John McGlynn’s assertion that a fully fit Raith Rovers side would have pipped Arbroath to the title was certainly a bold opinion, and one that wasn’t entirely embraced by the Raith support.
Sitting third, Rovers aren’t even the Red Lichties closest rivals, with the 13 point chasm between the two suggesting there’s bigger differences between the squads than just the names on an injury list.
A manager listing hypothetical reasons around why his side has fallen short of expectations is never a particularly good look.
It’s often seen as sour grapes, or a desperate attempt at straw clutching, but is his claim that outlandish?
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After all, it hasn’t just been the amount of injuries, but the identity of those involved too. Ask an Arbroath fan if they’d have won the league without Tom O’Brien and Bobby Linn for the bulk of the season, and they’d probably reply negatively.
It’s impossible to say one way or another of course, but comparing like-for-like would suggest there would’ve been a title race at the very least, rather than the procession which was played out.
When analysing the defensive units, even the most myopic of supporters would struggle to suggest too many Rovers names for a best of XI.
Over the piece, Arbroath have conceded 12 fewer goals than Rovers, and in Darren Jamieson they have one of the best goalkeepers in the lower leagues, while Ricky Little and the O’Brien are the best central defensive unit in the division.
Likewise, Jason Thomson’s defensive nous and ability to get forward from right-back should have seen him kept on at Stark’s Park, if it were at all possible.
The only place up for debate is the left-back berth, with Euan Murray, who impressed there last term, potentially a better choice than Colin Hamilton, who is generally seen as the weak link in an extremely impressive chain. However, it’s in the more advanced positions where McGlynn’s argument is lent more credence.
With 23 goals in all competitions, Linn has one of the wide positions all sewn up, but the rest of the midfield is far more open to conjecture.
Regan Hendry only featured in a handful of appearances before injury ruled him out for the entire campaign, but his performances in wins over Dumbarton and Stranraer and the 1-1 draw against Arbroath suggested he was superior to the majority of players in the division.
Alongside him, Grant Gillespie playing in his preferred position compares favourably to both his Arbroath equivalences, Mark Whatley and the aging Gavin Swankie, and Arbroath had no answer to Daniel Armstrong during Rovers 2-0 win at Gayfield before Christmas. His loss has been felt keenly by Raith since his departure to Ross County in January.
Up front, there’s really no contest, and while Arbroath have plenty of options, none of them would usurp Kevin Nisbet or Lewis Vaughan from any side.
It’s a simplistic argument, but with Hendry, Vaughan and Armstrong available, possession would have been dominated, opponents would have been forced onto the back foot, and some games which produced nothing would almost certainly have coughed up a point or three.
You might not fully agree with McGlynn’s point, but there’s at least some kernels of truth in his theory.