Raith Pay The Penalty In New-Year Loss
Raith Rovers were Hibernian’s first-footers at Easter Road this afternoon, but the Leith side proved to be too strong for their guests, as a Jason Cummings goal was enough to see Alan Stubbs team take all three points.
Rovers boss, Ray McKinnon was forced into three changes from the side which won last time out at Cappielow, with Lewis Toshney, Iain Davidson and Mark Stewart all missing out through injury. In their place came the trio of Ross Matthews, Mitch Megginson and David Bates.
As you would expect, this meant a re-jig to the formation and system which has been most commonly used in recent weeks. Jon Daly was asked to plough a lone-furrow up-top, while David Bates deputised for the absent Toshney at centre-half. Scott Robertson started in the right-back slot, with Mitch Megginson in front of him on the right-hand-side of midfield.
Hibs were obviously looking to put the disappointment of their recent defeat to Rangers behind them, and they attempted to take the game by the scruff of the neck straight from kick-off. A well worked move saw Kyle Benedictus having to be alert in the game’s opening seconds, with a fine covering block putting a stop to a dangerous looking Hibernian move.
Ross Matthews proved he’s anything but a wallflower at Celtic Park earlier in the season, when he buffeted Scott Brown from pillar to post in a League Cup tie, and he didn’t hang around long in this one either, storming in to Jason Cummings in the second minute with a strong, but fair challenge. It would be a precursor of the first-half in general, with the youngster’s work-rate and tenacious tackling a particular stand-out
Despite Rovers squad being decimated by injury, they were settling into the game well. Fine play down the right-hand side saw a cross swung over to Rory McKeown at the back post, and while his header down was well weighted, it just missed the three Raith players who were in support, and the chance was eventually cleared.
Rovers continued to impress, and a great pass from Ryan McCord released Ross Callachan down the right, and although his low cross found James Craigen in the six-yard-box, his half-volley was blocked by Paul Hanlon almost as soon as it left his boot.
Raith were getting closer and closer at this stage, and another accurate cross, this time from James Craigen was flicked goalward by Daly, but was desperately hacked away as it dribbled towards the far post.
It took the home side a quarter-of-an-hour to register a meaningful attempt at goal, when a twenty-five yard effort from Marvin Bartley was comfortably handled by custodian, Kevin Cuthbert.
They did come close a moment later however, when a Lewis Stevenson cross ended up sailing over everyone’s heads and rebounding off the crossbar.
While Raith had started the match with an impressive vim and zip about them, the longer the half wore on, the more the Hibs midfield was starting to get their foot on the ball and make an impression on proceedings. Dominique Malonga and Cummings were yet to be presented with an opportunity of note, but the feeling was that Hibs were now the side with their tails up as the half wore on.
That changed on the half-hour mark, when an interchange between Hanlon and Cummings teed up Malonga on the edge of the box, but his effort was launched into a reasonably high row in the Famous Five Stand behind the goal.
While Raith’s midfield had been creative in the early stages, they were now being asked to predominantly defend, but they were doing so successfully, with Matthews and Callachan in particular, going about their work in a diligent manner.
With ten minutes of the half remaining, Cummings troubled Cuthbert, picking up possession on the right-hand-side of the penalty area, before cutting inside and pinging a shot just over.
As the interval approached, Hibs passed up the best chance of the game, when a lofted ball into the six-yard-area was somehow headed over the bar from point-blank range by Gray.
With Hibs now very much in the ascendency, the shrill peep of George Salmond’s whistle to indicate half-time was a welcome sound to Raith ears.
The second-period started in a similar vein as the first ended, with Hibs on the front foot. Bartley won possession in midfield with a strong challenge, before setting up Cummings whose shot was well held by Cuthbert.
The respite was short-lived however, as Hibs took the lead seconds later.
Cummings was sent through inside the area, and as he attempted to drag the ball around Kyle Benedictus, the defender brought caught him with his outstretched leg. Cummings took the kick himself, and although Cuthbert excellently stopped his effort, he couldn’t quite stop his rebound from trickling over the line.
