It seems like an age has passed since Raith Rovers were landed with a plum home tie against Celtic in the 5th Round of the William Hill sponsored Scottish Cup. The SPL’s Winter break has meant its been almost 2 months since the fixture was plucked from the hat by former Celtic goalkeeper ,Pat Bonner, but after 8 weeks of discussion and excitement, the game has almost arrived. It’s a match that has whetted the appetite of the supporters, and by Tuesday the “sold out” signs were already being displayed by the club. In a specially arranged press conference held at Stark’s Park this week, manager Grant Murray was joined by player coach Laurie Ellis and a host of players to discuss the game.

First up was Murray, who explained that despite the Celtic game being on the horizon for a while, the players never lost focus,

“We’ve known the tie was there for a long time now and its been difficult for the players because we’ve had a lot of important league games to prepare for. The draw had been made before we knew for definite who our opponent would be, all we knew was that it would be at home which was fantastic. The players never got ahead of themselves though, they’ve been great. The results haven’t been ideal recently but its encouraging that we went to Morton and put on a right good performance last week. Possibly we should have won the game, Allan Moore was very honest afterwards and said we created enough chances to win it. We can give all our attention to Sunday now though, it gives the lads a wee break from league football and now in this cup game they can just give it their all.”

Unusually for a First Division side this will be the second time that they have taken on Celtic this season, after a League Cup tie at Celtic Park in September. The result, coupled with the home sides performance that night, shows the magnitude of Raith’s task this weekend,

“The boys had a belief about them that night that they could go there and put in a performance and like this week it was a game that they could look forward to. Going to Celtic Park is always a great experience and I thought it was a good showing from our lads that night, but it was an even better one from Celtic. They were unstoppable, and one man, Gary Hooper, scored all their goals. It was incredible, especially when you feel your own teams played well. It was interesting that the papers the next day weren’t talking about Celtic beating Raith Rovers, they were discussing whether or not Hooper should be playing for England. That shows you the type of performance they put in that night.”

Celtic might have a Champions League game against Juventus fast approaching, but Murray feels that wont distract them from their more immediate concerns,

“Neil Lennon will have them switched on for this game. It’s a Scottish Cup tie against Raith Rovers, at Raith Rovers and that’s all he’ll be interested in. They certainly wont want to go out of another cup competition in quick succession after last weeks defeat to St Mirren. Neil Lennon was a successful player, he was a winner and he’s no different as a manager. He’ll be wanting his team in that Scottish Cup Final, so even though they’ve a massive European game coming up, this game will mean a lot to Celtic as well.”

Player/coach Laurie Ellis spoke about how the game had created a buzz around Stark’s Park before explaining that his latest job role is providing him with new challenges, especially when building up to a big game,

“It’s different to what I’ve experienced before. I help Grant and Paul Smith on a daily basis but at the same time I need to make sure that my game preparation is fine, because first and foremost my job come kick off time on Sunday will be as a player. It can be tricky sometimes, it’s a new set of skills that I’m trying to pick up, crossing between the two areas when necessary, but I’m enjoying it.”

He feels the Raith players can take great heart from this seasons previous encounter between the sides at Parkhead,

“I think the young players especially can get a bit of belief and encouragement from just playing on that pitch, in that arena, and walking out alongside some man mountains in green and white hoops. We were beaten on the night but we didn’t disgrace ourselves. We had spells in the game where we did well and Celtic were complimentary about us on a few things after the game so we can take confidence from that and a belief that we can put on a show for the fans. We need to give 100% so that they know that we’ve done our very best.”

The Scottish Cup has been kind to Ellis over the years, but despite creating his own piece of Raith history by scoring one of the goals in a 2-1 quarter final victory over Dundee at Dens Park in 2010, his humble nature, and fear of being wound up, means he doesn’t bring it up too often,

“I don’t mention it. I would get too much stick in the dressing room if I did, but its firmly lodged in my mind. It’ll always be a special moment for me, and I know how important it was for fans who remember the game or were there on the day. In terms of my career its a really special memory that I’ll always have, and if I can grab another memory in the Scottish Cup that’s similar then I’ll be a very happy man. All the players will be looking to give a good performance on Sunday and hopefully they’ll all have something special to look back on afterwards.”

