Keatings shines as Raith lose
Raith went down to a two-goal defeat at Easter Road in a match where Hibs’ title challenge for this year’s Scottish Championship finally got off and running. Ray McKinnon’s men were unable to create the number of goal-scoring chances their volume of possession deserved, whilst Hibs’ combination of robust defending and fluid attacking play secured all three points for the home side.
A super first-half strike from James Keatings together with a toe-poked second-half finish from Jason Cummings were enough to keep Raith at bay, despite a spirited end to both halves from the Kirkcaldy side. James Craigen and second half substitute Mitch Megginson tested Oxley with Raith’s best chances, but Hibs’ rearguard remained secure throughout the ninety minutes.
Easter Road has provided a happy hunting ground for Raith in recent years. League draws and Cup victories in the last two seasons would have given Ray McKinnon’s men plenty of confidence for today’s trip over the Forth Bridge. Raith’s home victory against Hibs in March last year was arguably the match of the season at Starks Park, with each department of the Raith XI excelling over the full ninety minutes. Instead of opting for a lone striker, McKinnon gave a first start to Jon Daly in a two-man attack, partnering Mark Stewart. Kevin Cuthbert began in goal – his last start at Easter Road was Hamilton Accies’ famous play-off promotion win, in which he saved two penalties. Defensively, McKinnon opted for David Bates to replace suspended captain Jason Thomson – the skipper’s armband being taken by the experienced Iain Davidson.
Following last season’s tumultuous play-off semi-final defeat to Rangers, Alan Stubbs has introduced several new faces to the Easter Road squad. Former Hearts’ striker James Keatings started alongside Jason Cummings, with the impressive McGeouch starting in midfield alongside Leyton Orient signing Marvin Bartley. The most recent addition – Rangers’ Darren McGregor – began on the bench, alongside former Ross County keeper Antonio Reguero and Dundee’s Martin Boyle. Hibs’ inconsistent start to the season gave the home side plenty of incentive to get their season off and running today.
Hibs started brightly. In the second minute, McKeown was dispossessed by McGeouch, who beat Davidson at the corner-flag and squared for Keatings – the former Hearts striker nipped to the near post to reach the square-ball first, but clipped his rising shot just over. Sensing possible weakness with the absence of Raith’s regular captain, Cummings ran twice at young David Bates in the opening minute, testing the mettle of Raith’s makeshift right-back.
This early in the season, Raith’s midfield already look brighter than last year’s model. McCord, Craigen, and Davidson all neatly interchanged passes regularly in the opening minutes, Craigen particularly seemed keen to get ahead of the ball. For Hibs, new signing Bartley offered a languid yet composed presence in the middle of the park; a contrast to McGeouch’s buzzing energy. On seven minutes, McGinn fashioned space well on edge of area, shooting narrowly over Cuthbert’s bar from distance. At the other end, a long diagonal from McKeown found Stewart in a fraction of space behind Fontaine – the Raith striker couldn’t make a difficult connection.
Hibs, having perhaps started the slower of the two teams, began to slip through the gears after the opening ten minutes. A fine rasping drive from McGinn stung the palms of Cuthbert. From two corners in succession which followed, Fontaine’s header was deflected behind, and a goalmouth scramble followed the next.
In the fourteenth minute, Grant Anderson carelessly gave ball away, letting Keatings through on goal. Only a fine recovery tackle by Benedictus cleared the danger. McGeouch was fouled on edge of the Raith area moments later following a defensive header – Keatings’ free-kick hit the Raith wall. In the blink of an eye, Benedictus had slipped in possession, with Cummings sprinting clear. Only the home striker’s slight miscontrol allowed Cuthbert the chance to block. Hanlon nodded just over. After a positive early start, Raith’s midfield were looking second best.
