Last gasp free-kick denies Raith vital point

Raith will still secure their safety if they win in St Mirren on Saturday.
Raith will still secure their safety if they win in St Mirren on Saturday.

Hibernian 3 Raith Rovers 2

Raith Rovers suffered a gut-wrenching defeat in the battle against relegation as they conceded an injury-time goal to go down 3-2 at Easter Road.

Rovers had twice battled back from a goal down to deservedly level the match and looked set to earn a vital point that would have given them a huge lift ahead of two pressure cooker games against St Mirren and Ayr.

However, a needless handball on the edge of the box from Rangers loanee Jordan Thompson in the 93rd minute gifted Hibs a chance to steal victory, which James Keating gleefully accepted by firing past Pavol Penska to leave the Kirkcaldy side sickened.

Describing the costly handball incident, Raith boss John Hughes said: "It's petulance from Jordan.

"He felt he was pushed, but then he has to be street-wise and go down and let the referee make a decision, because you can't handle the ball there in the 92 minute.

"To compound it, the ball goes in at the goalkeeper's side.

"We brought it on ourselves with the goals we lost but in terms of effort and commitment in the second half I felt we did enough to get something out the match."

A reflection of the strength in depth at Hibs was that boss Neil Lennon made 10 changes to the side that started the Scottish Cup semi-final at the weekend but was still able to name a starting XI that would be among the strongest in the Championship.

Raith were forced into three changes, and added an optional fourth, as Iain Davidson, Rudi Skacel and Danny Handling all missed the game while Ryan Hardie was dropped to the bench. Taking their place was Bobby Barr, Declan McManus, Mark Stewart and Jordan Thompson.

Raith gave the champions the traditional guard of honour before kick-off and that admiration seemed to extend into the opening minutes of the match as the visitors stood off and allowed the hosts to completely dictate the opening 20 minutes.

Left back Kevin McHattie, currently playing through an injury, found himself isolated against the pace of winger Chris Humphreys time and again, and all of Hibs best chances in the first half, and ultimately the opening goal, came down this side.

Humphreys set up the first chance for Hibs in the fifth minute as poor marking in the Rovers' box allowed Fraser Murray a free header from six yards but fortunately for the away side the youngster missed the target.

A minute later, Humphreys again provided the delivery as ex-Raith striker Brian Graham climbed above his marker to power a header towards goal which Pavol Penksa did well to fingertip over the crossbar.

Raith were temporarily down to 10 men as Ross Matthews received treatment for a burst nose when Hibs went close again, but this time the marking was better as Graham was unable to get his header on target from another Humphreys cross.

Rovers were being overrun and on 21 minutes Murray breezed past a half-hearted Thompson tackle to fire narrowly over from 20 yards.

It took Raith 27 minutes to put together a cohesive attack but it proved to be a good one as Barr found Chris Johnston in acres of space at the edge of the Hibs box and his low driven shot was well held by former Raith 'keeper Ross Laidlaw.

That move appeared to bring Raith out their shells as they enjoyed some possession in Hibs half, and they went close on 35 minutes when Jason Thomson nodded down a corner and McManus hooked an effort across goal that dropped narrowly wide of the far post.

However, Raith's failure to nullify the Humphreys threat at the other end was eventually punished on 41 minutes when the winger found himself galloping into clear space down on the right. The Raith defence couldn't catch up and his cross was side-footed home from six yards by unmarked Keatings.

Raith were not asking enough questions of what was effectively a Hibs B team but all that changed after the break as the Fifers showed the type of heart and desire that will be required to get themselves out of trouble.

They were fortunate, though, just four minutes after the restart when an Alex Harris cross was knocked wide from six yards by Murray.

Spurred on by that left off, Raith started to press forward and McManus was unlucky to be penalised for a nudge on Harris before slotting into the net.

Rovers went close from a long throw as a Jean-Yves M'voto flick was met by Bobby Barr but the winger's goal bound strike was blocked by Efe Ambrose.

Hughes made his first change on 62 minutes as it was a surprise to see Jonny Court get the nod ahead of Hardie.

However, the striker who spent the first half of the season on loan at Montrose made a big impact, ruffling the Hibs defenders with strong running and a physical presence.

The equalising goal arrived soon after his introduction as Barr embarked on a driving run at the heart of the Hibs defence, before teeing up the unmarked McManus who steered an effort beyond Laidlaw for his first league goal since October.

McManus was transformed by his goal and he went agonisingly close to putting Raith in front on 73 minutes when his chip over Laidlaw cannoned back off the inside of the post after Court out-muscled Ambrose to set up the chance.

McManus went close again, this time with a spectacular bicycle kick attempt from another long throw that Laidlaw tipped over at full stretch.

But against the run of play, disaster struck as Hibs won a corner and although Raith cleared the initial danger, when the ball was flighted back into the box, a fresh-air swipe from a M'voto allowed sub Grant Holt to sneak in and lift the ball beyond Penksa.

With just nine minutes left it looked like a killer goal but Raith brought Hardie off the bench and the striker made an immediate impact, making it 2-2 on 84 minutes.

Court showed his bravery to take a clattering as his forward pass allowed Hardie to break the offisde trap, and the striker showed superb composure to round Laidlaw, and slot the ball into the net.

It looked to have rescued a point for Raith, until Keatings broke their hearts with virtually the last kick of the game.

The players will be devastated tonight but there is no time for self-pity with St Mirren to come on Saturday.

Victory in Paisley will guarantee safety and if this second half performance can be repeated, and the sloppy giveaways eradicated, there is every reason to remain positive.

Hibernian: Laidlaw, McLean, Keatings, Shinnie (Bartley 76), Forster, Ambrose, Humphrey, Graham (Holt 77), Harris, Martin, Murray (Mackie 87). Not used: Dabrowski, Murray, Waugh, Donaldson.

Booked: Keatings, Ambrose.

Raith Rovers: Penksa, Thomson, McHattie, M'voto, C,Barr, Thompson, Matthews, Stewart (Court 62), Johnston (Hardie 83), McManus, B.Barr. Not used: Brennan, Benedictus, Roberts.

Booked: McHattie, Court.

Referee: Greg Aitken

Attendance: 13.604