Ray McKinnon heaped the pressure on Hibs after his Raith Rovers side ensured Easter Road will be what he described as a “nervy place” on Saturday.
Hibs will now have to beat Raith in order to progress to the play-off semi-final after last night’s 1-0 defeat in their quarter-final first-leg encounter. On loan Leicester City player Harry Panayiotou made it a few days to remember for him, coming on as substitute to head in the game’s only goal after 74 minutes.
The striker watched Chelsea’s comeback against Tottenham Hotspur, which handed the English Premier League title to his parent club, in a pub in Dundee on Monday.
Last night he stepped from the bench to give Raith the advantage going into Saturday’s second leg, which now appears a very tricky assignment for Hibs. Alan Stubbs, the Hibs manager, described the tie as “still wide open” but his side must now win on Saturday in order to progress. Raith held strong last night in defence, helped by some wayward finishing from Hibs on a bobbly pitch.
McKinnon’s hard-working team did little to dampen the speculation linking their manager with the now vacant post at Dundee United.
This victory means McKinnon’s team have gone 12 games without defeat. He is the young manager of the moment in Scotland without doubt. He is already an expert in mind games.
“I think pressure is a funny thing,” he said. “Some people deal with it, some people don’t. We’ll find out how Hibs deal with it on Saturday. That will be a nervy place, Easter Road, because I’m pretty sure they don’t want to spend another year in this division.
“They’re a big club, a good manager, good players. They will be desperate. They might get a wee bit edgy if they don’t get it all their own way on Saturday.”
McKinnon batted away questions about reports he is a target for Dundee United, who confirmed manager Mixu Paatelainen’s sacking yesterday. He said it was easy to keep his focus on Raith Rovers at this critical juncture of the season.
“It hasn’t been difficult at all,” h said. “I’m totally focused on this job, I’ve said that. You can ask questions, I’ll just bat them away. My focus is on Raith Raith Rovers, and trying to get into this Premiership.”
Stubbs must ensure his players regroup quickly before Saturday’s second leg. The Hibs manager complained about a handball in the Raith box by Lewis Toshney which he felt should have resulted in a penalty kick.
He criticised nearside linesman Graham Chambers for laughing about not awarding that – and another penalty shout, when Anthony Stokes was pushed by Rory McKeown.
“There would be too many bleeps on your tape, or stars in your quotes,” he said, when asked for comment on these appeals. “For me they were not even decisions. The first one, the handball, beggars belief I’m afraid to say.
“Given the importance of the game, officials really shouldn’t be getting them wrong. I’ve got to be careful what I say, but the linesman didn’t have a very good night on my side.
“We had a few things from the nearside linesman that didn’t come and he tried to laugh them off,” added Stubbs. “That disappointed me as much as anything. It’s frustrating. I can only take care of the team. I felt sorry for the fourth official, Don Robertson, because he got everything right…
“It leaves it wide open. We go to Easter Road. We’ll be able to get the ball down and play more. The pitch is the same for both teams. It’s not an excuse but you could see how difficult it was.”
“The tie is wide-open,” he added. “It’s half time. It’s become clearer what we have to do – score a couple of goals.”