Late Goal Denies Raith The Win
An excellent defensive performance from Raith Rovers saw them gather up a hard-earned point at Easter Road this afternoon with a 1-1 draw, but it was very nearly all three, with Hibernian’s equaliser arriving two minutes from time.
Manager Gary Locke made two changes from the side which drew 0-0 with Dundee United, both of which were enforced.
Ross Callachan missed out through suspension, meaning a return to the centre of midfield for Ross Matthews, while Kevin McHattie was forced to sit the match out through injury.
His absence meant captain Jason Thomson, who was making his first start since the beginning of September, filled in on the left-hand-side of the back-four, with Iain Davidson keeping his place on the right.
Also back in the match-day squad was Craig Barr who was listed on the bench, while the home line-up featured some familiar faces, with Ross Laidlaw starting between the posts, and Brian Graham on the bench.
Storm Barbara may have noisily clattered her way across the country over the weekend, but the conditions were reasonably bright and tranquil as the Christmas Eve match kicked-off in the capital.
Rather than any storm-force winds, it was Hibs who threatened to blow away Raith in the opening stages, as they set off at a brisk pace, opening Gary Locke’s side up in the first few minutes.
A long ball forward seemed fairly innocuous to start with, but Jason Cummings managed to nip in between Thomson and Kyle Benedictus, although his shot was deflected away from goal.
However, it was pounced upon by Grant Holt, who cut it back to Cummings, who somehow managed to steer it onto the bar from inside the six-yard-box, despite facing an open goal. Thankfully for him, his blushes were somewhat spared by the referee signalling the ball had already went out of play for a corner.
Rovers had started poorly, and Kevin Cuthbert was forced into his first stop just five minutes later, denying Cummings with his chest from close range, although the danger was far from clear, as Kris Commons picked up the rebound inside the area.
Even with players in close proximity, he seemed certain to score, but the former Derby forward was denied by an excellent sliding block by Benedictus. It was a defensive move which the centre-half would successfully deploy time and again during the 90 minutes.
Rudi Skacel then gave away a free kick right on the D of the penalty area, not something which is entirely wise with Hibernian spoiled for choice when it comes to set-piece specialists.
Cummings was the player charged with taking it, and with Cuthbert rooted to the spot, his effort looked to be sailing into the net, only for it to curve just wide of the custodian’s left upright.
Little was coming off for Raith in an attacking sense at this point. The out ball to Declan McManus was the main option, but it was generally coming straight back, and even though Skacel was dropping deep to help man the pump, the midfield was struggling to cope with the Hibernian’s cajoling, prompting and movement.
Cuthbert had to earn his corn again on 25 minutes, denying Commons from close range, after he was slipped through by Holt, as the pressure on the away side remained incessant.
There’s no doubt that this was down to an impressive start from Lennon’s men, but Rovers were making things hard for themselves too, with misplaced passes and an inability to clear their lines properly, with the latter problem allowing Commons another glimpse at goal from the edge of the box, although his shot went just wide of Cuthbert’s right-hand-post.
A long spell of possession then saw Paul Hanlon stride up from the back and play a clever pass through to Andrew Shinnie, but his shot was again stopped by a sliding intervention by Benedictus, and the one-way nature of the contest continued, with Cuthbert forced to tip away a Cummings shot from the edge of the area, with ten minutes of the half remaining.
It may be the season of goodwill, but predictably, the Hibs fans weren’t showing too much of it to former Hearts player, Rudi Skacel, especially after his tackle with a minute or so of the half remaining.
His clattering challenge on Dylan McGeough in front of the technical areas incensed the home support, and caused something of a rumpus down at the dug-outs, for which the Czech received a yellow card.
Hibs started the second period strongly too, and it appeared the pattern of the half was going to be very similar to the one set out in the first, but then, with 49 minutes on the clock, Rovers surged into the lead.
Matthews broke up play midway inside Hibs half, before releasing Chris Johnston on the right, and his excellent cross was ideal for Jean-Yves M’Voto, whose strong downward header was past Laidlaw before the ex-Raith goalkeeper had even dived.
The goal stunned the home fans, and probably the away fans too considering how the game had panned out to that point, and while it rocked the Hibs players, they still controlled possession in the period after the goal, as Rovers continued to dig in.
The pressure wasn’t quite as relentless as it had been in the first half though, and other than a Shinnie drive from the edge of the box which landed in the upper-deck of the Famous Five Stand, Rovers were doing well to keep them at arm’s length.
Indeed, they were a whisker away from extending their lead after an hour, when a rapier-like shot from Thomson ricocheted off Laidlaw’s crossbar from fully 25-yards.
Rovers had a huge let-off with just under 20 minute remaining though.
Despite being hemmed in by three defenders, no-one could stop James Keatings cross, which David Gray somehow headed wide at the back post, with the goal gaping. The groans from the home support, suggested they really didn’t think it was going to be their day.
There shouts were a little more on the agitated side five minutes later though, when Skacel became the pantomime villain of the match, as his number was held up to indicate he was being replaced by Mark Stewart.
The length of time he took to depart during his rather theatrical walk off, didn’t entirely endear him to the home support, as three-quarters of Easter Road erupted in blusterous rancour.
There was an altogether calmer swap with five minutes remaining, when Craig Barr made his first appearance of the season for Jordan Thompson, but Hibs got the goal they deserved after 88 minutes.
Iain Davidson lost out to substitute Martin Boyle near the corner flag, and he slalomed his way into the penalty area, before calmly slotting the ball past Cuthbert to make it 1-1.
Despite the setback, Rovers almost won it in injury time, when a Bobby Barr breakaway saw him run from his own half into the Hibs box, but with men in support, he elected to go for goal from an angle, and the ball ended up in the side netting.
Like last week, whilst it was an excellent point, there was a sense of disappointment that it wasn’t more. The focus will now switch to the Fife derby at Stark’s Park on January 2nd.
RaithTV spoke with the Gaffer after the 1-1 draw in Edinburgh
RaithTV spoke with “Cat” after the 1-1 draw with Hibs