Football: Nicholl adds knowledge as one-horse Raith scent title

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JIMMY NICHOLL has accumulated a wealth of experience at the highest level with Manchester United, Rangers and Northern Ireland, but the player-manager of Raith Rovers will be savouring one of the proudest moments of his long career if results go his way in the First Division of the Scottish League this afternoon, writes Rupert Metcalf.

If the club from the Fife town of Kirkcaldy win at Ayr, and the matches involving Kilmarnock, Hamilton and St Mirren produce appropriate results, then Raith's promotion to the Premier Division for the first time in their history will be confirmed. Whatever happens today, Rovers hold a nine-point lead in the table so it is surely only a matter of time before the celebrations start.

'We're taking the champagne to Ayr just in case,' Nicholl said yesterday. 'We're prepared for it.' His club are equally prepared for their likely elevation to the elite ranks. 'We know the resources we have here. I don't envisage any dramatic changes in the playing staff,' he said. 'There will be two or three new faces but I'm not going to bring in six or seven new players and sacrifice the atmosphere in the dressing-room.'

Gordon Dalziel, with 31 league goals, is second only to Ally McCoist in the national scoring charts, and Craig Brewster has contributed 15 goals. However, Nicholl is keen to ensure that his team share the credit. 'They all have a total belief in themselves,' he said. At 36, the manager has been a regular on the pitch, and scored with two spectacular strikes in last week's 2-0 home win over Dunfermline, their nearest challengers, watched by 6,500 at Stark's Park.

With only two defeats in 36 games, the club are unlikely to be denied in their quest for a first title since they won the old Second Division in 1949. If today's matches deliver the desired scorelines, they will, as David Coleman once famously said, 'be dancing in the streets of Raith tonight.'

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