BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
RAY McKinnon insists the possibility Rangers can clinch the Championship title this weekend should act as a massive incentive for his Raith Rovers side as they bid to act as party poopers.
A victory for Rangers, coupled with anything other than a win for Hibernian away to St Mirren, would confirm the Light Blues as champions and seal their promotion back to the top-flight for the first time since the enforced relegation of 2012.
With Raith having given over the whole of the main stand to their visitors, whose fans will occupy three sides of Stark’s Park, McKinnon is aware there will be an electric and expectant atmosphere for the match.
However, with the Kirkcaldy side chasing the points they need to secure a promotion play-off spot, McKinnon has urged his squad to feed off the excitement of the game and try and cause an upset.
He said: “I can envisage what it’s going to be like – the place is going to be rocking. It’s their first opportunity to win the league and get back into the Premiership for the first time in four years – and it’s against us.
“They’re going to be flying and be right up for it. They’re going to come out of the traps like God knows what because of the hype of the game and the fact they can win the league.
“But that brings its own pressure, and I prefer to look at it that way.
“I don’t think of it as ‘oh no, it’s Rangers and they’re coming to win the league’. I’ll hopefully set up my team right, with good, strong players, and let’s go and knock them off their stride and put them off their game.
“It’s an incentive for our players and that’s the way we’re looking at it.
“But I get it, they’re good players and they’re going to be flying, aren’t they? They’re going to try and blow us away like they did to Falkirk – and, if we defend like Falkirk did then we’ll be in for a really tough day.
“But we’ve certainly got something to play for as well.
“We’ve got a play-off place to try and secure and that’s what we’ll be focused on. We won’t be interested on whether they can win the league or not.”
Meanwhile, Raith remain uncertain of the extent of Mark Stewart’s ankle injury but McKinnon expects his top scorer to be sidelined for ‘the coming weeks’.
The former Falkirk and Dundee striker was hurt in training on Tuesday and was taken to hospital amidst fears he may have sustained a fracture.
Tests suggested there is no break but the 27-year-old still looks set to sit out much of the run-in to the end of the season.
With on-loan Rangers youngster Ryan Hardie unable to face his parent club and Harry Panayiotou only returning to Scotland yesterday following international duty in the Caribbean with Saint Kitts and Nevis, McKinnon is poised to turn to former Hamilton Accies marksman Joel Thomas to lead his attack tomorrow.
He added: “Mark’s ankle is still swollen, so we’ve not got the extent of the injury yet and we don’t know how long he’s going to be out for. But he’ll certainly miss Saturday and the coming weeks.
“It’s more than likely we’ll start with Joel up top and give him his chance against Rangers.”