Encouraging start for Hughes as Raith earn point against Hibs

Raith Rovers 1 Hibernian 1
Ryan Stevenson is mobbed after his stunning strike put Raith 1-0 up on Hibs. Pic: Fife Photo AgencyRyan Stevenson is mobbed after his stunning strike put Raith 1-0 up on Hibs. Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Ryan Stevenson is mobbed after his stunning strike put Raith 1-0 up on Hibs. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

The John Hughes era got off to an encouraging start at Stark's Park this afternoon as Raith Rovers claimed a hard earned point against league leaders Hibernian in his first match in charge.

The new manager's influence was evident as a team that had lost their previous six league fixtures produced a vast improvement on recent performance in front of a re-energised home support to claim a deserved share of the spoils.

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It took a stunning free-kick from Jason Cummings to cancel out an even better opener from Ryan Stevenson, who showed the quality he still possesses by opening his account for the club with a thumping half-volley from outside the box.

The 1-1 draw may not have brought an end to the Rovers' long winless run, which now stretches back 15 games, but there was plenty to build on, from the spirited efforts on the pitch to the positivity in the stands.

Raising the team for the 'big' games was never a problem under his predecessor, but if Hughes can get the players to reproduce this form against the rest of the league, he will have succeeded where Gary Locke failed - and will win more games.

With Kevin McHattie and Iain Davidson suspended and first choice goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert injured, it was a tricky first team selection for Yogi.

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With no recognised left back available captain Jason Thomson was asked to play on the opposite side of defence, with regular centre-back Kyle Benedictus shifting across to at right back. Craig Barr and Jean-Yves M'voto were paired in the middle for the first time in a makeshift back four.

Hughes set the team up in a 4-3-3 formation with wide men Mark Stewart and Bobby Barr very much in support of striker Ryan Stevenson.

A young midfield three - Ross Callachan, Ross Matthews and Jordan Thompson - completed the selection.

There was a rousing reception for the new manager as he emerged from the tunnel, confirming the popularity of the appointment. The change in pre-match atmosphere from the previous home fixture, a 1-0 defeat to Morton, was stark.

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And the first half was certainly uplifting as Raith more than matched the runaway league leaders in all departments, defending solidly while taking the game to Hibs at every opportunity.

The team shape struck the right balance between defence and attack, with Stewart and Barr providing an outlet on the flanks, and the midfield supporting where required at both ends of the park.

Hibs had the first effort on goal on 10 minutes as Benedictus' headed clearance failed to clear the box, and was volleyed first time by John McGinn from the angle, but Connor Brennan was alert and made a good catch under his bar.

A minute later, a determined run from Matthews was ended when he was brought down at the corner of Hibs box for a free-kick, which Stevenson took, but his powerful strike was parried to safety by Ofir Marciano.

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A neat Rovers move on 15 minutes saw Barr lead the charge, passing to Stewart who then teed up Callachan for a shot from the edge of the box which sliced off target.

Raith were comfortable but there was a let-off approaching half-time when Lewis Stevenson got the better of Benedictus, who pulled him back, but the ref allowed the advantage and James Keatings effort from the edge of the box took a deflection, forcing Brennan into a smart save low to his left.

The reward for Rovers' vivacious display arrived seven minutes after half-time.

As he did all afternoon, Barr chased what seemed like a lost cause down the left wing, catching the ball before it ran out of play before crossing into the middle.

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Stevenson's headed clearance only fell to his namesake around 25 yards out and the veteran front man thundered an unstoppable half-volley past the despairing Marciano.

Hughes then raised eyebrows with a triple substitution on 58 minutes, replacing Stewart, Benedictus and Stevenson with Chris Johnston, Declan McManus and Joel Coustrain, who moved to left back.

However, just two minutes later, Hibs were level as Matthews tripped Cummings on the edge of the area, who then stepped up and curled an exquisite free-kick over the wall and beyond the reach of Brennan.

The sweeping changes, coupled with the loss of the goal straight away, seemed to derail Rovers and for a 15-minute spell, the hosts were hanging on as Hibs piled on the pressure.

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Raith somehow survived when a corner landed at Liam Fontaine just six yards out but Craig Barr appeared to save the day with a last ditch block.

Cummings also went close to his second, a shot on the turn from 18 yards spinning inches wide.

A water break due to a clash of heads allowed Raith to regroup as Hughes gathered his players around him and galvanised them for the closing stages.

It certainly worked as Raith regained some of their earlier initiative and looked more likely to grab the winner as the game headed towards full-time.

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Callachan fired straight at Marciano from 20 yards after good set up work by McManus, while an injury-time free-kick was played into the box by Thompson and headed wide by man of the match M'voto.

If this is a sign of things to come under Hughes, then Raith fans can look forward to better days.

Raith Rovers: Brennan, Thomson, Callachan, M'voto, Benedictus (Coustrain 58), Stewart (Johnston 58), B.Barr, Matthews, Thompson, C.Barr, R.Stevenson (McManus 58). Not used: R.Stevenson, Hardie, Roberts, Skacel.

Hibernian: Marciano, Gray, Fontaine, Bartley, McGinn, Fyvie (Humphrey 57), L.Stevenson, Keatings (Boyle 75), McGregor, Graham (Holt 83), Cummings. Not used: Laidlaw, Donaldson, Crane, Martin.

Referee: Craig Charleston

Attendance: 4172