Banks o’ Dee co-manager Jamie Watt hopes his players can “create something special” when they meet Championship Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup.
Dee are a force in the North Region Junior ranks, but Saturday’s fourth round face-off with second-tier title hopefuls Raith – the biggest game in the club’s 120-year history – is one they go into as massive underdogs.
The sides at Spain Park for the 3pm kick-off, which is expected to be watched by a near 50/50 crowd of 800, are four tiers apart on Scottish football’s pyramid.
However, a 2-1 third round win over League One East Fife in November has given Dee belief.
Watt said: “We’ve beaten a few Highland League teams in the last few seasons, the East Fife game showed these guys how good a team they actually are.
“It wasn’t as if it was backs to the wall, us keeping East Fife out. I thought we were the dominant team in that game for the last 60 minutes and were probably fitter.
“It has proved to them they can go to a level beyond.
“We’re at home and it’s just the next level.
“We went League One, now we’re into the Championship. It’s obviously going to be better players and a better standard, but there’s no fear.
“The pressure’s on Raith. We’re expected to enjoy the occasion and Raith are expected to win – everyone will say that and the bookies odds will show that.
“But the team I’ve got, I know they are more than capable of challenging Raith, pushing them right to the end and giving them a great game on the day.
“Hopefully we can create something special.”
Dee are used to dominating proceedings against sixth – and sometimes fifth-tier – opponents, but the East Fife tie required a less cavalier approach. Fundamentals like hard work, discipline and shape will be even more crucial against full-time Raith, a side who knocked Granite City giants Aberdeen out of the other national cup competition.
Watt – who manages Dee alongside co-boss Roy McBain – insists they will keep their attacking “DNA”, with the aim to “frustrate Raith enough that It will allow us to play our way into the game and take the game to them.”
He added: “We just need to be a bit more defensive-minded and in our shape.
“It’s something different – we’re always on the front foot and all of a sudden you’re not seeing as much of the ball, so you need to play a different way.
“They did it tremendously well against East Fife.
“It’ll be the same situation on Saturday, in that Raith Rovers are going to control the ball.”
While Dee were recording a 6-1 Superleague victory at Maud last weekend, Raith suffered a demoralising 2-1 Championship loss at home to leaders Arbroath.
Afterwards, Rovers boss John McGlynn accused his side of failing to “compete” and a “lack of character”.
Watt – who missed Dee’s game to travel to Kirkcaldy – was still impressed by several of Raith’s players and thinks the Stark’s Park side’s five-game winless run could make his side’s cup challenge even harder.
He said: “They’re top half of the Championship and were playing with a lot of confidence.
“Lately their results haven’t been so great, so I’m probably expecting a bit of a backlash from them from last weekend, because their manager didn’t seem too happy.
“Obviously Ethan Ross is somebody I know of. A lot of the boys have played against him when he played for Aberdeen’s younger lads.
“We played them two years running and I thought he was a cracking player. He’s a big threat, has a wand of a right foot, and he’s one of those you know you can’t let him come in off the left, because he’ll have an eye for goal.
“The guy (Sam) Stanton, he was excellent – the ex-Hibs guy. He controlled the game in midfield.
“I think on the day John McGlynn kept them in an hour after the game, so it was obviously a poor performance from them.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Dario Zanatta and Aidan Connolly – they’re both wingers – start against us, because it’s probably a game where you can be a little bit more attack-minded. Against Arbroath, he probably tried to frustrate them, but they’ll be coming to us to attack and get as much attacking threats on as they can.
“Their team will probably have a few more technical players to try to stop.
“And then Christophe Berra and Kyle Benedictus at the back were solid. They’re both units, and obviously our biggest physical threat, Kane (Winton), is out of the game through suspension, so that’s a huge loss for us.”
Skipper and midfield general Winton aside, Dee can take comfort from having a near-full squad available for their big day. January signings Matty Wallace (Deveronvale) and Ali Stark (Rothes) are cup-tied, however.
Watt intends to have his players at Spain Park earlier than usual ahead of Saturday’s landmark clash.
He said: “I’ll definitely have tasks for each player, they’ll know their role and the dangermen, where to show them.
“We’ll tell them at training and get them in a bit earlier on Saturday as well, just to pinpoint who’ll be picking up who and where the guys are actually playing.
“These guys are of a level, where if you give them space, you them a sniff, they are going to hurt you. It’s vital we do our job.
“To be fair, the guys are grounded. They’ve taken everything in their stride.
“Looking at our team, there’s a lot of guys who’ve never even been close to game of this magnitude.
“There are a few – Darryn Kelly, Dean Lawrie, Marc Young, Stuart Duff – that have been there and done it.
“At training they have all just been getting on with their business, as they do. It’s one thing they’ve, that they’re a great, hard-working bunch of lads, and I think they’re all just buzzing for it.
“They are starting to appreciate how big a game that it’s going to be, and everyone just wants to be part of it.
“We’re looking forward to the game.”
Ayr clash showed ‘if you give these boys half a sniff, they will punish you’
Jamie Watt has experience of playing for Banks o’ Dee against Championship opposition.
Watt scored two penalties for Dee at Spain Park in 2017’s 6-2 Scottish Cup third round loss to Ayr United.
Although the Aberdeen outfit conceded an early goal on day, the two spot-kicks had them leading 2-1 on the half-hour mark, before a quickfire trio of goals from Lawrence Shankland and Ayr substitute Declan McDaid put the visitors 4-2 up by the interval and in full control.
Watt’s been using the game over the last few days to hammer home to his players the importance of starting fast, staying disciplined and not giving away soft goals against this calibre of opponent.
He said: “I touched on that game with the players on Monday night.
“You look to your own past experiences and there’s about four or five of them still with us who played in that game.
“In that game, I was fortunate enough score both the goals and we were 2-1 up, but, even there, we started so poorly.
“We gifted a goal in the first minute. It was the first thing we’d spoken about: ‘Let’s keep it tight and let’s make sure we give them nothing’… and within one minute (Lawrence) Shankland put them 1-0 up.
“You were like: ‘oh my word.’
“But we got it back and we were leading 2-1, and all of a sudden you did start to think they weren’t as good as we’d expected.
“They equalised then the guy Declan McDaid came off the bench early and – before you knew it – had put in two goals in two minutes before half time to make it 4-2.
“As I said, if you give these boys half a sniff, they will punish you, because they are so clinical.
“Every manager lower down the leagues talks about it, but it’s easy to talk about it – it’s stopping it that’s hard.
“How clinical they are is the difference between the top leagues and the lower leagues. They also play at sometimes a slightly, and sometimes a lot higher, tempo.
“What I find most of the time in these games is these teams start really well, and if they can get a lead are happy to keep the ball. Eventually you settle in and get used to the speed and the tempo.
“But the start is imperative, that you stay in the game and don’t give any soft goals away. Make them work for it if they are going to score – nothing cheap – because the occasion can sometimes get to the players.”
Dee’s penalty to make it 1-1 against Ayr was awarded after Watt was poleaxed by keeper Jordan Hart – an incident which left him, briefly, unconscious.
Watt, who would go on to play the full 90 minutes, recalled: “I got knocked out, and in this day and age I would’ve been off.
“It’s the only time in my life it’s ever happened to me.
“I remember coming to and Hammy (Mark Hamilton) saying: ‘it’s a pen, you’re up’.
“My legs were like jelly.
“I was thinking: ‘I shouldn’t be taking this pen’, but it was a chance to score in the Scottish Cup!”