For some time, the Claude Anelka debacle has been viewed as the best “I was there” moment in Raith’s recent history. Therefore, I don’t say this lightly: this season has top-trumped it.
Don’t get me wrong, the indomitable Claude’s tenure was some patter, but in terms of hair-brained lunacy, unfathomable ludicrousness and eyebrow raising bampottery, season 2016/17 will be hard to beat.
Ultimately, Anelka’s brief stint could basically be summarised as a bad manager signing bad players who performed poorly, but there was so much more to this most recent campaign.
It contained more twists and unlikely turns than the Usual Suspects, Seven and Memento combined, and, by the end, relegation was the only finale which made any sense.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the starring cast. The not-so-good, the bad, and in Chris Johnston’s case, the ugly.
Kevin Cuthbert (6)
We know what you’re thinking: “that’s a lot of goalkeepers for a team which ran out of them at one point.” And you’d be right. However, that’s just one of approximately three dozen things about Rovers season which didn’t make one iota of sense. After pulling up lame during the opening league fixture against Ayr, Cuthbert missed the next six weeks before returning in late September. However, an injury against Dundee United in January ruled him out for the remainder of the term, and put into motion a quite bizarre series of events. As truncated as his season was, I’ve given Kevin a bonus point, on the off-chance that the story about him sticking it to weirdo slaver John Hughes at the end of the season is true.
Aaron Lennon (3)
Difficult to judge this, considering the Aberdeen goalkeeper barely played, but the on-loan Australian stood in well for Cuthbert against St Mirren, and especially Dunfermline, where he picked up a bad looking injury in the first-half, but with no keepers on the bench, was forced to play on for 70 minutes, despite the fact he could barely stand up. The injury ruled him out for the next few months and, on his return, he had his jaw and several of his fingers broken in a Development friendly against Dundee United. Someone give Aaron some lucky white heather for us please.
Conor Brennan (3)
With all other keepers out of action (by August!) Conor was brought on board after leaving Kilmarnock. Killie’s gain was very much our loss, and his first few appearances were noteworthy for him being at fault for a goal in virtually every single one of them. Initially signed on a short term deal, this was extended after Cuthbert’s second injury, although he himself got injured against Queen of the South in February, leaving Rovers with a grand total of zero custodians. Unfortunately, Brennan was back in time for the playoffs, where he managed to make no saves whatsoever across 210 minutes of football and a penalty shoot-out, as Raith lost out to Brechin.
Pavol Penksa (5)
“What do we want?”
“When do we want them?”
“Ideally in time for a vital bottom-of-the-table clash against Ayr United, please.”
Alas, that wasn’t to be, but we did get madcap Slovakian Pavol Penksa, who eventually arrived after having his passport stolen in Bratislava. His first few performances suggested he may be slightly scatterbrained, as he scampered for crosses which were never his for the taking, but he eventually grew into a steady-Eddie looking last line of defence. Well, that was until the final league game of the season, when he kneed Craig Moore’s head clean of its moorings, receiving a red card after less than a minute of action. It was the last we ever saw of him. Some boy.
Jason Thomson (4)
Jason hasn’t always been everyone’s cup of tea, with his propensity to being caught out of position defensively and a first touch that’s about as graceful as a hammer blow, but Thomson’s great strength has always been his ability to drive the team forward down the right flank. That was sorely missed during his absence through injury between September and February, but his return to the side brought no upturn in results. Admittedly he may have been rushed back too early, which was understandable really, considering every man and his Granny were either injured, suspended, filling in as a goalie or Rudi Skacel, but he appeared to be running on fumes for much of the fag end of the season.
Kevin McHattie (4)
One of the biggest concerns around the arrival of Gary Locke was that he’d bring in oodles of former players who were duds under his tutelage at Hearts and Kilmarnock. With that in mind, you can imagine now delighted all Raith fans were when he brought in his former Hearts and Kilmarnock left-back Kevin McHattie. Whilst his hairstyle suggested he was a lower-level henchman on Boardwalk Empire, his initial performances looked favourable, although injury, loss of form and having John Hughes screaming he was pish into his ear every five minutes appeared to take its inevitable toll.
