Defenders may think differently when he’s out on the pitch but Raith Rovers manager Ray McKinnon is adamant that Jason Cummings is “irrelevant” in the context of the build-up to tomorrow’s play-off quarter-final.
Cummings, the ebullient Hibernian striker, was in bullish mood in the wake of Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Queen of the South, despite the win not being enough for the Easter Road side to leapfrog Falkirk into the runners-up place they so wanted.
The 20-year-old, who netted his 25th goal of the season at the weekend, insisted Hibs should be regarded as favourites for the play-offs and that opponents would be “scared” of coming up against them. In a season pock-marked by apparent attempts at mind-games involving key figures from the likes of Hibs, Rangers and Falkirk, the blunt remarks seemed simply welcome material for the Stark’s Park dressing-room wall.
However, although he admits his players will have noted Cummings’ comments with interest, McKinnon believes his players will have greater reasons to emerge victorious from the two-legged tie, encounters which he claims could highlight the downside of being regarded as the favourites.
“Hibs are a big club, let’s not beat about the bush,” he said. “They’re a big, big club. They’re a ‘Premiership club’, with great infrastructure, a great squad, great manager, big fan-base – and they really should be in the top flight.
“For me, that’s a pressure going into the play-offs. Let’s make no bones about it, that is a pressure. Whether it affects them or not, only time will tell. Is it an advantage or disadvantage? I don’t know.
“Jason has come out and made comments – and he’s within his rights to feel that way. He can see it that way, it doesn’t mean we see it that way. We’ll do our talking on the park, that’s where it needs to be done.
“I’m pretty sure my players have probably looked at that but it doesn’t affect us. We’ve got good characters in that dressing-room, strong players. They’ll be motivated to win the game for themselves and not because of what Jason Cummings says. He’s irrelevant to us.”
One look at the form guide is enough to show that Cummings may be misguided. Since some astute business in the loan market added Ryan Hardie from Rangers, Louis Longridge from Hamilton Accies and Harry Panayiotou from Leicester City to Raith’s squad and Aidan Connolly was recruited following his departure from Dundee United, Rovers have amassed more points than anyone in the Championship. Currently on an incredible sequence in which they have been defeated just once – against Rangers at Ibrox – in their last 15 matches and not at all in their last 11 outings, the Kirkcaldy outfit could lay claim to, in fact, being the ones who should be regarded as favourites to emerge from a nerve-racking affair to take on Falkirk in the semi-final.
“We’re undefeated in this quarter and we’ve had a really tough run-in – six away games and just three at home, and the three at home were Rangers, Falkirk and Hibs. But we were undefeated there. The six away games, apart from one at Alloa, were all against teams round about us in the league. And we won five and drew one.
“So, it’s been a great end to the season, the boys have been flying - and, you know, we go into this fairly confident that we can go on.”
It would still register as a huge shock for most of Scottish football should Raith manage to pull off the hitherto unthinkable and take their place in next season’s Premiership. However, with Leicester proving money is not everything south of the border, McKinnon is confident that pound signs will not be what matters when the whistle blows at kick-off tomorrow night.
“I know [Falkirk manager] Peter Houston is going on about budgets constantly,” he said. “If we’re going to talk about budgets, Peter, let’s have a look at our budget and compare it to anybody’s. It’s absolutely minimal. We’ve got boys in there on peanuts. But that doesn’t mean you’re a bad team.
“What you’re paying your players doesn’t mean you’re a bad team. We’ve put together a good squad. “I’m pretty certain that’s why they’re all wanting to avoid us in the play-offs. If we can play to our maximum, it’s going to be very, very tough for somebody to beat us.”