STEWART AND VAUGHAN LIFT RAITH INTO PLAY-OFF CHASE
Raith stunned a strongly-fancied Hibernian with a magnificent second-half display, taking all three points following a sweeping end-to-end encounter at Starks Park. On a bright windy afternoon, Raith’s two in-form strikers Stewart and Vaughan both claimed goals, sending Raith back into the hunt for a play-off berth in this season’s Scottish Championship.
For a victory as dogged as it was deserved, manager Murray’s side withstood long periods of pressure from a vibrant and mobile Hibernian, who created numerous chances including fourteen corners and three strikes against the frame of David McGurn’s goal. On the final whistle, the Starks Park faithful rose as one to salute their heroes, each of whom ran themselves into the ground to record a first League victory this season against one of the Championship’s three heavyweights.
Raith’s form coming into today’s fixture had seen a short-term boost – two home wins against Alloa and play-off hopefuls Queen of the South had followed a disappointing run of one win in six. Reflecting Raith’s new-found confidence, Grant Murray named an unchanged line-up, including his two strikers, both of whom had been in the goals of late – Lewis Vaughan having scored four in six, alongside his strike partner Mark Stewart with three goals in Raith’s last two.
Hibs, smarting from last week’s home loss to Rangers, started with a deceptive 4-5-1 formation. Paul Hanlon dropped out through injury, but both Farid El Alagui and Jason Cummings were available again, taking positions on the bench. Although Dominique Malonga ostensibly stood as the sole striker, Hibs started with a quartet of midfielders each of whom would look to get beyond their target man – Stanton, McGeouch, Allan, and Fyvie all quick to get forward. With Edinburgh rivals Hearts celebrating their deserved League Championship success this afternoon at Tynecastle and Rangers expected to take three points at Ibrox against Cowdenbeath, manager Alan Stubbs would not have needed to remind his players of the importance of victory.
The visitors started on the front foot – both McGeouch and Malonga testing McGurn with early shots on target. The speed and interchanging amongst Hibs’ marauding midfield caused Raith’s centre-backs Watson and Barr problems early on. With Malonga often dropping into midfield, the onus fell upon Raith’s own midfielders to track their runners, often criss-crossing each other as the visitors strung together several passing movements in the opening minutes.
Using the shade of the Railway Stand, right-back David Gray enjoyed an excellent first-half. Frequently getting forward, and often advancing well beyond his midfield, he offered Hibs genuine pace and attacking intent through-out the first forty-five. Picked out by a fine Allan switch after ten minutes, Gray’s cross-shot struck the base of McGurn’s post having beaten the Raith keeper’s despairing dive.
Another raid for Hibs could have resulted in a penalty – Allan sprinted outside Thomson and was felled in the act of crossing just inside the area. Referee Alan Muir looked long and hard at the evidence, including an incriminatingly deep divot carved by Thomson’s challenge just inside the box, before deciding the case unproven.
Lewis Vaughan is having arguably his best run in the Raith first team – buoyed by a run of goals in recent weeks, he was again a buzzing presence today. His low centre of gravity operating somewhat below the radar of Hibs’ towering centre-halves Fontaine and Watson, the Raith youngster was able to hold the ball, twisting and turning allowing his defenders time to clear their lines.
The first half though belonged to Hibs. Picked out by a deep Stevenson cross, Gray mis-timed a clear header; a Stanton snap-shot drifted wide; Barr scrambled back to block Malonga after the striker looked to stretch his legs and test McGurn.
On the half-hour, the Raith goal survived a real scare. Allan picked out Gray loitering wide on the right, and the full-back’s perfectly flighted cross invited Malonga to bullet a header against the face of McGurn’s cross-bar; Thomson slid in to clear for a corner. Stanton’s flick from the resulting set-piece was nodded off the line at the far-post.
