In what he said would be his last game at the helm, Hibs caretaker boss Eddie May was delighted to be handing over the reins with the side comfortably through to the quarter finals of the Scottish Cup.
“That will be my last game and I am delighted to go out on a win. The new man is coming in and at least we are in the quarter-final,
“Hibs have a great tradition in terms of trying to win the cup and I hope they can go and reach another semi-final and final. The club has a great record of being at Hampden over the past few years so hopefully that continues over the coming weeks.”
As one sage remembered as the fans trooped out of the stadium, content with the afternoon’s toils, the last time they defeated the Stark’s Park side in this tournament they went on to end the 114-year wait and lift the trophy.
Such an outcome would seem an almost impossible conclusion to a season that has stuttered and spluttered. But a new man at the helm and some fresh continuity could offer them a platform, while the fact they are now only three wins away from a winner’s medal will serve as a useful incentive for everyone in the squad.
Up against Raith at Easter Road, this was a game that some had considered a potential banana skin. But the kind of performance that had taken the League One side through against Fife rivals Dunfermline was missing as they adapted to the new reality of life without Lewis Vaughan.
The man who had netted six goals in seven appearances since returning from a groin injury mid December, including a hat-trick in the previous round, was forced back onto the sidelines by cruciate damage, denying him the chance to test his boyhood heroes.
And against a professional Hibs side, who started well to starve them of any momentum and stifle any pre-match hopes of a shock, they gulf in class was evident.
“Marc McNulty went for £1 million in the summer,” said Raith manager John McGlynn, acknowledging that his men simply couldn’t live with Hibs’ quality “That’s £1 million more than the players we usually come up against in League One. It was a big step up for us and maybe a bit of a wake-up call for our players who aspire to play in the top flight.”
McNulty was a class act, with his mobility, willingness to apply pressure on the Raith backline, and ability to play team-mates in, but the player who had been denied first team action recently at Reading was also hungry to get his first goal for his new employers.
As early as the fifth minute he has his shot blocked by Iain Davidson and that set the tone. While Raith had forays forward, it was Hibs who were predominantly on the front foot.
In the 15th minute Stevie Mallan’s shot curled narrowly wide of goal but come the 22nd minute, Hibs did get the breakthrough.
Vykintas Slivka crossed inside from the right flank and picked out Daryl Horgan who moved it onto his left foot and from the edge of the area slotted it past Robbie Thomson.
Raith tried to counter and swiftly restore parity when Tony Dingwall broke and passed through for Nathan Flanagan to run onto but his shot was deflected just wide, then minutes later Jamie Barjonas sent a deep cross in but Dingwall’s glancing header missed the target.
Hibs extended the lead in the 38th minute, In from the left from Mallan, Mcnulty perfectly cushioned the lay-off and Slivka buried it.
Then, in the 57th minute McNulty got his first goal for the Easter Road club, nodding on a long ball over the top, giving himself room to burst through onto it and drilling it under the keeper.
After Paul Hanlon had blocked a Christopher Duggan advance, Raith reduced the deficit from the resultant corner, as Flanagan’s delivery was headed past Ofir Marciano by Euan Murray.
“The object was to get through to the next round and I think we did that quite comfortably,” summed up May. “We probably could have scored a couple more but they were decent and the boys worked extremely hard. After a hard game against Celtic during the week, it is not easy playing in a cup tie, but the boys played to a good standard and I am delighted for them.”