Ian Murray has hailed the importance of Sam Stanton to Raith Rovers as the midfielder prepares for his comeback in Friday’s showdown with Dundee United.
The influential former United and Hibernian player has been out of action since the 4-4 draw with Ayr United on December 22 because of a knee injury.
In his time on the sidelines, Raith have won just once in seven games and have lost their last five in a row.
Murray is wary of heaping too much pressure on the shoulders of Stanton, who surprised the club’s medical staff by training fully with his team-mates at the tail end of last week.
But, with the 29-year-old having scored six times this season, including three outright winners and four in his last seven games, Stanton’s return is reason for renewed optimism for Rovers.
Murray said: “Sam was a wee bit ahead of schedule and actually trained with us fully on Thursday and came through it fine.
“That’s really good news for us.
“Since Sam went off against Ayr United our form has dipped a little bit and results have dipped.
“You don’t want to pin your hopes on one player and that doesn’t do other boys justice either.
“But, since Sam has been out, we’ve lost a lot of goals. We always have to look at that and wonder why. Is that part of it? We don’t know yet, it might be coincidence, perhaps.
“We’ll see when Sam comes back if results pick up and the defensive qualities pick up. If they do, then perhaps it was that.
“But I’m delighted to get him back. He’s certainly in the top two or three midfielders in the league and we’re lucky to have him.
“It’s great that his injury has healed really quickly.”
Also set to be available for the visit of league leaders United in Friday’s top-of-the-table clash is Zak Rudden.
The striker joined on loan from Dundee last month and made his debut as a half-time substitute against Inverness Caley Thistle.
After claiming an assist in the 3-2 defeat, the 24-year-old started the SPFL Trust Trophy semi-final against Airdrie the following Friday.
He lasted just 35 minutes, however, before being replaced with a hamstring issue.
But it is hoped the one-time Rangers trainee will shake off the problem to be part of Murray’s plans for this week’s potentially pivotal encounter.
Murray, who has signed St Johnstone defender James Brown on loan, added: “We’re very optimistic that Zak will train all this week and then he has a chance for Friday.
“If there are no setbacks and nothing else happens then we’re looking at having 21 players on the training field.
“When you add James [Brown] in, that makes it 22. That gives us a real opportunity going into this last bit in the season.”