The opening goal, when it came, was a beauty. Livewire McGeouch scampered back inside from the right touchline, Henderson found Keatings, and with a sway of his hips and a flashing left-foot, the ball was nestling in Cuthbert’s left corner. The goal had been signposted with the increased vibrancy from the Hibs front-men in the moments leading up to the goal; although Raith may be disappointed not to have closed down sooner on the edge of their area, the quality of the finish deserved its reward.
Raith nearly conceded again seconds later. Henderson twisted away from McKeown, and offered a delightful invitation drifting cross-goal beyond Cuthbert’s far post – the Hibs full-back could have expected his strikers to have feasted on such an opportunity.
Craigen leapt into a challenge in midfield, catching Keatings with his follow-through. While referee Muir let play continue, both players needed treatment for a spell following the next break in play. Manager McKinnon sought to marshall his troops – the whole Raith team were beckoned to the dug-out during the stoppage, McKinnon barking out instructions, seeking to quell the momentum developing within the Hibs side.
No doubt as a result of their manager’s promptings, Raith ended the half with their best spell. On thirty-five minutes, uncharacteristic slackness in the Hibs midfield allowed McKeown space down the left. His deep cross looking for Daly fell to Anderson, who’s powerful volley on the drop was tipped round the post by a flying Oxley at full stretch. The shot was destined for the bottom corner; Hibs’ keeper saved what would have been a splendid equaliser.
With five minutes to go until the break, Bates stretched past McGeouch, allowing Anderson to claim a corner; from McCord’s deep centre, again it was Grant Anderson who shot for goal. His half-volley flew across Oxley’s radar but wide. Stewart forced another corner, which Oxley punched clear. While the Hibs keeper is an excellent shot-stopper, he is prone to flap under the high ball. Fontaine and Hanlon were on full alert.
Going in at the break a goal down, McKinnon no doubt impressed upon his charges the importance of a good start to the second half. Within minutes of the restart, two moments of controversy. Daly chased a short back-pass toward Oxley, the Hibs keeper taking man and ball with his clearance. While there was no great shout from the players at the time, manager McKinnon spoke after the game of a stone-wall penalty denied. Within minutes, McKeown chipped a neat ball inside; Daly’s flicked header drifted just beyond Oxley’s upright.
The match was put out of Rovers’ reach with another possibly controversial moment. With space on Raith’s right to cross, Stevenson’s centre looked to be flicked on by Keatings at the near post. The ball drifted across the face of goal where Cummings poked the ball home. The Raith defence looked for an offside flag, but none came – the linesman perhaps didn’t consider Keatings had made contact, thus leaving the scorer on-side. Cummings wheeled away in celebration. The Easter Road faithful, mindful of two late equalisers scored by Raith last year, no doubt felt relief at the two-goal cushion.
Raith again improved as the half wore on. Following a booking for Davidson for lifting a foot to challenge Cummings, Wighton was introduced for Bates, with Anderson looking to cover the right-back slot while still getting forward to cross. The Raith three-man front line would be augmented further by Megginson’s introduction for the last twenty minutes – McKinnon is certainly not averse to throwing men forward to look for goals when the need arises.
Raith created two clear chances before the match entered its closing stages. Wighton flicked a neat ball through a crowded final third, leaving Craigen with a clear sight of goal. The Raith midfielder unfortunately couldn’t make a strong connection, keeper Oxley comfortably gathering the goal-bound effort.
Megginson burst into the Hibs box at an angle, after Henderson was outnumbered deep in his own right-back area. The forward unleashed a strong effort toward Oxley’s back-post, however the home keeper extended his full frame to prevent a Raith opener.
Together with Raith’s two clear-cut second-half chances, the visitors had numerous crosses deep into the Hibs area. Daly and Hibs captain Gray constantly grappled and jostled with each other. While referee Muir watched the pair closely, he took no action in relation to any of the goal-mouth confrontations. Hanlon and Fontaine seldom struggled to cope with the Raith deliveries; Oxley was protected from any aerial bombardment by the strength of his defensive line.
