NO MARGIN for error so no more slip-ups. This was Hibernian’s challenge with August not even done and against Raith Rovers, a team who thwarted them three times last season, they managed a pretty comfortable win.
The victory cut Rangers’ lead over them to three points ahead of the Ibrox club’s game today, which was the very least Alan Stubbs would have wanted after the defeat at Ibrox. The manager admitted this had been a big game, and not just because of that result. “I thought we were good at times,” he said. “There was a brightness, especially early on. Raith have a lot of physicality and we defended stoutly. And it’s great to see your strikers get on the scoresheet.”
Jason Cummings is a regular goal-grabber for Hibs, of course, so the big story was James Keatings opening his account after crossing the capital from Hearts. Having created plenty of chances against Rangers only to blow them, Keatings was making his first start, keen to show that it’s not where you’ve come from but where you are now. In the second minute he took a zipped cross from Dylan McGeouch in his stride and fired just over. Five minutes later he tried from further out with the same result. John McGinn almost put him in for a strike and soon after that he had a free-kick charged down.
Then a better chance fell to Cummings. Kyle Benedictus made a hash of a clearance and Keatings’ partner bore down on Kevin Cuthbert. But the keeper, who for Hamilton Accies saved two penalties in the play-off shootout which condemned Hibs to the Championship, made himself big enough to block.
Just in case Cummings, not a shy lad by any stretch of the imagination and another with Hearts heritage, was getting any ideas about thinking he could hog this show, Keatings finally found his range. In the 22nd minute, he collected a Liam Henderson pass from the right and, steadying himself on the D, placed a fine left foot shot beyond the Rovers goalie. “I’m delighted to get off the mark,” Keatings said. “As soon as I took my touch I was shooting.”
Hibs are keen not to prolong their stay in the Championship and maybe Keatings will be a help in that aim. They’re starting to see second-tier regulars come round with other clubs, new Raith man Ryan McCord having caused them a few problems for Alloa last season. But precious little was seen of the Fifers until the 35th minute when a Rory McKeown cross found Grant Anderson who took careful aim and forced a fingertip save from Mark Oxley.
Anderson was less accurate with his left peg a few minutes later but Raith were getting bolder. If only Jon Daly could get in the game, you were thinking. Last season’s big, burly frontman for Rovers, Christian Nade was a considerable irritant to Hibs but the ex-Rangers man’s touch seemed well out and he was cutting a forlorn, wheezing figure as the first half ended.
Whatever manager Ray McKinnon put in his tea – or whatever the gentle words of encouragement – seemed to do the trick. Daly was involved in the first action of the second half, latching onto a David Gray backpass, clashing with Oxley and claiming in vain for a penalty. “He told me it was a stonewaller,” said McKinnon. Then Daly flashed a header just wide of the keeper’s left-hand post.
But in the 49th minute Hibs scored again. Lewis Stevenson crossed deep from the left. Both strikers were in for it – who was going to get there first? Keatings arrived just too late to get a decisive touch but his presence had preoccupied Cuthbert and Cummings was able to net easily.
Raith kept plugging away. Craig Wighton came on and added spark, neatly slipping in James Craigen who should have scored, before the substitute had a go himself, forcing a smart stop from Oxley.
Stubbs is still hopeful of bringing in another striker before the transfer deadline. “I expect to be busy on the phone,” he said. Keatings, still smiling, added: “We welcome the competition.”
Hibernian: Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Fontaine, Stevenson, McGeouch (Martin, 79), Bartley (McGregor, 86), McGinn, Henderson, Keatings (Malonga, 61), Cummings. Subs not used: Stanton, Boyle, Forster, Reguero.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Toshney, Benedictus, Anderson, McCord, Stewart, Davidson, Daly, Bates (Wighton, 57), McKeown, Craigen (Megginson, 69). Subs not used: Petrie, Matthews, Laidlaw, Ellis, Ford.
Referee: Alan Muir. Attendance: 8,484.