Raith Manager Grant Murray has wasted no time this summer in identifying the core of his squad for the season 2013/14.
Murray moved swiftly in re-signing the spine of the existing squad, as well as sourcing several promising additions. A degree of consistency has been assured with recent strong performers Grieg Spence, Grant Anderson, Dougie Hill, Jason Thomson and David McGurn all returning to the fold after re-signing. However, a handful of departures from Stark’s at the end of the season left the first team depleted, and plenty of uncertainty surrounding how the squad would shape up for the coming season.
The loss of Brian Graham to Dundee Utd left a particularly difficult shirt to fill, as the prolific goal-scorers record will be hard to match. However, the acquisition of former Scotland U21 striker Calum Elliot represents a coup for the Rovers, given the player was in demand elsewhere in the country, not least from Livingston.
Similarly, the release of midfielders Stuart Anderson and captain Allan Walker left a hole in the centre of the park. However, unlike Brian Graham, Anderson and Walker have failed to live up to expectations of late, and the Rovers have severely lacked creativity and composure in midfield. The gaffer moved swiftly in gaining the signatures of Livingston lynch-pin Liam Fox, and former St Johnstone player Kevin Moon, both of whom bring ability and experience, as well as proven-track records to the team. The success of the pairing in refreshing the Rovers’ ailing midfield could go a long way in determining the team’s fortunes.
It remains to be seen how often Murray will be writing his own name, and that of his assistant Laurie Ellis, on the team-sheet after neither played a large part in last year’s campaign. Their return would go some way in explaining the disinterest in retaining the services of the imposing Simon Mensing at centre-half, while the replacement of the underwhelming Eddie Malone with Hibs loanee and former Scotland U21 left-back Callum Booth should bring some added energy to the back four.
With Reece Donaldson and Ross Callachan looking increasingly ready to break through into the first-team at full-back and centre-mid respectively, and other signings still rumoured, including the possible return of the impressive Joe Cardle, further reinforcements could still be in the offing.
Raith chairman Turnbull Hutton has been at pains recently to rein in expectations for coming season, and has reiterated the Rovers’ limited resources. However, such early positivity in the transfer window betrays a desire at Stark’s for far more than survival, despite the chairman’s efforts to divert pressure away from the team.
The newly restructured league format may go some way to explaining this impetus. An estimate by STV sport suggests that, under the financial distribution model which was a key part of the new SPFL, teams finishing in the top four of the First Division in season 13/14 could see financial boosts to the tune of £2-400,000. While we are not yet sure how our league rivals will shape up there is, so far, nothing to suggest a play-off place would be an unrealistic goal.
With a long way to go before the beginning of the new season, and longer still until the close of the transfer window, plenty of business is still to be done, both in Kirkcaldy and elsewhere in the division. However, it is credit to Grant Murray’s assuredness, and the board-room’s belief in the manager’s philosophy that they have acted so positively so early in the summer.
Fans will be hoping that, having assembled the core of the squad early, the Rovers use the time effectively to gel as a team and achieve peak fitness before running out against Sheffield Utd in the first game of pre-season.
If the team clicks and the Rovers impress against their pre-season opposition, expectation will quickly build in the stands and the pressure will be on Grant Murray to justify his position in what could be a make-or-break season for many at Stark’s.