Allan Walker was on the score sheet when the two clubs played each other in September. He discussed just how delighted he was at scoring against the club he grew up supporting,

“Scoring against them was a dream come true, I thought we gave a good account of ourselves that night but they showed why they’re in the last 16 of the Champions League, they were clinical and that’s the level you’ve got to reach. Their second goal that night relaxed them and in the second half they were popping it around brilliant. That’s how they can be at times, you start to wonder if they’ve got extra men on the pitch.”

Rovers may have been written off by the majority of fans and pundits alike, but the scorelines from last weekends FA cup ties, as well as St Mirren’s surprise win over Celtic, shows that shocks can happen,

“It would be dreamland if we could do it, I know most people are expecting us to go out but you saw what happened last week down in England. Oldham put out Liverpool and Luton won at Norwich, it shows you that the under-dog doesn’t always lose. I was really impressed with St Mirren in their semi-final as well, I thought they were fantastic. You need a wee bit of luck and Celtic to have a bad day but that’s what happened. Their hard work paid off and now they’re in a cup final, it’s a great achievement.”

Celtic fielded an under strength side in the previous round against Arbroath, but it nearly cost them when the Gayfield side held them to a 1-1 draw at Celtic Park, forcing a replay. Walker doesn’t think the cup favourites will do something similar this time around, though

“I think they’ll field a strong team as the prospect of going out of two cup competitions in a week is unthinkable to a club like Celtic. All the pressures on them though, there’s none on us. We’re the under-dogs and we just need to go out and make it hard for them and play our own game, and that’s what we’re going to do. This game is great for the supporters too, I’ve been at this club when fans have made trips all the way down to Stranraer to see us, or even on Saturday when 100 or so went all the way to Greenock to support us. It’s fantastic for them too, not just us”

Pat Clarke touched on the same subject, pointing out how important the fans could be on Sunday. Considering how he found the club during his first spell at Raith Rovers in 2005, he never thought that he’d be pulling on a Raith jersey in front of a sell out crowd for a live televised game at any point in the future,

“The fans could be a massive influence on the game. It’s an old cliche to say that they could be our 12th man but if we can get them going then they really can be. Sunday will be like the club has come full circle from when I was first here. If I’m honest the club was a bit of a shambles. I came from Dunfermline and an SPL set up and I didn’t think it would be such a big drop but it really was. Even silly things, like you’d struggle to get training kit to train in and wee things like that. When Claude Anelka left the place was just in tatters, a real mess, but John McGlynn came in and a lot changed. He brought a real stability to the club and brought in a lot more organisation, even though he didn’t have much money to spend, and before you knew it, the club was showing some promise again. Hopefully that’ll continue because they’re a well run wee club now.”

Striker Greig Spence is a former Celtic player, something that makes this encounter even more special to the 20 year old who spoke of how keen he was to impress,

“Being an ex-player you want to give a good account of yourself, obviously I’m looking forward to it. I mean, we’re playing a team that’s in the Champions League and it’ll be a great experience for everyone. Celtic did a lot for me in my career but I’d love to score a goal against them, preferably the winner. After last weeks result I think their manager will have them really fired up and they wont be allowed any complacency. They’ve got big games ahead though and hopefully they’ll have one eye on the Juventus match and we can maybe take advantage of that.”

The final words of the day came from Grant Murray, who summed up exactly what he expects from his charges when the referee blows for the start of the game,

“All we can ask is to prepare properly all week which we have done, then we can look forward to the day coming. But once 12:45 arrives on Sunday, we need to be ready, ready to give it everything, absolutely everything we’ve got, because if they give it their best shot, then that’s all I can ask for as a manager.”

The players, management team and most especially the fans have been discussing the build up to this match for some weeks now, but everyone connected with Raith Rovers will be hoping that by 3 o’clock on Sunday, they’ll have achieved a result that will be talked about forever.

 Written by Shaughan McGuigan

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