A manager’s job is essentially a political one. It is privately political in that it entails managing personalities among staff and players, but also publicly political in terms of representing the squad and, importantly, managing expectations.
Disappoint your fans’ expectations, whether they reflect reality or not, and you have underachieved. However, fail to set targets (publicly and privately) and you are committing the more serious crime of lacking ambition.
No wonder managers body-swerve questions about their end of season expectations like Grant Anderson does left-backs.
That said, expectations are also fluid and like a team’s momentum, can change entirely within the length of one match. As any pub pundit will tell you, the 2-1 win away to Falkirk in November made us promotion material, while the recent 1-0 loss to Morton doomed us to relegation.
Managers, on the other hand, and the more philosophical fans, believe that no team is ever as bad as it seems when on a slump, or as invincible as it appears when on a winning streak.
Indeed, it is testament to the Rovers mental resilience that the win which snapped this losing streak came out of adversity. Against a resurgent Dumbarton, on a sandy pitch, without having had a game in 2 weeks and despite allowing Dumbarton back into the game twice, it was the Rovers who fought to the end, and the talismanic Brian Graham who finished off a good team goal to seal the points. This is exactly the sort of game which, only a couple of weeks ago, would have seen the home fans leaving feeling 2 points had been dropped.
It is often said in the cliche-minefield of post-match interviews, that a drought-stricken striker “just needs one to go in off his arse” to get him scoring again. This metaphor can be applied to the Rovers form of late too and the deserved, if scrappy, win against Dumbarton – who are no mugs – could well be the psychological boost which allows the Rovers to rediscover our form and, of course, inflate our expectations.
Where then should we be reasonably hoping to finish in the notoriously close-run First Division?
Most would accept the quality possessed by the top two (or three…) teams that the others lack and I don’t think it’s defeatist to say that a top three finished has eluded us. That leaves us, in the short-term at least, battling Falkirk for 5th, but with a squad which should be challenging for 4th, where the gap to an in-form Livi threatens to expand.
The last two seasons have seen the fourth-placed team finish with exactly 49 points, which, if history is to repeat itself, leaves us 21 points to find from 14 games.
The Rovers, in typically Scottish fashion tend to raise their game when playing better opposition. As such, we have run the top 3 close on several occasions, dominated Falkirk twice, but still fail to capitalise against ostensibly weaker teams, coughing up an alarming amount of goals and points against the bottom 3. Engendering consistency in our performances must, therefore, be a focus from now to the end of the season.
Taking nine points from our next three games against Cowdenbeath, Dumbarton and Falkirk is not only achievable, but would be the best preparation for the game against Livingston on 9th March – a potential six-pointer for fourth place, which could be crucial when league restructure talks surface again.
No pressure, boys.
Prediction: Cowdenbeath 1-3 Raith