Kyle Benedictus (6)
For many years, Mariah Carey held a world record for hitting the highest note, a G7 no less, whilst singing the Star Spangled Banner in 2003. She’d eventually lose that accolade in 2008, but if any of the good people from the Guinness Book want to take in a Raith match next term, they’ll find that Kyle Benedictus top-trumps that every few minutes, whilst screaming at folk to clear their lines. Shrillness aside, I’m a big fan of Bene, who was the victim of John Hughes desperately trying to shoehorn Jean-Yves M’Voto and Craig Barr into the centre of defence, a decision which left Kyle as the odd one out. That went well.
Craig Barr (5)
i’m starting to suspect Craig Barr was created as some kind of genome project where scientists combined the DNA of a human with a bat, a mammal which hibernates from the beginning of August, right through the winter. This was his third season at Stark’s Park, and for the third year on the spin he made his first start in February. A truly bizarre statistic. That said, he again proved his worth in the last four months of the season, but his injury record means he’s probably not worth keeping around for League One, unless he’s still a free agent on January the 31st.
Jean-Yves M’Voto (6)
There used to be a story in Roy of the Rovers called Billy’s Boots, where a child with no footballing prowess finds a pair of magical gutties, which bestow the protagonist with the ability to play the game well. Within it, there was a plot where the boots suddenly lost their power, meaning Billy is back to being a lumbering incompetent for a few games. Change the title to Jean’s Boots, and you get a rough idea of how M’Voto’s season went. Within days of winning the club’s player of the year award, Jean turned into a blundering oaf, gifting Brechin three of their four goals in the playoffs and condemning Raith to relegation, before rushing off to sign for Dunfermline. Not a great way to sign off to be honest.
Liam Smith (3)
With the team hampered by a defensive injury crisis at the end of September, Gary Locke indulged in some out-of-the-box thinking, and asked Hearts if they had anyone who could help. Step forward Liam Smith, who put in a man-of-the-match performance against Dumbarton on his debut, and was then injured in his next match against Queen of the South, cutting short his time at the club. Liam’s injury means eight out of the first ten reviews have featured someone getting crocked, leading me to wonder if Raith’s training centre in Glenrothes is afflicted by some kind of gypsy hex.
Bobby Barr (5)
Rovers fans had been warned not to expect too much from supporters of Bobby Barr’s former clubs, but how we laughed at their stupid opinions as Barr started the season strongly, with a goal and best-in-show-award in the opening Fife derby of the season. However, an injury ruled out Rovers speediest creative option between October and December, while the arrival of Hughes left him ostracised on the bench, due to the two having beef from their time together at Livingston. After the start he made, the second part of his season was disappointing, with one of his few positive contributions his decision to call a heckling Hibs fan a “fat cunt” when going to retrieve the ball. He wasn’t the only Raith player to rile up Hibs fans though…
Rudi Skacel (0)
They say hindsight is a wonderful thing, which it clearly isn’t. It’s hopeless. Hindsight is just assessing a previous decision and realising it was really stupid, which is a bit late. Foresight on the other hand is wonderful, and surely anyone with a brain even the size of a KP Skip would have figured that the idea of signing Skacel, a player who had pretty much been semi-retired since leaving Dundee United in 2012, was a poor one. Skacel’s only contributions were an assist against Queen of the South, a shot against Hearts which was chested in by Declan McManus, and doing the 5-1 sign at Easter Road, a gesticulation which generated more seethe than Katie Hopkins could ever dream of. A catastrophic waste of money.
Chris Johnston (2)
Johnston was dubbed “Mini Messi” by STV back in 2014, which in terms of accurate nicknames, would be the equivalent of changing Big Daddy’s moniker to Skinny Malinky. Johnston was a travesty of a signing that offered virtually nothing in each and every appearance, before generally slinking off in the 68th minute to be replaced by someone who probably should have started before him in the first place. Guff.
