Raith Rovers’ 2020/21 season is over.
It was a campaign which provided vibrant, attacking football and a promotion challenge that few people outside the walls of Stark’s Park dreamed was possible.
A team of young, inventive Rovers stars were given free rein by John McGlynn to express themselves and, in doing so, gave some of the Championship’s more fancied clubs a scare along the way.
They fell short over two legs against Dundee, ultimately paying the price for a disastrous 3-0 defeat in the first leg of their Premiership playoff semi-final on Wednesday.
But Raith gave the Dee a Saturday night fright, winning 1-0 to ensure that the overriding feeling among their support was beaming pride.
Here, Courier Sport looks at what the Fifers can take away from their gutsy outing at Dens Park as the curtain came down on their season.
Rovers’ prior two fixtures against Dundee — a 2-1 defeat and Wednesday’s 3-0 reverse — followed similar patterns, with the Fifers playing some neat but ineffective patterns before being caught out on the break.
This big question was: Did John McGlynn have a ‘Plan B’. The answer was a resounding yes.
Gozie Ugwu came in to the side and, within 40 seconds of referee Don Robertson blowing his whistle to begin proceedings, Fernandy Mendy shelled a booming diagonal pass towards the big Englishman.
That set the tone for a high-tempo, direct showing, peppered with speculative shots. It was one of those drives — from Regan Hendry — which broke kindly for Lewis Vaughan to produce a stunning swivel, spin and strike to open the scoring.
Vaughan and Jamie Gullan sought to get close to the tireless Ugwu throughout, while Dan Armstrong performed admirably in a deeper role. Left-back Kieran MacDonald was deployed more like a left-winger.
It was intense, in-your-face fare and it rattled a Dundee side more accustomed to artisan attacking from the Kirkcaldy club.
The one criticism of that approach is Rovers arguably started to go too long, too early. Direct football started to become hopeful, long ball football with around 25 minutes to go and Dundee — in particular, the brilliant Lee Ashcroft — dealt with it superbly.
Operation: Stop Charlie Adam
The plaudits for Charlie Adam following his virtuoso showing at Stark’s Park were many and justified.
However, defender Reghan Tumilty offered a Raith perspective after the match, stating: “If you give him time on the ball he’s obviously going to pick them out, so we need to get a lot tighter in the next game.”
That message clearly stuck.
The bid to shackle and frustrate the mercurial midfielder was a battleground throughout a feisty affair, with Ross Matthews and Armstrong — in particular — snapping at his ankles and barely giving the former Liverpool and Scotland star an inch of space.
After a few hefty challenges, Adam was left limping but carried on until he was substituted with 15 minutes left on the clock.
Adam was visibly irked by Dundee’s lack of vigour, especially in the first half, and was booked for chopping down Armstrong. He was then fortunate not to receive his marching orders following a couple of fouls after the break.
Vital Lewis Vaughan
Raith’s gifted No.10 has enjoyed more eye-catching showings since returning to full fitness — the brace in Rovers’ 5-1 win over Fife rivals Dunfermline springs to mind — but this was arguably his most complete.
Not only did Vaughan produce an inspired opener, holding off the attention of Jordan McGhee before curling a fine drive beyond Adam Legzdins, but he linked possession and pressed manfully throughout.
ICYMI: Here's Lewis Vaughan's opener for Raith Rovers.
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His efforts were summed up on 31 minutes when — already limping following an earlier collision — he crashed into a ferocious 50/50 with Adam, emerged with the ball and started another attack.
For a player who has endured such a torrid time with injuries — rupturing his cruciate knee ligament on three separate occasions — it showed determination, bravery and utter belief in his own durability.
A Fond Farewell
Ultimately, the reality is that Rovers failed to get the job done and, without Premiership football as a carrot for next season, some of this swashbuckling side will be broken up.
“We need to sit down with players and see who is signing — some will stay, some will go, we’ve already signed up a few,” McGlynn acknowledged.
Midfield metronome and PFA Championship player of the year Regan Hendry is out of contract and has a host of suitors, while the impressive Dan Armstrong and Brad Spencer are also free to talk to other clubs.
Frankie Musonda is weighing up the offer of a new contract, cult hero Mendy is likely to move and the deals of Iain Davidson, Manny Duku and Gozie Ugwu expire in June.
Rovers’ loan stars — Kai Kennedy, Jamie Gullan, Adam King — will leave the club.
Last but far from least, legendary goalkeeper David McGurn will also leave his role as goalkeeping coach due to the club’s move to full-time status.
The challenge for McGlynn is to ensure the progress continues even as several linchpins exit.