BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Harry Panayiotou insists the meteoric rise of record-breaking Leicester City team-mate Jamie Vardy will spur him on for Raith Rovers against Rangers tonight.
Panayioutou has joined Rovers on loan for the rest of the season and is set to make his debut in tonight’s rearranged fixture against league leaders Rangers.
The striker trains with Vardy on a regular basis and views the new England cap as an inspiration for any marksman with dreams of making it big south of the border.
Vardy struggled up the ranks after starting his career with Stocksbridge Park Steels and Halifax Town in non-league football before ending up at Leicester City via an eye-catching stint with Fleetwood Town in the Conference.
The 29-year-old became a household name last year when he scored in 11 consecutive league matches to break the Premier League record held by Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
And having made his international debut against the Republic of Ireland back in June he has completed a remarkable rise from zero to hero.
Panayiotou said: “Jamie Vardy is a top striker and a great guy as well. He’s very sharp.
“I see him every day when I’m training at Leicester and he’s upbeat and lively, and he’s great to have around the club. Everyone loves him.
“I chat to everybody. I train with them, so I chat to Vardy, I chat to Danny Drinkwater, I chat to Wes Morgan, the captain. We’re close, everyone gets on.
“There’s no big stars at the club. Even though Vardy broke the record, he’s still the same guy. He’s no different.
“He’s not just an inspiration to me, he’s an inspiration to everyone in League Two and in the Conference.
“He’s given everyone a chance – everyone believes they can do it if Vardy can.”
Panayiotou netted on his debut for Leicester, his boyhood heroes, but has not played for the first-team since that winner as a 17-year-old in a 2-1 victory over Leeds United in 2012.
With the Foxes riding high at the top of the Premier League, the 21-year-old fully accepted his chances between now and the end of the campaign were likely to have been limited.
However, the Saint Kitts and Nevis cap, who became the first Leicester player to score an international hat-trick when he netted a treble in a World Cup qualifier against Turks and Caicos Islands back in March, is eager to make the most of his spell north of the border.
He added: “It’s difficult for me to get into the team at Leicester. If they were 18th in the league then maybe I would have a better chance.
“But they’re first, so they can’t really give youngsters a chance, when they’re going for the Champions League.
“So, when I heard that Raith wanted me, I wanted to come straight away. If they’re interested and they’re putting their belief in me then I want to give them something back.
“I’ve come here to get some league experience, score some goals and keep Raith in the play-offs, and hopefully try and get them promoted.
“The people at Leicester were saying I would have some massive games coming up – Rangers three times and Hibs – and they said it would be a great experience.
“Not many people get to play against Rangers, that’s a massive game, so they said to come here, enjoy it and get the experience of living in another country, and they were keen.
“Growing up as a kid down south you more see Celtic against Rangers, so if I make my debut against Rangers I’ll never forget that moment.”
Meanwhile, Raith manager Ray McKinnon, who is set to welcome defender Lewis Toshney and striker Mark Stewart back from injuries, has vowed to have a go at the ‘champions-elect’ tonight.
He said: “It’s a tough, tough game but it’s a shot at the league leaders without any pressure, because nobody expects us to win.
“They’re the champions-elect, for me, but we’ll see if we can take something from the game.
“We’re going to be a wee bit adventurous with our team selection and we’re going to go and have a go.
“I would rather go out and try and win the game and get beat than try and hold on to something and get beat. I want to go and test Rangers.”