Hibernian surrendered top spot in the Championship for the first time since mid-October but they must still be wondering how. They battered Raith Rovers at times in a match that saw them dominate possession and rattle three times more shots in on target than their guests. But, somehow, they were the ones scrambling to salvage a point, allowing Dundee United to leapfrog them at the summit.
By half-time they should have been well clear but failed to capitalise as Raith took time to settle. Having done so, the Fife side came out in the second half, stunned Hibs with an opener, then came close to doubling it before tightening everything at the back and defending like it was their lives and not points on the line.
A captivating tussle, with plenty of action, the match had everything. Even, as seems only right at this time of the year, a pantomime villain.
With Hearts operating in a different league, the presence of Rudi Skacel in the Raith midfield and manager Gary Locke on the sidelines meant this was as close as the home fans will get to a festive derby. They afforded the ex-Hearts pair a similar welcome to the one they would have bestowed upon them if they had been decked out in maroon and Skacel reciprocated with some antics of his own.
It helped add an edge and ensured that despite the wait for goals, this was anything but a stale, dull affair.
Hibs were electric at the start and Raith were rattled. Ragged at the back, Rovers were sliced open at will, with Dylan McGeouch particularly incisive but wasteful shooting and some dogged goalkeeping by Kevin Cuthbert combined to keep the scoreline blank.
In the eighth minute McGeouch played a perfect ball through for Jason Cummings but Cuthbert denied him and did the same to Kris Commons when Grant Holt played the rebound through to the on-loan attacker.
Cummings then threatened from a free kick before Andy Shinnie also passed up an opportunity.
“You are always going to be out under a bit of pressure here. And that’s what Hibs did. They have a lot of quality throughout their squad,” said Locke, who felt that having weathered that initial onslaught, his team had grown into the game. Hibs tried and tried to find the net but having gone off at half-time still level, manager Neil Lennon felt that they may pay the price.
“I’ve got to look at performances. Did we play well? Yes. Did we create chances? Yes, plenty. From the manager’s point of view we showed character to get back into the game when we needed it. But we need to score our chances when on top because if we had scored early we would probably have won the game comfortably.”
Instead Raith took inspiration from the fact they had blunted their attacks and grew in confidence and resolve. Four minutes into the second half they took the lead, when Chris Johnston’s cross into the area picked out Jean-Yves M’Voto, and his downward header beat Ross Laidlaw. If that was a surprise the fact Raith almost added a second was a major shock. Just after the hour mark another former Tynecastle player, Jason Thomson, crashed a long range effort off the bar but, in all the visitors only managed five shots on goal all afternoon. Hibs, though, racked up 21, making for a pretty alarming conversion rate.
It took until the 88th minute, after Lennon had reshuffled his pack and added a bit of pace, for substitute Martin Boyle to score the equaliser.
It wasn’t enough to keep Hibs top of the table. But they remain within pouncing distance of Dundee United which makes the pair’s televised match on 6 January all the more tantalising.