I’ll level with you. I don’t like Raith Rovers. I don’t like Cappielow either, although I’ve only been twice: once down from Aberdeen in 2000 for a game where it rained incessantly on the uncovered Wee Dublin End and I didn’t have a jacket (I think the game ended in a draw) and again for the game that finally put us out our misery the last time we (dis)graced the First Division. Somehow we went into that game with a chance of staying up, or at least grabbing a play-off spot. And when Danny McKay scored, well… it’s the hope that kills you. I’d driven down from Skye for the game. 6am ferry. Should have known better though. The 4-1 home defeat by Airdrie on a dismal Wednesday night a couple of weeks previous was all the evidence needed that Ayr’s First Division ba’ was burst, nevermind the 7-0 humiliation dished out be Inverness three days later. It was a truly horrific end of season run.
Diversions aside, fate would have it I can’t make it to Cappielow tonight anyway. Oh, well, I’ve still got another two opportunities to avoid Inverclyde and four chances to get annoyed by Raith Rovers’ effective kick-and-rush pragmatism this season…
On to the game and just one injury – to Eddie Malone (thankfully not a season-ending leg-break as first feared) – brings into focus our paper thin squad. Chris Smith seems the only option to replace Malone at left-back, although McGowan could play there at a push, and the imperious John Robertson the obvious candidate to fill in at centre-back, with Jonathan Tiffoney, curiously low profile during the start of the season, or 17 year old Gareth Armstrong coming in at right-back.
Tiffoney, Gareth Wardlaw, Gareth Armstrong and Roddy Patterson are all in contention to start but no mention of Ross Robertson, a player many would like to see in the middle of the park to give us the physical presence that the impressive Andy Geggan and entirely ineffective Alex Burke don’t provide. Another player who won’t provide that missing ‘dig’ is on-loan St. Mirren kid Jamie McKernan. On as a replacement for Burke against Hamilton, I don’t doubt the lad’s ability – I’m sure he’s a tidy wee player – but I fail to see what he adds to the squad. More concerning, is Reid’s preference for these unproven SPL kids over our own Academy prospects, notably Ross Robertson and increasingly Tiffoney. Tiff was a last resort at right-back at the start of last season but proved his worth with some great performances. Yes, a bit naïve at times and with some defensive frailties but it seems that Reid no long fancies Tiffoney at right-back (hence he inflicted us with Jim Lauchlan towards the end of last season), or even at all? Curious. One silver lining could be that we were in the same boat last season and it wasn’t until September that Brian Reid captured Eddie Malone and Ryan McCann, two of our more consistent players last season.
As for Raith Rovers, who won their first Challenge Cup game in six years when they knocked out local rivals Cowdenbeath in the first round, they will be without skipper Iain Davidson for the game, who suffered medial knee ligament damage that will keep him out for up to eight weeks. Incredibly Davidson had been linked with a move to Hibs earlier in the week, proof possibly that while Colin Calderwood might still be Easter Road in body, he isn’t there in mind or spirit.
Manager John McGlynn - PFA Scotland Manager of the Year last season – has described tonight’s tie as “winnable”, and the bookies certainly agree. Rovers had quite a remarkable season last year and in John Baird have a striker who suits Rovers’ style of play (and hopefully dives less than his predecessor in that role for Rovers, Graeme Weir). McGlynn has also added Livingston midfield Joe Hamill and he certainly stood out last season as a useful operator in the middle of the park, while they are unlikely to miss the enigmatic Gregory Tadé too much – ex-Morton man Brian Graham now providing the foil for Baird.
For United, our best hope could well be Gareth Wardlaw. Which for some may be a worry. Missed a golden opportunity against Accies but will hopefully be fired up to impress against his former side. His inclusion may see United going more direct but he has that nuisance factor that could cause Raith’s experience centre-back partnership of Ellis and Murray trouble and create opportunities for Moffat or Paterson, who appears to be well capable of finishing even the slightest of half-chance.
Steve Conroy is the referee tonight so if you are going to the game you can at least personalise your ire towards the man in black. Conroy was the whistler on the receiving end of Alex Williams’ affections following THAT equalising goal against THEM and the ‘taps aff’ celebration. Great scenes! I’m off to find the goal on YouTube to take my mind off tonight and the sorry reason why this game is going ahead at Cappielow…