Battling Raith claim Christmas Eve point at Easter Road

Raith celebrate Jean-Yves M'voto's opener at Easter Road. Pic: Ian Georgeson
Raith celebrate Jean-Yves M'voto's opener at Easter Road. Pic: Ian Georgeson

Hibernian 1 Raith Rovers 1

Draw specialists Raith Rovers were at it again at Easter Road this afternoon - but seldom has a point been so hard earned as this.

Rudi Skacel gestures to the Hibs fans as he is substituted. Pic: Ian Georgeson

Rudi Skacel gestures to the Hibs fans as he is substituted. Pic: Ian Georgeson

Raith were up against it for most of the 90 minutes as Hibs dominated the Christmas Eve fixture, but the Fifers defended superbly, landed a sucker punch just after half-time, and only a late equaliser denied them a smash and grab victory.

While a fifth draw in six games only adds to the number of points dropped recently, anything other than a defeat away to an expensively assembled Hibs side can be viewed as a good result, especially when the players put so much into the game.

While Hibs passing and movement was a class above, Rovers more than matched them for effort, and whenever a tackle was missed, or a run wasn't tracked, the excellent Kevin Cuthbert stepped up to make crucial saves, particularly during a tough opening half hour for the away side.

Raith's battling performance was slightly overshadowed by the ill-advised actions of Rudi Skacel who used his second half substitution as a platform to wind-up the Hibs fans, raising his arms to make the 5-1 gesture in reference to Hearts' Scottish Cup final win of 2012.

Already on a booking for crunching first half tackle which had the home fans baying for red, had referee Greg Aitken deemed his actions as having the potential to incite trouble, Skacel could well have been shown a second yellow and left his team in the lurch.

The welcome return of skipper Jason Thomson from injury was curtailed somewhat by the absence of Kevin McHattie at left back, which meant that rather than returning in his favoured right back position, Thomson was forced to deputise at left back.

Ross Callachan also missed out - suspended for an accumulation of bookings - which meant a recall for Ross Matthews in the middle of the park, whose tigerish performance will have put him in contention for the Fife derby on January 2.

Raith were in danger of being overwhelmed in the opening exchanges as Hibs picked passes straight through the middle of their defence, but a combination of great goalkeeping and last-ditch defending came to their rescue.

After a few near things, Hibs first clear opening arrived on eight minutes as the impressive Dylan McGeough picked out Jason Cummings in acres of space in the box, but Cuthbert raced out to make a superb one-on-one block.

In the aftermath, Thomson got his body in the way of Grant Holt's goal bound shot, and the tone was set for a courageous display of never-say-die defending.

A brief foray from Raith saw Bobby Barr drag an effort wide from 25 yards out, but they were soon on the back foot again and when Skacel was caught in possession in his own half he raced back to conceded a foul in a dangerous position on the edge of the area.

Fortunately, Cummings dipping, curling effort was a fraction wide with Cuthbert rooted to the spot.

A break in play for a head knock to David Gray prompted several heated discussions among the Raith players as they tried to come up with the answers to Hibs total dominance.

The relentless pressure continued however and Hibs were in behind the Raith defence again on 25 minutes as Holt fed midfield runner Andrew Shinnie but again Cuthbert was the hero with a close range save.

A minute later Hibs debutant on loan from Celtic, Kris Commons, found a chasm of space at the edge of the 18-yard area to turn and fire narrowly wide.

Rovers were holding on - just - as Cuthbert was called to make another save on 33 minutes, stretching to his bottom right hand corner to claw Cummings' 16 yard effort past the far post.

Raith made it to half-time, but not before Skacel lit the blue touch paper with a thumping tackle on McGeough in front of the Hibs dug-out which had the crowd in uproar. He won the ball, but his overly aggressive manner meant a card was inevitable, yellow on this occasion.

After failing to land a glove on Hibs in the first half, Raith hit them with a counter punch four minutes after the break.

There seemed to be some uncertainty over whether Jean-Y'ves M'voto was to go forward for a free-kick.

Eventually the big defender made his way up the park, and it proved a crucial decision as although the set piece was cleared, the ball was returned to the box by Chris Johnston, and M'voto headed home from six yards.

The goal shook Hibs, and after their free-flowing but fruitless first half, the hosts were now looking a frustrated side.

Raith started to pass the ball with confidence and they could have doubled their lead on 63 minutes when Thomson moved up from the back to crash a 25-yard effort against the crossbar with ex-team mate Ross Laidlaw beaten.

Rovers were now proving a tough nut to crack although Hibs thought they had equalised in 72 minutes when David Gray sneaked in unmarked at the back post but somehow managed to put his header wide when it looked easier to score.

Brilliant defending from Rovers continued to keep Hibs at bay all the way until the 88th minute when substitute Martin Boyle grabbed an equaliser following a brilliant run that a tiring Raith defence just couldn't match.

Picking up a lay-off from Holt, he glided into the box past two challenges before blasting past Cuthbert from close range. On the balance of play it was a goal Hibs certainly deserved, but it was still a little harsh on Rovers given their second half efforts.

Both sides had chances in injury time with Raith coming close to snatching it in as Bobby Barr's superb run carried him all the way to edge of the Hibs six yard box where Laidlaw managed to make a point-blank block.

At the other end, Hibs flooded the box and only a fortunate ricochet allowed Cuthbert to pounce on the ball before any green shirts could react to secure a positive result, with Craig Barr's late sub appearance providing another boost.

After back-to-back draws against the top two Raith now need to show the same level of concentration and commitment in upcoming fixtures.

If they do - and the strikers find their shooting boots - they will soon turn draws into wins.

Hibernian: Laidlaw, Gray, Hanlon, Holt, McGeough (Graham 85), Commons (Keatings 66), Stevenson, Shinnie, McGregor, Cummings (Boyle 75), Martin. Not used: Virtanen, Fontaine, Crane.

Booked: Martin.

Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, M'voto, Benedictus, Johnston, B.Barr, Matthews, Davidson, Skacel (Stewart 75), McManus, Thompson (C.Barr 85). Not used: Osei, Lennox, Vaughan, Coustrain, Roberts.

Booked: Skacel, Thompson.

Referee: Greg Aitken

Attendance: 15,409