IT’S a question that is asked in many more areas of life than football, but how long does a hangover last?
Having played champagne football in beating Rangers at Ibrox on Monday night, against Raith Rovers on Saturday at Easter Road Hibs looked as flat as, well, the morning after a heavy session.
With passes going astray and minds seemingly elsewhere at times, they showed all the signs of a team which had put in a tremendously sapping effort in their previous match – which they did – only to suffer what racehorse trainers call the “bounce”, which basically consists of an under-par display being caused by over-exertion in a prior outing.
Yet they had four and a half days to recover their physical strength, so you have to conclude that it was something psychological that caused the men in green to under-achieve yet again.
Make no mistake, Raith were well worthy of their point – they remain unbeaten away from Kirkcaldy in the Championship – especially on their second-half performance, but Hibs could and should have had this game won before the hour mark.
Ross Laidlaw’s stunning double save from Jason Cummings in the opening minutes was a portent of close things to come in the first half.
Another Raith block, this time by Laurie Ellis, robbed Scott Allan of a certain goal on the half-hour mark, and then Hibs captain Liam Craig twice went close in the space of two minutes.
Raith had not prospered as an attacking force, but after 42 minutes they were the thickness of the crossbar from taking the lead when Barrie McKay thundered in a shot that rebounded off the woodwork with Mark Oxley beaten.
Hibs’ goal just before half-time was well deserved, Scott Robertson finishing off a move that involved Lewis Stevenson, Cummings and Callum Booth. Raith’s defence failed to react when Booth cut the ball across goal from the back post with Ross Laidlaw beaten, and Robertson had a tap-in to celebrate.
On the subject of celebrations, Christian Nade certainly enjoyed his after he scored in the 68th minute, collecting a loose ball in the home penalty box as Hibs failed to clear their lines and shooting home low and hard.
By that time, Cummings and Scott Allan had already squandered good chances for Hibs, though Raith had started to come into the game in the third quarter.
Both sides had chances to win thereafter, but did not take them, notable misses coming from Ryan Conroy and Paul Heffernan late on, so Nade’s goal remained the result changer.
Nade has “form” with the Hibs fans who know the former Hearts player loves nothing more than to score against them. He stripped off his shirt to show that any insults about his supposed weight were nonsense, and the automatic yellow card was almost gleefully accepted by the big Frenchman.
Raith’s captain Jason Thomson revealed that Nade had told his colleagues he would score at Easter Road.
“He’s probably been having that celebration ready for a wee while,” quipped Thomson after the game. “He’s had a bit of stick over his weight, but you could see when he took his top off that he’s not the fat b****** that he used to get called.
“He’s a big strong boy and he can run, he’s fast, he’s sharp, and he gives us that bit up front.
“He mentioned that he had scored a few against Hibs, and said he would score today, and he did.”
For Hibs, the worry is that they fell further behind capital rivals and league leaders Hearts on Saturday.
Asked if that was a growing problem, goalscorer Scott Robertson admitted: “If it continues, yes. That’s more points dropped, more ground lost, but you never know, things could change round and we pick up and they falter.
“They have been on an unbelievable run, and fair play to them, but we have to play them another three times in the season and we can make a big impact in that sense.” With their strikers looking more assured, even though they faltered on Saturday, the real key to Hibs becoming a better all-round side will be the development of a solid platform supplied by their back three of Jordon Forster, Paul Hanlon and Liam Fontaine.
On Saturday, with Lewis Stevenson and Callum Booth as wing-backs and performing those roles admirably, plus midfielders ever willing to drop back and help them out, apart from at the visitors’ goal, the main defensive trio looked comfortable. A couple of clean sheets will be needed for them to grow in confidence but they clearly have the potential to form a troika which better teams than Raith will struggle to break down.
Their manager, Alan Stubbs, appreciates what Forster, Hanlon and Fontaine are doing. “They stood up to the challenge – as a defender I would like to see them even more dominant, but overall they dealt with the majority of it reasonably well,” he said. “The goal was disappointing but from ten or 15 minutes in I thought it was going to be a difficult game to win – I thought it was going to be a game where it would be one-nil, and we just had to see the game through.”
That Hibs did not preserve their lead was down to the quick reactions of Nade, the man the Easter Road faithful love to mock – and he certainly seems to thrive on it.