Grant Holt is not a man who shies away from the physical side of the game. From modest beginnings at Halifax to the heady heights of the English Premier League with Norwich, he has made a career out of being able to handle the rough stuff.
However, the Hibernian striker is adamant Raith Rovers crossed the line with their combative defending on Saturday as he added his voice to the criticism of referee Stephen Finnie.
Hibs boss Neil Lennon was furious after seeing his side pick up their third red card in four Championship fixtures, with Marvin Bartley dismissed for kicking out at Rovers winger Bobby Barr.
But it was Finnie’s repeated refusal to point to the spot that irked Holt. He was involved in a breathless tussle with the Rovers back-line all afternoon on Saturday, going toe-to-toe with Kyle Benedictus, Jean-Yves M’Voto and Iain Davidson in a series of bruising clashes.
Holt is adamant he was hauled to the ground by Davidson on two occasions as Rovers desperately defended against James Keatings set-pieces. The frustration was exacerbated when M’Voto appeared to handle the ball in the box in the second half – only for a free-kick to be given against Holt.
Hibs failed to break the deadlock and, despite the hard-earned point sending them to the summit of the table, there was a sense of ‘what if’ from a tetchy contest.
“A linesman kept telling me he couldn’t see me getting pulled over in the box – that’s his job. Twice he’s managed to miss that,” said Holt. “There’s a handball, I glance it on from a long throw, hits the lad’s [M’Voto] hand and he gives a foul against me!
“I get away with things at times and I’m not going to go on about getting knocked over, the grappling, the headlocks. I can handle myself. But if you go into the box and someone has got two arms around you and the linesman tells you he can’t see it, that’s another thing.
“The ref comes into the box at a set-piece and says ‘no holding’ and then that happens. I don’t get it.”
Before the contest exploded into controversy, Hibs came close to opening the scoring when Holt manufactured a yard of space in the box, only to see his goal-bound effort blocked by M’Voto. From the resulting Keatings corner, Paul Hanlon rattled the bar.
The game was derailed on the cusp of half-time when Bartley was given his marching orders by Finnie. “The boy [Bartley] has just kicked me,” said Barr, hitting back against the complaints of the Hibs players. “I went for a tackle, the ball broke away and Bartley has just booted me. I didn’t make a meal of it and you can’t argue with the ref.”
Aside from providing an unsightly stramash prior to the break, Bartley’s dismissal also robbed the match of the decent ebb and flow it possessed in the first-half. It was hardly silky, but certainly watchable.
By contrast, the second period was attritional and spiky. There was plenty of endeavour and aggression, but little in the way of goalmouth action, barring Hibs’ trio of vociferous penalty claims.
Holt, however, saw enough from the match to strengthen his conviction that Hibs will soon end their winless streak. “Even with ten men, we dominated the whole game,” added Holt. “Someone is going to take a real hammering off us.”