RAITH CLEAR IN FOURTH AFTER WIN
The race for the play-offs in this year’s Scottish Championship took another dramatic twist as Raith conjured a 2-1 win against Hibernian at Starks Park. Goals from Lewis Toshney and Mark Stewart, followed by some backs-to-the-wall defending, gave Raith all three points against a tiring Hibs team, who showed the signs of a tough seven days of cup competition.
While Raith defended deeply for long spells, and Hibs had the game’s best chances – including an open-goal miss from top scorer Jason Cummings – in the closing stages Hibs couldn’t break down a resolute Raith defence with the home side running out winners. Raith manager MacKinnon’s defensive selection in midfield reaped its rewards as Hibs tired in the closing stages.
MacKinnon rotated his squad slightly after the recent run of fixtures. Toshney and Davidson created a heavyweight central midfield partnership, with Callachan and Longridge in wide areas. Raith received a boost mid-week with striker Ryan Hardie’s loan deal from Rangers extended to the end of the season – the youngster started upfront with Mark Stewart.
Hibs started its third game in seven days, following last Sunday’s torment of a late Cup Final defeat to Ross County and the determined 2-1 victory in the shadow of the Kessock Bridge in Inverness. Dylan MacGeouch was still absent, but an otherwise strong side featured Stokes, Keatings, and Cummings in advanced areas and the complimentary twin foundations of the resolute Bartley and the livewire McGinn.
Both sides made an enterprising start. A first minute raid by Hardie saw an inviting flick into the Hibs area; Toshney’s touch let him down allowing Stevenson to clear. Hibs’ first chance came from a Barr foul on Stokes – a quick free-kick allowed Gray to scamper forward; his cross thumped cleared at the near post.
Louis Longridge set about his task with relish in the opening minutes. A lovely touch linked with McKeown to allow a free run at Hibs captain Gray. Moments later, he exchanged passes with Stewart, advancing deep into Gray’s right-back area only to be flagged narrowly off-side.
One recent fillip for Hibs has been the Scotland call-up for midfielder McGinn. He showed his awareness and speed of thought, bursting through the central third. A Davidson trip brought the early excursion to a premature end. Hibs’ first direct shot on goal came in the seventh minute – Boyle was released by McGinn, forcing a good save from Cuthbert.
The one tactical point notable in the opening minutes was Ian Davidson seeking to close down Marvin Bartley. The early skirmishes suggested manager MacKinnon had highlighted the Londoner as a threat – although neither the quickest nor the most noticeable of Hibs’ midfield cohort, Bartley’s neat and efficient use of the football contributes much to Hibs’ forward momentum. Davidson stepped on Bartley’s ankle, drawing a harsh look from the referee and necessitating a spell of treatment for the Hibs man.
Hibs’ weakness exploited in Sunday’s Cup Final was its reliance on the wide areas to attack, as Ross County overloaded both flanks. Raith stuck to a 4-4-2 today, leaving full-backs Gray and Stevenson space to bomb forward. A Cummings snap shot from distance was well held by Cuthbert in the twelfth minute.
As the half reached its mid-point, Hibs applied real pressure to the Raith goal, resulting in the breakthrough. With twenty-two minutes gone, a Gray cross gave Stokes his first clear sight of goal with a clear header – the former Celtic striker should have done better. McGinn’s twist and turn created space for the youngster to shoot, only for a good leg from Benedictus to clear the danger.
From the resultant corner, Hibs led. With time to clear, Davidson’s defensive header fell straight to Stokes, whose clinical finish from fifteen yards swept beyond Cuthbert.
Raith’s equaliser ten minutes later followed much Hibs possession, but little end product. Raith, having stemmed the tide following Hibs’ opener, were nonetheless struggling to create meaningful forward momentum of their own.
The home side’s first came from an unlikely source – Craig Barr’s deep ball found Lewis Toshney battling against Gray, well beyond Stewart or Hardie. The two jostled, and with the ball running loose, Toshney showed great composure to finish past Oxley from just inside the box.
A similar scenario arose just after the break – a long clearance saw Hardie and Bartley jostle under the bouncing ball. The Raith forward was harshly adjudged to have used his bodyweight to ease the Hibs man out of contention – the referee’s whistle prevented a clear shooting chance.
In the fifty-second minute, Hardie again escaped the attentions of his markers in the inside-right channel – his cross was nicked goalwards by Fontaine and, luckily for the Hibs defender, bounced just the wrong side of Oxley’s near-post from a Raith point of view. The goal that would prove Raith’s winner came from the resulting corner – Craig Barr won his race with McGregor to flick Longridge’s centre goalwards, and Stewart beat Gray to nod home.
The goal injected real life into the squadron of Hibs’ attackers – firstly, a poor McKeown knock-down fell to Cummings, only for Benedictus to nick the ball away from the Hibs’ marksman; Keatings’ follow-up fell to Stokes, only for Thomson to slide to Raith’s rescue.
