Hibernian 2 Raith Rovers 0
Raith Rovers paid the price for a poor start as they fell to a 2-0 defeat at Easter Road yesterday.
Rovers were completely overrun in the opening half hour as the team struggled with tactical alterations enforced by the suspension to captain Jason Thomson, and Hibs made the most of their early dominance via James Keatings’ 22nd minute opener.
The Raith performance improved considerably as the match wore on - the Fifers took the game to Hibs as they refused to go down without a fight - but after conceding a second goal to Jason Cummings just after half-time, the Kirkcaldy men left themselves with too much to do.
Encouraged by the team’s second half showing, Raith boss Ray McKinnon was not too downbeat afterwards, and the 500 travelling fans appeared to share his view as they applauded the players off the park despite the result.
McKinnon said: “It took 30 minutes for us to get going but we pushed all the way to the end to try and get something out of it so I’m not too disappointed with the performance.”
Raith felt the game may have had a different outcome had they been awarded a penalty just before Hibs second goal when Jon Daly appeared to be tripped in the box by Hibs ‘keeper Mark Oxley after winning the race to short back-pass.
“It’s a stonewaller,” McKinnon stressed. “I’ve spoken to Jon and he said the goalie’s caught him. What can you do?”
McKinnon also felt there was a hint of offside over Hibs second goal, adding: “They are claiming the guy has flicked it on, and if that’s the case, he’s offside.
“I’m not saying I’m hard done by, but we’ve had two good chances, a penalty claim and we’ve done alright after we’ve lost the goal.”
McKinnon brought David Bates in for the suspended Thomson and opted for three at the back, however, this was quickly changed to four as Raith toiled in the early stages.
The away side caused most of their own problems as they took too long to get up to the pace set by Hibs, conceding possession cheaply and often.
It allowed Hibs to flood forward with waves of attacks and Rovers were fortunate not to concede before Keatings broke the deadlock on 22 minutes.
Kevin Cuthbert had already made an excellent save in a one-on-one with Cummings, but he was left with no chance as Keatings picked the ball up 20 yards out, shifted the ball onto his left foot, and curled a powerful shot inside the right-hand post.
Hibs appeared to take their foot off the pedal after their opener and Rovers started to settle, an almost equalised with their first attempt on goal.
Rory McKeown’s cross missed everyone to arrive at Grant Anderson beyond the far post, and the winger’s powerfully struck volley was pushed wide by Marc Oxley at full stretch.
Rovers made a bright start to the second half and could have been awarded a penalty when Daly fell under Oxley’s challenge after he won the race to reach David Gray’s poor back-pass.
Referee Alan Muir, however, waved away the appeal and Hibs took advantage to double their lead just 60 seconds later.
Lewis Stevenson’s cross was flicked towards the back post by Keatings for the unmarked Cummings to knock the ball over the line from two yards out.
McKinnon responded by taking off defender Bates and bringing on striker Craig Wighton to push three up front with Anderson deployed as an attacking right-back.
It was a system McKinnon had considered using from kick-off and perhaps he wishes he had as Raith looked a far more dangerous team thereafter.
James Craigen blew a huge chance to get Rovers back into the game on 59 minutes as he latched onto Wighton’s sublime flick to go clean through on Oxley but his tame finish was easily scooped up by the Hibs ‘keeper.
Cummings pace was causing Raith problems on the break and Cuthbert had to make a good block at his near post after the striker had sprinted away from Kyle Benedictus.
Raith continued to press and on 69 minutes, Wighton drilled a volley from the edge of the area which Oxley parried, and the rebound was just missed by the in-rushing Mark Stewart.
Oxley was forced into another save three minutes later as sub Mitch Megginson pounced on a mistake in the Hibs defence and steered a shot towards the top corner that the ‘keeper managed to tip away to safety.
Try as they might, Raith could not make a breakthrough and the points stayed at home.
A defeat at Easter Road is not unexpected due to the gulf in the club’s resources, but Hibs were under pressure after a slow start to the season so perhaps this goes down as a missed opportunity for Raith.
They will certainly need to make a better start at Ibrox next week, or the game could be over very quickly.
Hibernian: Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson, Bartley (McGregor 87), McGinn, McGeouch (Martin 79), Henderson, Keatings (Malonga 62), Cummings. Unused substitutes: Reguero, Stanton, Boyle, Forster.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Toshney, Benedictus, Anderson, McCord, Stewart, Davidson, Daly, Bates (Wighton 58), McKeown, Craigen (Megginson 70). Unused substitutes: Laidlaw, Petrie, Matthews, Ellis, Ford.
Referee: Alan Muir