HIBS fans have built up a certain degree of resistance to the pain this kind of cup upset inflicts. But still the boos rung around Easter Road as the players skulked off the pitch.
SCORERS - HIBS: Stanton 14 Nelson 45; RAITH ROVERS: Moon 6 Hill 45 Anderson 63
Heading up the tunnel they must have known that they were going from frying pan to fire, though, if the look on manager Terry Butcher’s face was anything to go by.
“There are a few words to describe that but I can’t repeat them,” said the Hibs gaffer, who had calmed down to merely livid by the time he ventured into the post-match press conference.
From the very first day he took charge, he had been made well aware of the shadow the Scottish Cup has cast over the club. It was something he was desperate to address but, having taken a few positive steps, he admitted that another cup knockout had to count as a massive step back.
“I’m bitterly disappointed because with our performance we didn’t deserve anything at all. Fair play to Raith Rovers, I want to congratulate them for their display. They rubbished us at the back, they won second balls and stopped us from gaining any sort of momentum, but I can’t believe we have turned in a display like that when we worked so hard during the week to make sure we could win.”
The praise of Raith Rovers was justified. A side who have been struggling in the Championship in recent times, they went into this tie having won just one of their past eight games and having failed to score in the past five.
But, after just six minutes, they had beaten Ben Williams in the Hibs goal to offer early notice that they would not be gifting their Premiership hosts easy passage to the quarter-finals. In fact, such was their character and more cohesive display, they wouldn’t be allowing them to progress at all.
The opener came when the impressive Joe Cardle’s cross was deflected into the path of Kevin Moon and the midfielder skelped it past the Hibs keeper.
Crossed balls were to prove a source of joy for the visitors all afternoon, with the Hibs defence looking flat footed and uneasy throughout the game, although they weren’t alone in turning in sub-par performances. Few in green and white were worthy of pass marks, something that wasn’t lost on the disgruntled fans or the even more disgusted Butcher.
New signing Duncan Watmore and youngster Sam Stanton were the only players who could hold their heads high, the former making a real nuisance of himself as he ran at defenders, created openings and won free-kicks galore on the outskirts of the box.
Stanton, though, was the player who levelled matters, his 20-yard drive going in off Raith keeper Ross Laidlaw’s left-hand post. At the other end, the Kirkcaldy side were less fortunate, the post denying Ross Callachan after Williams got a touch.
But having been pegged back, Raith then had to contend with a reshuffle at the back when a clash of heads saw Reece Donaldson carried off on a stretcher and sent to hospital with a suspected fractured cheekbone.
Far from unsettled, they showed the character that was to exemplify their performance. While clearing anything that was thrown at them, at the other end they retook the lead. Disputed by the shambolic Hibs defence, whose appeals for offside were waved away by referee Steven McLean, another ball into the box was eventually directed into the net by the outstretched leg of Dougie Hill. That was in the 45th minute but with five minutes of time added on, they could not hold on until the interval and Hibs equalised when Michael Nelson rose to head home from a corner.
Raith might have crumpled at that and Hibs might have moved up a gear but it was the other way around. Grant Murray, pictured left, had spent the week reminding his players how good they could be and instilling them with self-belief and it did not waiver and in the second half they took control of the midfield, held firm in defence and having re-established their lead in the 62nd minute, that was more than enough.
Grant Anderson was the scorer, heading a Cardle cross into the top corner and while Hibs tried to hit back yet again, Raith proved more resolute. Laidlaw pulled off a number of saves as the clock ran down, with Stanton and Watmore still their main creative forces. Stanton tested the Raith keeper, as did Danny Haynes and Paul Heffernan, while Nelson hit the bar, but the flurry of late activity wasn’t enough to clinch even a replay and certainly wasn’t enough to appease their punters or their manager as the long, long wait for Scottish Cup success stretches into yet another season.
Hibs: Williams, Forster, Nelson, Hanlon, Stevenson, Watmore, Taiwo (Heffernan 71), Craig, Harris (Haynes 60), Stanton, Collins (Zoubir 60)..
Substitutes not used: Grant, Robertson, Boateng, Maybury.
Raith Rovers: Laidlaw, Thomson, Hill (Ellis 73)l, Donaldson (Mullen 42), Booth, Anderson, Callachan, Fox, Moon, Cardle, Spence (Smith 64).
Substitutes not used: Roberts, Vaughan, Matthews, Bates.
Referee: Steven McLean.