Preview: Raith Rovers v St Mirren

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St Mirren and Raith Rovers go head to head for the first time this season as Saints travel through to “The Kingdom of Fife” tomorrow afternoon for a Ladbrokes Championship match-up at Stark’s Park.
There has been a change at the managerial helm in Kirkcaldy since Saints last faced Rovers back in March. Ray McKinnon left Stark’s Park at the end of last season to move to newly relegated Dundee United with former Hearts and Kilmarnock gaffer, Gary Locke brought in to pick up from where McKinnon left off.
Rovers made it to the promotion playoffs last season so Locke will be looking to do at least the same but he has had to do so with a high turnover of playing staff over the summer. Lewis Toshney and James Craigen were among 14 players who left Stark’s Park so Locke recruited from some of his former clubs as he looked to build his squad. Chris Johnston and Kevin McHattie were both brought in from Kilmarnock while former Hearts favourite Rudi Skacel joined from Czech side Mlada Boleslav. Bobby Barr was snapped up from Morton and Jean-Yves M’voto from Polish side Zawisza Bydgoszcz. Loan deals included former Aberdeen man Declan McManus who came in from Fleetwood Town, Rangers youngster Scott Roberts and goalkeeper Aaron Lennox from Aberdeen.
Raith have had a mixed start to the season. Having seen off Cove Rangers (2-1) and Montrose (2-1) in the Betfred Cup, qualification to the round of 16 appeared to be on the horizon as they led Ross County up in the Highlands only to settle for a share of the points as they conceded a late equaliser, but they did gain a bonus point through the penalty shoot-out. A win in their final match against Alloa Athletic would all but see them through but Jack Ross’ side won 1-0 through at Kirkcaldy to nab the final place.
If the Betfred Cup campaign proved to be disappointing then the start to the league would have been more satisfying for Gary Locke’s side as goals from Ross Callachan and Ross Matthews steered Raith to a 2-0 victory at Somerset Park last weekend against Ayr United. The win put the Kirkcaldy side in first place on goal difference, a position they will no doubt be looking to retain.
St Mirren’s league campaign got off to a hot and cold type of start last Saturday in Paisley. Morton all but dominated the opening 25 minutes with the crossbar being smacked twice and Thomas O’Ware giving the Greenock side an early lead. Saints fought back but they had to wait until seven minutes remaining before substitute John Sutton’s header brought parity back to the scoreline, but it came too late for Saints to make a charge to win the match and had to settle for a share of the points with their local rivals.
A few Buddies will be making a return to Stark’s Park tomorrow. John Sutton played with the Stark’s Park side in season 2003/04 where in 24 outings he found the back of the net 16 times. The same season goalkeeper Jamie Langfield left Dundee for Raith where he made 5 appearances before leaving for Partick Thistle in the January transfer window. Ryan Hardie played through at Kirkcaldy a wee bit more recently, the on-loan player from Rangers had a spell with Raith Rovers over the second half of last season where he made an impression with 6 goals in 12 appearances.
The side from Kirkcaldy had the upper hand in the four meetings between Saints and Raith last season with the Stark’s Park side winning three of the match-ups, the other being a 1-1 draw. St Mirren’s last win through at Stark’s Park was on 18th September 2004 when goals from Simon Lappin, Mixu Paatelainen and Brian McGinty secured a 3-0 victory.
It is still early in the season as teams are looking to make their stamp on the new campaign, but both sides know that this is the type of match-up they will be having to take points from if they are looking to contend for the promotion end of the table as well as damage the ambitions of their rivals.