Scott Robertson (0)
Now, I have a lot of sympathy for Scott Robertson, a player who missed 99.9% of the season through injury, but considering how that .1% went, I wish it had been more. Inexplicably brought on towards the end of the second leg of the playoff against Brechin for his first appearance of the season, Robertson committed the foul from which Brechin scored their late equaliser, and then missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out, sending Rovers down in the process. That’s quite a 45 minutes. That said, he probably still had a better season than Skacel.
Scott Roberts (0)
Now this, this is a real humdinger. Brought in on loan from Rangers, Roberts pinged in a superb goal against Dumbarton in a 3-2 win, before proving it was a complete fluke by offering up nothing whatsoever in the rest of his appearances, before dropping out the side. With his deal expiring in January, it seemed obvious that he’d be returning to his parent club. Instead, he was offered to the club permanently (bearing in mind he couldn’t get a game) as part of the David Bates deal. AND WE AGREED. Essentially the midfield equivalent of Ross Perry, Roberts will soon be being lambasted by Clyde fans, before losing in the Junior Cup Final with Hurlford.
Joel Coustrain (3)
A low score for Joel, but not because he didn’t impress when he was on the park, just because he didn’t get too many opportunities to do so. The amiable Irishman impressed in pre-season, and looked like a tricky handful in his cameo roles at the beginning of the campaign. But with Gary Locke being Gary Locke, Coustrain didn’t get his first league start until November against Ayr. It went well. A fine performance was capped off with a goal, and fans were excited that they’d surely now get to see him on a more regular basis. Strangely, only three substitute appearances would follow, before he was asked to leave not long after Hughes’ arrival.
Ross Matthews (6)
If there was any flecks of positivity amongst the dank gloom of the 2016/17 season, then perhaps Ross Matthews was it. Cementing his place in the hearts of Raith fans forever by drop-kicking Joe Cardle in the kisser in the first Fife derby of the season, Matthews was omitted from the side far too often for players who were both inferior at football, and who didn’t even perform a single wrestling manoeuvre to compensate. Matthews may look like a baby-faced urchin, but as he proved a couple of seasons back, when he smashed Scott Brown from pillar to post at Celtic Park, he’s a pleasingly dirty bastard that would probably suplex a family member for the last biscuit. I like him.
Iain Davidson (4)
Not the strongest of season’s for Davidson, but then considering how the other reviews have gone so far, that’s dangerously close to a compliment. His problem is that for a defensive midfielder he isn’t very adept at defensive midfielding, which is an issue, I’m sure you’d agree. However, when chucked in at a full-back or a central defensive position to help out, he was perfectly adequate, although his moaning and grumbling is a complete nuisance. With rumours circulating that he’s joining the fire brigade, he’ll probably arrive at a house fire, shout at his colleagues for not being quick enough, then put a ladder up at the wrong house.
Jordan Thompson (2)
The fact that Jordan Thompson started 28 games for Rovers this season gives some indication as to the utter shambles this campaign was. Another player who arrived on loan from Rangers, his deal was also extended as part of the Bates deal (YAY!) despite his contributions being slight. At best. He’s technically proficient, but he was a central midfielder that didn’t tackle, didn’t score and didn’t create chances. I mentioned he started 28 games, eh?
Ross Callachan (5)
I’ll openly admit, I’m a fan of Ross, but it’s fair to say his worth to the team splinters opinion amongst the Rovers support. Mind you, if a player can make some of the utter bumpkins that sit around me foam at the mouth, then they definitely get the seal of approval from myself. Callachan can please and infuriate in equal measure though. Blessed with the ability to spread play quickly, he can also just as easily slash it through a Pratt Street flat window when his colleague is right next to him. A player who needs to kick on next season.
