He was Saturday’s last-second goal hero against Airdrie in the Scottish Cup, but Greig Spence openly admits he hasn’t always enjoyed his football career.
Spence’s journey into the senior ranks started as a teenager with Alloa Athletic, before the SPL giants of Celtic came calling.

First team chances at Parkhead were few and far between, which meant being farmed out on loan to Hamilton, before ending up in Kirkcaldy in the summer.

“I wasn’t really settled for a few years. At Alloa, I was starting out as a 16-year-old, and I got my move to Celtic which I enjoyed, but I was never really going to break into the first team.”

Salvation came when Raith pulled off something of a coup in securing Spence’s signature, and early indications suggest that things seem to be going in the right direction. “Obviously now I’m back enjoying my football.  I enjoy playing for the club, I’m enjoying playing for the manager, I enjoy coming to training every day and I think that’s the main factors. I think when you enjoy it that’s when you get the best out of yourself.”

Facing his former club in the League Cup earlier in the season was an experience that Spence says he savoured. “I really enjoyed that night.  You want to go back there and make a good account of yourself.  It keeps you motivated to want to get back to that level.”

The few hundred or so Rovers fans at Airdrie on Saturday would agree that it was a topsy-turvy Scottish Cup tie, one that Spence himself relished being part of. “I think before the game we were really confident we could get through to the next round. We started the game really well, went 1-0 up and tried to get a second goal to kill the tie, then obviously Brian’s got sent off just after half time. At 1-1 and down to 10 men we’d be happy with a replay, but obviously we’re going to be up against it. We still created chances to win the tie.  I think I should do better with a few of them, then they go 2-1 up and it looks like we’re going out the cup at that point but the boys have stuck together and we’ve managed to battle through.”

Then came the moment Rovers fans will savour for a long time – Spence sticking the ball in the net with virtually the last kick of the game. Airdrie put it right into the corner, David Smith’s done really well to win it back, then it’s broke to Dougie Hill who’s put a good ball down the line to Grant Anderson, who’s used his pace and put it on my plate to slide in.”

Spence celebrates the late goal

At the final whistle, the celebrations from the travelling fans were more akin to a team that had just won the cup, rather than one having just secured a replay against Airdrie United.

There was, however, a sense of ‘if only’.  Spence’s one-on-one with Diamonds ‘keeper, Kenny Arthur could easily have proved a turning point in the tie. “In training and in games all my career I’ve put them past the keeper. I know I should do better.  My standards are high, but I knew if I got another chance I would just have to take that one.”

It can be argued that the Fourth Round draw has been somewhat favourable to The Rovers – handing us a home tie against Highland League side, Deveronvale, assuming we see off Airdrie next week that is.  With the highlanders already having taken the scalps of Peterhead and Stirling, there is definitely an element of staying focused and not falling into the trap of taking Vale too lightly.

“On paper, if we keep our high standards up we should be able to perform and do what we need to do to get through to the next round.  We just need to take it one step at a time. We’ve played Wick, we’ve played Berwick, we’ve played lesser teams.  If we can turn up we can win the games, but obviously cup ties can go either way.  We’ve just got to keep our high standards and hopefully things take care of themselves.”

There are a lot of issues that haven’t escaped the attention of Rovers fans – not least the forthcoming derby against Dunfermline, a game that Spence himself, being a Dunfermline lad is fired up for.

“All the boys are really looking forward to it.  It would be really good to get a victory against them and I know I’ll be raring to go come that Saturday. The last time we played them at East End we let ourselves down as a team.  I don’t think we really turned up that day, but we’ve learned from that and the motivation to get them back is sky high.”

Before we get our hands on the neighbours, there is the small matter of two crucial home games – Falkirk in the league on Saturday, followed by the cup replay against Airdrie United. “The two games are really important for us. I think if we can try and get a victory on Saturday it will put us in a good league position, and then the cup tie obviously we want to get through.”

Whether it’s being there on a Saturday afternoon or watching Sky Sports News, Rovers fans will agree that we have shot ourselves in the foot on more than one occasion this season by conceding late equalisers.

The tie at Airdrie, though, showed we have been equally good at scoring late on. “Losing the two late goals in the two home ties (against Partick Thistle and Dumbarton) was devastating for us. I think if you win them you’re right up there near the top of the league, but obviously we haven’t done that.”

“On the flip side, we’ve showed the fighting spirit to get ourselves back in games with last-minute goals ourselves (against Cowdenbeath and Airdrie United).  It all swings and roundabouts, but you’ve just got to keep battling on. I think we’ve been really unlucky in most of the games anyway.  We’ve just got to keep plugging away.”

His footballing journey to get to Kirkcaldy hasn’t always been plain sailing, but finally Greig Spence has a place he can call ‘home’.

Written by Martin Hart

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