Hibs give scant optimism as John Hughes inspires Raith Rovers

Raith Rovers'  Kyle Benedictus shields the ball from Hibernian's James Keatings. Picture: SNS.
Raith Rovers' Kyle Benedictus shields the ball from Hibernian's James Keatings. Picture: SNS.
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Last week’s Edinburgh derby was a laborious affair and, judging by the displays of the two sides this past weekend, the upcoming replay is unlikely to be a classic encounter either.

Each of the capital rivals failed to defeat struggling opponents who have only one victory between them in their previous 32 games.

While Hearts were being frustrated by the Premiership’s bottom side, Inverness, Hibs were making equally hard work of Raith Rovers in John Hughes’ first game in charge of the Kirkcaldy side.

Neil Lennon was apoplectic after the game, slaughtering his players for a “disgraceful”performance. Such was the manager’s fury that he refused to let any of the away dressing room talk to the press after the match.

Though Lennon insisted he had full faith in the players to get themselves up for Wednesday’s match, and that his tirade was a result of the team failing to rise to the challenge in run-of-the-mill Championship fixtures, rather than derby games, he will surely be looking for a reaction when they host their bitter rivals in a couple of days.

Lennon, like Hearts boss Ian Cathro, will be hoping his side can conjure the kind of contrasting performance enjoyed by Raith Rovers in Saturday’s 1-1 draw.

The Stark’s Park club have now gone an astounding 15 games without a victory in all competitions, a horrible run of form which cost former boss Gary Locke his job. Early indications suggest the Championship side were right to make a change at the top, with the hosts much improved under new boss Hughes.

The former Hibs manager saw his new side frustrate his old club throughout the 90 minutes, limiting the visitors to only a couple of sights of goal, including Jason Cummings’ 59th minute free-kick, which curled over the wall from 20 yards and nestled in the back of the net.

It cancelled out another terrific effort, by Ryan Stevenson, pictured left, who controlled a clearance 25 yards from goal before unleashing a powerful half-volley which flew past Hibs stopper Ofir Marciano. The irony of netting his first Raith goal against Hibs was not lost on the ex-Hearts man, who scored the only goal of the game the last time Hearts won at Easter Road in cup football, joking it was “his plan” to throw Hibs off their stride ahead of the big game, before stating his wish for a Hearts victory.

Rovers fans were up in arms when Locke recruited Stevenson to the club, viewing it as an act of cronyism as the former Hearts boss sought to reunite with an old colleague.

They may see Stevenson in a more positive light over the coming weeks if the veteran midfielder is able to reproduce the kind of performance he showed in Saturday’s match, as he used his blend of power and technique from the No 10 role in Raith’s narrow diamond system.

The 32-year-old is well travelled in Scottish football, and while he has only spent a few days in the company of his latest manager, he is already tremendously impressed by Hughes’ abilities as a coach. “I’ve seen my fair share of managers come and go throughout my career. But he’s been top, top notch,” said Stevenson. “I’ve been majorly impressive with him since he’s come in. He’s really 
infectious.

“When you go on the pitch he lets you know exactly what he wants of you. It was difficult with the old manager going because he brought me to the club and he’s a good friend of mine.

“The training has been great. The things we’ve worked on: he’s left no stone unturned. As I said, I’ve had a lot of managers, and it’s only been four 
sessions, but he’s right up at the top for me.”