his contribution while playing in three different positions has largely been beyond reproach. Unfortunately, his physical stature also makes him an easy target for what could be considered soft bookings, with smaller players, for one reason or another, often hitting the turf in his presence.
However, his defensive partner Dougie Hill cannot rely on the same excuse and now leads the First Division with ten bookings and three sendings off. His latest came as a result of a 50/50 late in the game against Hamilton, wherein he lunged two-footed in a manner not unlike that which saw Vincent Kompany dismissed for Manchester City last week. In both instances the ball was loose and there to be won, but the automatic consequences of going in with both feet saw Hill given his marching orders yet again. This is to say nothing of the various reprimands he’s received for professional fouls, squabbles in the tunnel and dissent.
In fact, there are few among the Rovers first team who have not, at some point, had their name taken for petulant behaviour and, worryingly, it appears their hot-headedness is no secret. On more than one occasion this season, we have been on the receiving end of bookings and dismissals against Dunfermline who, it would appear, are instructed to rile up the Rovers players with harsh challenges and gamesmanship, seemingly safe in the knowledge they can benefit from a Rovers reaction minutes later.
Allan Walker’s rash two-footed challenge in our last home game v Dunfermline was particularly ugly, and a direct, and very naïve, response to a couple of nasty tackles perpetrated by Pars player shortly beforehand, which the man in black deemed not worth whistling. It was a similar story in the first derby at East End whereby several Pars fouls went unpunished in the early stages, only for the Rovers to find themselves in trouble with the ref due to their response.
If we are to turn our season around, we need our best players on the pitch, and I would not hesitate to include both Hill and Mensing in that number. Indeed, we currently ask a lot of our defensive players in terms of both creating opportunities going forward, as well as when under pressure ourselves. While their desire and spirit is admirable, it needs to be balanced with professionalism and composure, which we should be able to expect from a squad of such experience.
Heading into this week’s game against a resurgent Morton side the Rovers must keep the heid and react with the ball, rather than with their tempers if we are to find our form again.