Moments later, a horrible moment for Jason Cummings. Stevenson’s long cross-field pass was flicked inside McKeown to Gray, who had space to offer the perfect invitation to Cummings at the back post. With Cuthbert nowhere and the visiting fans on their feet, Cummings contrived to smash his finish against the underside of the bar. Whether pre-arranged or not, Cumming’s prompt substitution for El Alagui looked like immediate punishment from his manager – Cummings sat with his head in his hands for minutes following his withdrawal, no doubt replaying the chance over and over in his mind.
Hibs continued to impose themselves. On the hour, Boyle’s shot from 18 yards was deflected wide by Benedictus. Another Gray cross bounced around the Raith area with Stokes, Keatings, and McGinn all in attendance.
To Raith and their manager’s credit, despite suffering from a lack of possession the home side doggedly stuck to their task, and created chances of their own. On sixty-three minutes, Callachan stepped outside Stevenson. His low cross was bundled wide by Hardie, when a better-quality finish could have put Raith two goals clear. Five minutes later, Toshney found Callachan with a lovely flick beyond Fontaine; the Raith man’s initial shot was blocked, and his volley from the rebound found the side netting. Next, Hardie dummied cleverly to race beyond Fontaine, but could only shoot wide at full tilt.
Hibs’ speed of attack has proved the undoing of many opponents this season, not least Raith in the sides’ previous meetings. In the spell after Raith’s second, Boyle Stevenson and McGinn all burst beyond their markers with neat flicks and good angles. Raith’s defence threw bodies at shots and crosses – Thomson and Benedictus making excellent clearances under pressure. McGinn’s released Stevenson whose electric pace took him beyond Toshney over fifty yards – a low cross was walloped clear in the Raith box.
Alan Stubbs withdrew James Keatings with eighteen minutes to go, introducing striker Chris Dagnall, who made his debut against Raith at Starks Park earlier in the season. He immediately formed an effective link with Stokes, who released McGinn to fire wide of Cuthbert’s near post.
With five minutes of normal time remaining, Stevenson and Stokes combined well to by-pass Raith substitute Anderson; the former’s cross was met by Dagnall, whose finish drifted agonisingly wide of Cuthbert’s goal with the Raith keeper rooted. With Hibs’ final real chance, and in the midst of a siege on the Raith goal, Stevenson’s deep cross was headed back against the frame of Cuthbert’s goal by Dagnall, with Toshney beating Stokes to the rebound.
Hibs’ forward play became much more stretched as the match moved beyond the ninety minutes and into the five minutes of additional time. Bartley and McGinn dropped deeper, and longer diagonal balls frequently missed their mark. As a result, there was a marked scrappiness to much of the visitors’ attacking sorties as the game moved toward the final whistle. Bartley’s foul for pushing off Callachan under a late McGinn corner proved to be the skirmish within sight of Cuthbert’s goal before the final whistle.
Raith’s fine recent form continues. Four crucial wins against mid-table opposition – together with a point at Alloa – have left Raith with clear blue waters between them and their pursuers. For Hibs, the race for second becomes more concentrated following Falkirk’s fine win over Rangers on Friday. While manager MacKinnon will lose Hardie and Panayiotou to international commitments in coming weeks, the strength and depth of Raith’s squad gives genuine belief that Starks Park may see play-off action this season.
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2016
RaithTV spoke with the gaffer after the 2-1 win at home to Hibs
Raith Rovers entertain a Hibernian side this Saturday, that has already bounced back from the disappointment of Sunday’s League Cup Final defeat.. Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle, meant that Hibs have now reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup in four out of the last five seasons, and will now face Dundee United at Hampden on the 16th of April.
This weekend’s game will be the fourth, but possibly not the final time that the two clubs will meet this campaign, and as yet, Rovers have yet to take a point from the Easter Road outfit.
James Keatings and Jason Cummings were on target in a 2-0 win home win for Hibs in August, and they took a two-goal-lead again in October through Cummings and John McGinn. A strong second-half fight-back from the home side saw Raith half the arrears through a Jon Daly header, but Hibs held on to win 2-1.
The last meeting was on the 2nd of January at Easter Road, and although Rovers defended well, restricting Hibs to a handful of chances, Alan Stubbs team took all three points with a 1-0 win, with that man Cummings scoring the game’s only goal.
Raith are currently seven points clear of Morton and a further point clear of Queen of the South, however, with Rovers and Hibernian not starting until quarter past five due to live coverage on BBC Alba, that lead could be slimmer come kick-off.
Hibs have an excellent record in the most recent head-to-head league fixtures, with seven wins and a draw from the last ten meetings.
Saturday’s match referee will be John McKendrick.
Head-to-head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 18 | Hibernian Wins: 20 | Draws: 10
Raith Rovers Goals: 68 | Hibernian Goals: 79
Raith Rovers: W-W-L-W-W-D
Raith Rovers: Mark Stewart 10 | James Craigen 6 | Kyle Benedictus 4 | Ryan Hardie 4
Hibernian: Jason Cummings 20 | James Keatings 8 | Dominique Malonga 6
Raith Rovers: 19/5 | Hibernian: 8/11 | Draw: 14/5