Hibs weren’t content to just sit back and admire their handiwork however, as they continued to bomb forward, as Cummings almost made it two in a matter of moments, as his lofted effort over Cuthbert drifted just wide.
The goal seemed to prompt a change, with Megginson going more central as Raith chased an equaliser. They almost had one too in the 53rd minute, when a Daly flick on played in Callachan, but he was closed down before he got the chance to drive in a shot from inside the six-yard area.
Five minutes later, Ray McKinnon made his first change, replacing McCord with Craig Wighton.
Despite the attacking intent, Rovers were struggling to create anything of note, to be fair, neither were the home side, although Liam Fontaine put a header just over the bar from inside the area.
The slender lead was starting to make the home support twitchy, and with 20 minutes remaining, a sense of unease seemed to be sweeping over Easter Road.
That’s not to say Rovers were showing any evidence of getting back into the match, but with the game getting bogged down in midfield, the match had very much become a frustrating, attritional spectacle.
Rovers then made their second change, with Grant Anderson being introduced to the fray, as Megginson made way.
While Hibs were bossing possession, the pressure on the Raith goal wasn’t quite incessant, although that was mostly down to the hard work of the Rovers backline, which was doing a fine job of getting a head or boot on the end of the home side’s numerous crosses into the penalty box.
Despite the slenderest of leads, there was no grandstand finish to the match, with Rovers creating little as the clock wore down. Indeed, their quest to find a leveller was made even harder, when Grant Anderson, who had been booked not long after coming on, was given his second-yellow card in the last-minute after a late challenge on Paul Hanlon.
Despite the defeat, Rovers remain in fourth place in the table, and will face up to the same opponents next Saturday at Stark’s Park, in the Scottish Cup.
The match highlights video will appear here shortly
© Eddie Doig
Raith Rovers will be first-footing it across the Forth this Saturday, when they travel to Easter Road to face up to Hibernian, in the first match of a league and cup double-header against Alan Stubbs side.
It’ll be a contest between the teams who currently reside in third and fourth position in the Championship, after Hibs slipped down a notch, after their 4-2 defeat at Ibrox was followed up the next evening by Falkirk’s win against Livingston, which lifted Peter Houston’s men to second in the table.
Raith have yet to register a point in two previous fixtures against the Hibees this season, although they could barely have come closer in the last meeting at Stark’s Park in October, which saw Hibs dominate the first half, and the reverse being the case in the second. John McGinn and Jason Cummings put Hibs two up in the first period, but despite a Raith fight-back which saw Jon Daly half the arrears, and a number of close run things, Hibernian held on to win 2-1.
The last encounter at Easter Road also saw Hibs take a two goal lead, this time through James Keatings and Cummings again, but this time the match was of the slightly more straightforward variety, as Hibs kept Rovers at arms-length for a 2-0 win.
That defeat was Raith’s first loss to Hibs at Easter Road in four attempts, after the two matches there last season finished one apiece, while the Scottish Cup meeting in 2014, famously saw Rovers triumph by three goals to two.
A quick look at the league table shows what Rovers are up against this weekend however. Only Rangers have picked up more points and scored more goals at home than Hibernian this season, while their miserly defence have conceded just six goals at their own venue, a figure that only Falkirk have bettered in the current campaign. In addition, Rovers last league win at Easter Road was just over 20 years ago, with a 2-1 win in the Premier League back in December 1995.
As you would perhaps expect, Hibernian have by far the better head-to-head record in this fixture, with seven wins in the last ten league meetings, compared to Raith’s one.
The referee for this Saturday’s match will be George Salmond.
Head-to-Head League Record at Easter Road:
Hibernian Wins: 33 | Raith Rovers Wins: 8 | Draws: 8
Hibernian Goals: 48 | Raith Rovers Goals: 106
Raith Rovers: L-D-D-W-D-W
Hibernian: Jason Cummings 15 | James Keatings 7 | Dominique Malonga 4
Raith Rovers: Mark Stewart 6 | James Craigen 4 | Kyle Benedictus 3
Hibernian: 1/3 | Raith Rovers: 15/2 | Draw: 4/1