Late Goals Seal Hibs Victory
Raith Rovers’ poor run of results of late continued when they went down 3-1 to rejuvenated Hibernian at Stark’s Park this afternoon.
Alan Stubbs’ charges did manage to deliver back-to-back Championship wins for the first time this season by virtue of this win in Kirkcaldy, although Rovers could count themselves a little unfortunate to emerge with nothing to show from a contest during which they matched the visitors for large swathes of the play over an engrossing ninety minutes.
Hibs, on the back of a run which has seen the Easter Road side taste defeat just once in the last ten matches, looked to consolidate their place among the play-off places, while Grant Murray’s men had a rather more prosaic ambition – ending a dip in form and results which has seen the team slide alarmingly down the table towards the clubs desperately trying to cling on for dear life.
The opening exchanges were relatively benign, and it was five minutes before the first goal scoring opportunity was created. Jason Cummings threaded a pass between the Rovers central defence, although the lively Dominique Malonga’s shot was too close to David McGurn, who smothered the ball comfortably.
Barely a minute later, Cummings found himself with space inside the Rovers penalty area, but McGurn bravely dived at the striker’s feet to thwart the chance.
Rovers striker Christian Nade, who attracted the attention of the away support on account of his former service with the maroon half of the capital, tried attempted to make a nuisance of himself against the Hibs rearguard, and he came within a whisker of latching on to an intelligent reverse pass from strike partner Mark Stewart.
Danny Handling’s shot then brought a fine diving save from McGurn before a low cross by David Gray narrowly evaded the Hibs strikers with McGurn scrambling across his goal line.
Hibs did look dangerous going forward, with the Rovers defence often struggling to cope with their passing and movement, and darting runs down each flank. That said, Rovers midfielder Ross Callachan drew a fine save from mark Oxley with a raking drive from 25 yards. The big keeper did well to touch the ball round the post for a corner kick.
Malonga, who was afforded far too much space time and again as Hibs looked to open the scoring, should have done better when presented with a clear shot at goal deep inside the Rovers box, but the striker’s shot lacked conviction and was easily gathered by McGurn.
Liam Craig then prodded a shot wide when presented with a golden opportunity to score, and the Hibs captain was made to pay for his glaring miss when Rovers fashioned the opening goal of the game five minutes from half time.
Nade picked up the ball in midfield, and his astute pass in behind Lewis Stevenson was gathered in full flight by Rovers winger Barrie McKay, who bore down on the Hibs goal. McKay showed commendable composure by firing the ball low into the net from ten yards to give his side the lead.
Rovers’ joy was short lived, however, as the visitors restored parity with the last piece of action before the interval. The ever-eager Malonga drove into the Rovers box and his shot was parried by McGurn. Cummings reacted quickest to force home the equaliser from close range.
As the players headed for their half-time cuppa, the home side’s disappointment at their inability to retain the lead until the break would have been offset by the knowledge that, in reality, level pegging was a fair reflection of the first 45 minutes.
Following a tentative first few minutes of the second period, Callachan tried his luck once again from outside the box, although on this occasion the youngster’s shot sailed well wide of the target. Rovers looked to up the ante, and Jason Thomson stung Oxley’s palms with a firm drive as the fans in the south stand urged their side on.
Perhaps conscious of Rovers’ attacking intent at this point, Stubbs made two substitutes in quick succession, before Dougie Hill found his name in referee Robertson’s book for a bad tackle in the centre circle.
Nade blasted a shot wide from a promising position, and, just as Rovers looked likely to forge ahead, it was the visitors who scored. With fifteen minutes remaining, a short corner kick was then crossed into the box, where Liam Fontaine lurked, and the big defender’s unchallenged header found the top corner of the net with the minimum of fuss.
Any prospect of a Rivers recovery was dashed five minutes later, when the home defence failed to clear their lines, and a loose ball was swept beyond McGurn by Malonga into the corner of the net from the edge of the box.
And that was that. There was just sufficient time for Paul Watson to earn a caution, before Nade limped off injured.
For all Rovers possibly deserved something from this entertaining match – they will almost certainly play worse and win this season – the harsh reality is that, once more, their efforts came to nothing as far as putting a much needed point or three on the board was concerned.
The Stark’s Park faithful will be hoping that the new year will bring renewed fortune, with the retention of Championship status the top priority.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2014
Niall and the gaffer chatted after the 1-3 defeat