A Stewart burst having dispossessed Fontaine was snuffed out by the retreating Fyvie, but in truth Raith’s chances in front of the noisy visiting fans in the North Stand were few and far between. While Raith were often able to clear their lines as Hibs’ intricate passing in and around the Raith box often faltered on the bumpy pitch, McGeouch in particular was highly effective at regaining possession and showing quick feet and a clean pair of heels to propel the Edinburgh side forward once again.
The half-time interval came after a succession of Hibs crosses and corners – a McGeouch centre ran right through the six-yard box, while Watson and Barr frequently won hugely important headers to clear the danger from around McGurn’s goal. The home side were the more grateful for referee Muir’s half-time whistle.
Following a quick start to the second-half from the visitors, Raith’s opening goal after fifty-one minutes could hardly have been more against the run of play. Robertson had driven just over from distance and Allan had sent a cross fizzing through McGurn’s airspace before Anderson, winning an important header on half-way, sent Thomson galloping down the right-flank. The Raith captain’s centre was met first time by Stewart, who steered a fine volley to Oxley’s right for the opening goal. The goal was as unexpected as it was wildly celebrated in the South Stand.
Raith’s lead did not last for long. Showing the composure expected from a side with Premier League ambitions, Hibs swarmed around the Raith goal. A McGeouch invitation whizzed through the danger area, while a flicked Malonga header bulleted across goal following a corner, Thomson and Gray colliding at the far post.
Four minutes following Raith’s equaliser, the scores were level. Allan’s neat pass looking to free Malonga was half-blocked by Thomson; the ball spun up and over to Fyvie, who’s touch and controlled finish deserved their reward. The roar from the North Stand showed the importance of the goal to the Hibs support – with their tails up, Hibs would provide a real test of the home side’s mettle in the closing stages.
Stanton, Allan, and McGeouch covered every blade of grass as Hibs sought a second. Two great chances in a minute followed – Gray smashed a shot goalwards, and Allan’s neat pass nearly put the onrushing Malonga in on goal.
With half an hour to go, Raith began to gain a foothold and generate some possession of their own. Vaughan twisted and turned against Fontaine, shooting twice and twice seeing his efforts blocked away. A long McKeown throw saw Barr win the aerial battle but his flick flew agonisingly wide of the far post. The crowd of 3,181 were being treated to a Hibs side throwing numbers forward and looking dangerous with every attacking sortie, but a resilient Raith eleven scenting a point (or three) within their grasp.
Substitute Barry McKay’s lofted through ball fell for Stewart – his shot was pushed wide by Oxley, Watson at full stretch narrowly missing Conroy’s corner. Within a minute, Oxley again was under pressure, this time dropping a Callachan cross, Vaughan nearly pouncing on the error.
Following another Hibs corner, captain Jason Thomson’s buccaneering sixty-yard run allowed Stewart to cross low for Vaughan; only a last-minute lunge from Fontaine cleared the danger. Play swept to the other end, McGurn pulling off a tremendous low one-handed save from Cummings after Allan’s through-ball – the Hibs substitute held his head in his hands.
Again, Allan fed the ball between Raith defenders, this time Gray failed in front of goal. Without the chance to digest the missed opportunity, Raith suddenly had a four-on-three chance – Conroy, Vaughan, and Stewart were all well-placed, but Fontaine was able to slide in to clear. The most entertaining fifteen minute spell at Starks Park this season saw chances at both ends – Hibs’ controlled and measured advances were often vulnerable to counter-raids launched from Raith defensive positions. Cummings shot low, Barr blocked; Allan crossed, and again man-of-the-match Barr was again at full stretch to prevent Cummings putting Hibs in front.
On eighty-three minutes, a tiring Stewart was withdrawn for the statuesque physique of Christian Nadé – the Raith sub’s first action flexing his neck muscles to clear a Hibs corner with a strong header.
All arms and torso, Nadé created the foundations for Raith’s winner – holding off two Hibs defenders following a McKay ball down the left channel, Nadé had the South Stand on its feet as he inched inside. Showing great awareness and physicality under real pressure, Nadé squared for Conroy to lash a shot goalwards. Oxley’s reaction save fell to Vaughan, who bundled home the rebound. Cue great scenes in the home support – this was surely the finest moment of Vaughan’s Raith career to date, the Raith support delirious at the diminutive striker’s late winner.
