Alan Stubbs summoned the spirit of Indiana Jones in the build-up to this tie to predict that Hibernian would win the Scottish Cup eventually. The cup was the club’s holy grail, he said, but even Indy landed that one in the end.
Well, you wouldn’t have been surprised if the manager produced the great adventurer’s whip at half-time and had his players diving for cover because they were dire in that period, contriving not a single shot at goal and hardly looking like they were perturbed about the fact the club hadn’t won the trophy for 114 years.
“I had a few words with them,” admitted Stubbs. “I wasn’t happy whatsoever and told them to get the finger out. They were sloppy and weren’t winning second balls or making the pitch big enough. But I knew the players would respond. The difference between the halves was night and day and we scored two excellent goals.”
Hibs had beaten Raith in the Championship the week before and in all their previous league games this season, although this time they had to do without top scorer Jason Cummings, laid low by a bug. And they had to be be mindful of the problems Rovers caused them in the last campaign and also how the Fife team dumped them out of the cup in 2014, perhaps the first intimation that Terry Butcher wasn’t going to be their saviour after all.
Raith won that match with a terrific piece of skill - a backwards header from Grant Anderson every bit as ingenious as Uwe Seeler’s against England in the 1970 World Cup. Could the rematch produce something as good amid some classic fourth-round January dreichness?
First song, the stadium DJ offered up Good Day Sunshine by the Beatles. It was a good day for new Hibs signings Chris Dagnall and Niklas Gunnarrson, both making their debuts, but conditions were so slippery that the man at the mic had felt obliged to issue the warning: “Take care where yer pittin’ yer fit.”
It seemed a very good idea for Stubbs to have picked big, no-nonsense Marvin Bartley and the holding midfielder announced himself with a couple of crunching tackles. Raith had the first glimpse of goal, James Craigen crossing neatly from the left but Bartley nipped in ahead of Jon Daly to avert the danger. He was Hibs best player in the first half with no one forward of him contributing anything of note.
Raith had begun with some thumping challenges of their own but soon realised there might be a better way to win the tie. Craigen, their top man, zipped in another cross only for Rory McKeown to balloon the ball over the bar but at least the Fifers were getting in some shots, Craigen himself having the next attempt. Cummings’ absence was being deeply felt by Hibs and the big travelling support must have been getting edgy and possibly fearing a predictable cup outcome.
Raith continued where they left off after the break and worried Hibs straight away before Liam Fontaine got in an important block. Then at last a Hibs shot on target, with the otherwise quiet John McGinn setting up Paul Hanlon. The men from Leith were threatening to come alive but still had to be alert to Raith’s quick bursts. Finally the breakthrough came. A Lewis Stevenson cross from the left found Darren McGregor, who’d just replaced Gunnarsson, in splendid isolation on the edge of the box and his low right-foot finish was sizzling.
Hibs’ second came two minutes later and was even better. Another Stevenson delivery from the flank was collected by Dominique Malonga. The enigmatic frontman hadn’t had the best of afternoons up until that point but his strike, also with the right, from 25 yards was a thundercrack, worthy of winning a fourth-round tie at least.
Raith manager Ray McKinnon thought at half-time his team could have emerged victors. “We were excellent until then but against a very, very good team you need to capitalise and we were punished,” he said. “Good luck to Hibs.”
“The dream lives,” smiled Stubbs.