TWO goals in four first half minutes eased Hibs into the semi-finals of the Premiership play-offs as the Capital side got over the shock of losing the first leg at Stark’s Park a few days earlier.
John McGinn hauled his side level just eight minutes into the game and defender Darren McGregor powered home a header for what proved to be the winner, setting up another double header against Falkirk, the first leg of which takes place at Easter Road on Tuesday night.
Hibs hit Raith with an early whirlwind which left them reeling. Anthony Stokes initial shot was blocked but the ball fell for McGinn who got his shot away despite the presence of Iain Davidson, his effort looping up off the Raith midfielder and dropping under the bar with Rovers goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert left rooted to the spot.
The game, as expected, had begun at breakneck speed and Hibs had their fans back on their feet again four minutes later, McGregor rising high above everyone to meet Liam Henderson’s corner and power a downward header beyond Cuthbert.
Those two goals settled the nerves of players and fans alike, although there was a moment of concern for Hibs when Rory McKeown swung a deep cross beyond the back post to pick out Louis Longridge who saw his shot turned behind by Paul Hanlon for a corner which came to nothing.
After being rocked by that whirlwind start by the Capital outfit began to find their feet and their supporters behind Cuthbert’s goal their voice although Hibs goalkeeper Conrad Logan remained untested.
But he certainly was in the 35th minute as McGregor misjudged the flight of a high ball which dropped for Ryan Hardie. Logan expertly blocked his effort and when the ball fell for Longridge McGregor redeemed himself with a superb challenge allowing his goalkeeper to mop up the danger.
It was a warning, though, for Hibs and it did shake them into action, skipper David Gray driving a low shot across goal which just missed the far post.
Raith boss Ray McKinnon didn’t hang around before making a change, introducing Wednesday night’s match winner Harry Panayiotou for James Craigen just seven minutes into the second half.
But Hibs knew another goal would virtually assure them of victory and it took a terrific save from Cuthbert to prevent Henderson claiming a third, the goalkeeper getting down well to thrust out his left hand and divert the midfielder’s shot which appeared destined for the far corner of his net.
Dylan McGeouch had put in a terrific shift in this his first start in two months but he was replaced in the 66th minute by Marvin Bartley.
Hibs had looked fairly comfortable but the tie remained far from beyond Raith who were given a glimmer of hope by Bartley’s miskick, the midfielder rescued by Paul Hanlon’s well-timed challenge on Lewis Toshney who then got his head to McKeown’s cross but was unable to direct it on target.
It had all started to get a bit nervy for the home crowd with Raith seeing too much of the ball for their liking, the visiting side aided in no small measure by a series of misplaced passes from Alan Stubbs’ players.
But Gray almost wrapped it up five minutes from time throwing himself at McGinn’s free-kick to send a tremendous header crashing back off Cuthbert’s left hand post.
Hibs: Logan, Gray, McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson, Fyvie, McGeouch (Bartley 66), McGinn, Henderson (Fontaine 81), Cummings (Keatings 81), Stokes.
Substitutes not used: Oxley, Boyle, Gunnarsson, Dagnall.
Raith Rovers: Cuthbert, Thomson, Barr, Benedictus, McKeown, Longridge (Stewart 65), Davidson, Toshney, Callachan, Craigen (Panayiotou 53), Hardie (Thomas 75).
Substitutes not used: Law, Anderson, Connolly, Robertson.
Referee: John McKendrick.