Malonga’s late introduction gave Hibs greater options upfront. The substitute showed fabulous close control under pressure from four Raith challengers to set a Hibs attack in motion. While an antagonising presence – Malonga frequently delayed Raith free-kicks dithering in front of the dead-ball – his pace and precision had alarm bells ringing in the Raith defensive third each time he accelerated beyond second gear.
As the match entered its final phase, Raith may have had more possession, but the greater level of threat remained with Hibs. Cummings showed great composure to hold off Benedictus, shooting straight at Cuthbert after being released by a through ball. Bartley bulldozed his way past McKeown in the inside right channel, requiring Benedictus to slide in to concede a corner. Fontaine climbed to meet the outswinging centre, but referee Muir’s whistle could be heard penalising the infringement long before the header nestled in Cuthbert’s corner.
Although Anderson swung several good crosses into the Hibs area in the final few minutes, the match wound down to its conclusion in a controlled fashion from a Hibs perspective. New signing McGregor was introduced to warm applause, with McGeouch and Bartley withdrawn having both put in excellent shifts in the Hibernian engine-room – McGeouch’s buzzing presence and Bartley’s languorous yet effective patrol gave Hibs a strong pivot upon which to launch their talented frontmen toward the visitor’s defence.
While the result may have proved disappointing, Raith’s performance overall could only be faulted in the failure to create chances from the volume of possession. The front pairing of Daly and Stewart didn’t look to gel, either through lack of match practice or over-dependence on crosses into the Hibs area. Hanlon and Fontaine didn’t look under serious pressure all afternoon despite the number of Raith crosses and corners. After a bright start to the season, Raith must now look to avoid a fourth defeat in a row in next week’s trip to Ibrox.
The match highlights video will appear here shortly
Copyright Eddie Doig 2015
Interviews will appear soon
After disposing of Premiership side, Hamilton Academical in the League Cup on Tuesday evening, Raith Rovers travel to Easter Road this weekend, to take on Allan Stubbs’ Hibernian.
After two defeats from three league matches, Stubbs moved to strengthen his squad during the week, snapping up last season’s Rangers player of the year, Darren McGregor, who made his debut in Wednesday night’s 1-0 League Cup win over Stranraer, a win that was sealed through an own-goal from Scott Rumsby.
McGregor won’t be the only potential new face in Hibs line-up on Saturday, with Stubbs bringing in nine additions to the squad over the summer. Goalkeeper, Antonio Reguero joined from Ross County, while midfielder Marvin Bartley headed to Edinburgh after leaving Leyton Orient.
He could be joined in the middle of the park by a number of other new acquisitions, such as Liam Henderson from joined on loan from Celtic, Dylan McGeough, John McGinn and Danny Carmichael. Up front, James Keatings made the short journey from Tynecastle to sign a deal, while Martin Boyle has been brought in from Dundee.
Easter Road has been something of a happy-hunting ground in recent seasons for Raith Rovers. Last year, they defeated the home side 3-2 in a fifth round Scottish Cup tie, and they also triumphed over Rangers in the final of the Ramsdens Cup at the Leith venue.
Last season, the two Championship encounters there finished as 1-1 draws, with Raith equalising through Christian Nade on both occasions.
The clubs have met 10 times since the 1998/99 season, and Hibs have come out on top on six occasions, with Raith winning twice.
Saturday’s match referee will be Alan Muir.
Head-to-Head League Record at Easter Road:
Hibernian Wins: 32 | Raith Rovers Wins: 8 | Draws: 8
Hibernian Goals: 48 | Raith Rovers Goals: 104
Raith Rovers: W-W-W-L-L-W
Hibernian: Jason Cummings 3
Raith Rovers: Kyle Benedictus 2 | Mark Stewart 2 | Lewis Vaughan 2
Hibernian: 1/2 | Raith Rovers: 11/2 | Draw: 7/2