There was still time for Cummings to thump a drive goalwards – McGurn’s strong save celebrated with a huge cheer from the Raith fans. Conroy’s run and shot nearly gave Raith a third, while late substitute Farid El Alagui and Cummings again charged goalwards, the combined efforts of the Raith rearguard keeping their visitors at bay and the Raith goal secure. With Oxley in the Raith box, Allan’s over-hit free-kick proved the final chance for a Hibs equaliser.
While Raith were second-best for long spells and arguably lucky to go in at the break on level terms, the win gives a real impetus for a late push for the play-offs. With a trip to Falkirk next week, Grant Murray’s men have shown real drive in the three home victories, earning their right to be seen as genuine contenders in the race for promotion. Raith’s players did their supporters proud today.
Bright sunshine, great entertainment, and real hope for the remainder of the season – what Raith fan could ask for more?
Photographs © Tony Fimister 2015
Rovers gaffer Grant Murray was ecstatic with the win against Hibs
Man of the Match Craig Barr spoke with Davie after the game
Raith Rovers will go searching for their first league victory over Hibernian in almost 20 years this weekend, when they welcome Alan Stubbs’ side to Stark’s Park this Saturday
While Raith have performed admirably against the Leith side this season, with two draws from the three previous encounters, their last league victory over the Hibees was in the 1995-96 Premier League season, a campaign which eventually saw Raith finish sixth in the top tier.
Grant Murray’s team go into the match on the back of two consecutive league wins, after victories over Alloa Athletic and Queen of the South in quick succession at Stark’s Park during the last week. Hibernian on the other hand, saw their six point gap over third placed Rangers halved last Sunday, after they went down 2-0 to the Ibrox club at Easter Road.
It brought an end to a run of 13 league games unbeaten for Hibs, a sequence that stretched back to December, when they lost 1-0 to Falkirk. The Easter Road club’s good form has also continued into the Scottish Cup, which has seen them reach the semi-final’s after wins over Alloa, Arbroath and Berwick Rangers. They’ll duke it out with Falkirk at Hampden for a place in the final on April the 18th.
The two meetings between the clubs at Easter Road this season have both finished all-square, with Christian Nadé equalising in a 1-1 draw back in October, and the Frenchman repeated the trick the last time the two teams met in January. It was a different story in December however, when a strong performance from Raith was eventually undone by goals from Jason Cummings, Liam Fontaine and Dominique Malonga, giving Hibs a 3-1 win, after Barrie McKay had given Rovers the lead.
A win for Hibs this Saturday would ensure they retain their second position in the league over Rangers, while depending on results elsewhere, a win for Raith could see them move to within five points of the play-off positions.
Raith’s most recent head-to-head record against Hibs in the league makes for grim viewing however, with no wins in their last 12 meetings. However, Rovers did record a famous victory over Hibernian last season in the Scottish Cup, when goals from Kevin Moon, Dougie Hill and Grant Anderson sealed a 3-2 win.
Saturday’s match referee will be Alan Muir
Head-to-Head League Record at Stark’s Park:
Raith Rovers Wins: 17 | Hibernian Wins: 19 | Draws: 10
Raith Rovers Goals: 65 | Hibernian Goals: 76
Raith Rovers: W-L-L-L-W-W
Biggest Home Win: 05/09/1953 Division One Raith Rovers 4 Hibernian 0
Biggest Away Win: 10/09/1949 Division One Raith Rovers 0 Hibernian 6
Top Goalscorers In All Competitions:
Raith Rovers: Ryan Conroy 9 | Mark Stewart 7 | Christian Nadé 7
Hibernian: Jason Cummings 15 | Dominique Malonga 13 | Scott Robertson 5
Raith Rovers: 21/4 | Hibernian: 8/15 | Draw: 16/5