Ryan Stevenson (5)
An interesting wee stint at Stark’s Park for the tattoo etchers’ best friend. Knocked unconscious on his debut, Stevenson didn’t actually look too bad playing up front in his handful of performances, although considering the dreck we’d watched up until his arrival, that’s hardly a glowing appraisal. He pinged in a beezer against Hibernian in a 1-1- draw, but Stevenson’s best performance actually came in goals in the infamous game against Ayr. He left just a few days later to retire, then changed his mind, then changed his mind about that.
Lewis Vaughan (4)
Again, a low score for Vaughan, partly because his early season performances were no better than okay, and partly because he barley played after August due to an apparent fall-out with Gary Locke. Vaughan was eventually jettisoned to Dumbarton, and whilst there’s some mystery over who had the final say on the matter, whoever was responsible should be nicknamed ‘King of the Dunderheids’ for evermore. With the Sons four points behind us in the table at the time, his goals and performances helped keep Steve Aitken’s men afloat, which is great until you realise it sunk us in the process. In a campaign where every Raith fan had their flabber gasted, this was the ultimate.
Mark Stewart (4)
It was shaping up to be a decent looking season for Mark Stewart, with five goals to his credit by October, as Rovers threatened the early Championship pace setters. The fact he was still on five at the end of the season tells you the rest of the campaign wasn’t exactly a triumph. His goal against Dunfermline in those hazy, halcyon days of August was a genuine goal-of-the-season contender, but like the football club in general, his performances dribbled into an abyss from November onwards.
Ryan Hardie (6)
Now this is more like it. A genuine crowd pleaser, there was a fair dollop of delight when the Rangers forward was brought back in on loan, even after a stodgy spell at St Mirren. What could go wrong? Well, John “Motivational Guru” Hughes could come out and pan him after several games about his work-rate, and an apparent bad attitude in training, and keep him on the bench for large swathes of his tenure. Averaged a goal every 160 minutes, which isn’t bad considering the utter dearth of service he received, but the mutual disrespect between himself and Hughes was obvious, although he did say he’d make a fine boyfriend for someone, so that’s a positive I suppose.
Danny Handling (4)
With Rovers desperate for both creativity and an end product, Hughes turned to Danny Handling, a player who hadn’t played for two years and who’d managed five goals in 64 appearances for Hibs. It wasn’t exactly a signing that made the denizens of Stark’s Park weak at the knees. In fairness to Handling, who was clearly lacking any kind of match sharpness, he did add a frisson of guile to the side, but his stay in general was all a bit meh.
Declan McManus (5)
Not since Liam Fox made grown men wail, shriek, swear and despair, have I willed a player to succeed as much as Declan McManus. My favourite moment of his season came at Cappielow, when he watched a small clutch of halfwit neanderthals screaming at Gary Locke, slowly shaking his head, with a look on his face that suggested, “what a rabble of clampits.” McManus is basically a Graeme Weir for a new generation, with hundreds of running, but few goals. He did add to his tally at the season’s end, but a grand total of nine was no great shakes for a player who we expected a lot more of.
Jonny Court (2)
Considering Court had failed to make too much of an impression on loan at Montrose early on this season, there was no great expectation when the youngster came on late at Easter Road at the tail end of the campaign. However, after rag-dolling opponents left, right and centre during a late rally against Hibs, then following it up with a goal against Ayr, it appeared a star had emerged. It seemed curious that such a talent hadn’t been used before now. However, two anonymous performances against Brechin means Rovers fans are still none-the-wiser about his abilities. League One could be a big season for the 21-year-old.
Yaw Osei (1)
Last but not least, it’s Yaw Osei, a player whose main highlight was conducting the half-time 50/50 draw at the start of the season, and gushingly announced over the microphone that he loved Raith Rovers and loved Kirkcaldy. Never has an area of Fife been praised with such passion and gusto. Yaw was prolific in the Development side, but failed to make the breakthrough for the first team, other than a half-hour cameo at Dumbarton. There may be some raw materials in there to work with, but until he weighs more than a damp cloth, he’ll toil to make a go of it.
Written by Shaughan McGuigan