Keith Wright recalls the day Hibs fans booed him

Darren Dods was sent off as Hibs tumbled out of the Scottish Cup
Darren Dods was sent off as Hibs tumbled out of the Scottish Cup
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It was a sound Keith Wright never thought he would hear, Hibs fans booing him at Easter Road.

The striker went from hero to zero, pilloried by those who once idolised him for the part he played in ending their Scottish Cup dream for yet another year.

With time running out and Jim Duffy’s side trailing, Wright, playing for First Division Raith Rovers, used all his experience to goad Darren Dods into an act of retaliation which saw referee Hugh Dallas flash the red card at the big defender.

Although Raith also found themselves down to ten men as Craig McEwan saw red three minutes later, the Kirkcaldy outfit hung on to beat their Premier League rivals, helping seal the fate of Hibs boss Duffy who was sacked days later following a 6-2 hammering by Motherwell, the harm done by that time leaving his successor Alex McLeish unable to prevent the club from the clutches of relegation.

As Hibs and Raith prepare to do battle again for the first time in the Scottish Cup on Saturday since that day in January 1998, Wright recalled what was his first return to Easter Road since being released by Duffy at the end of the previous season when Hibs had only retained their top-flight status in a play-off against Airdrie, the 1991 Skol Cup hero stepping from the bench to score in his last match in a green-and-white shirt.

He said: “I’d be lying if I said I went back to Easter Road thinking ‘what am I going to do?’ I went there to try to win the game. I’d left Hibs thinking I still had a couple of years in me. Looking back Jim Duffy was right, but I didn’t think so at the time. Back then I felt I had something to prove.

“There were probably a few others in that Raith team who felt the same way. It wasn’t a bad team, we had a fair bit of experience, guys who were coming to the end of their careers or others who had come from Premier League clubs, released because they weren’t felt good enough, who all wanted to show they could still play at that level.”

And it was one of those old heads, John Millar, who had been released by Hearts, who put Hibs, with only one win in their previous 17 matches, in trouble, the midfielder scoring twice with just 21 minutes gone. Pat McGinlay threw Hibs a lifeline just 60 seconds later, but, as Raith battled to retain their lead, came that flare-up between Wright and Dods.

Wright, now the SFA’s development officer in Midlothian, said: “Big Dodsie kept tugging my shirt at a corner and I’d stood on his toes and he reacted by punching me on the back of the head, only to be spotted by the referee. Obviously I’d been around and knew how to handle myself against centre-halves who’d pull your jersey, give you a nip and so on, while Darren was just a youngster at the time and he lashed out when the ref was looking.

“The fans weren’t happy, they knew I had wound him up and he’d taken the bait and they booed me. It was the first and only time that had happened to me at Easter Road, but I wasn’t surprised. Hibs were going out of the Scottish Cup and they’d just had a player sent off. It was a bit of a learning curve for Darren. We laugh about it now, but it did take him a couple of years to even speak to me.

“At the end of the match, though, I didn’t celebrate, I just walked off because I knew the Hibs fans were hurting. That’s football, though, you play and do your best for the team that’s paying your wages.

“In a way I was in a win-win situation of sorts. If Raith won we were in the next round and if Hibs had beaten us then the team I’ve supported all my life and managed to play for would have been through.”

Wright wasn’t the only one with mixed emotions that day, with Danny Lennon a team-mate as was fellow Hibs fan Craig Dargo alongside another former Hearts star, Davie Kirkwood, while Paul Hartley had yet to enjoy his flirtation with both Edinburgh clubs.

Conceding that “some celebrated more than others” that night, Wright believes there will be extra spice to Saturday’s fifth-round clash because the Raith team, managed by former Hearts player Grant Murray, contains a number of players with Tynecastle connections such as Jason Thomson, Liam Fox and Calum Elliot.

And as was the case 14 years ago, he feels the Fife side will comprise of the same mixture as way back then, older players wanting to show they can still cut it at the top end of the game and youngsters anxious to impress enough to earn themselves a shot at the big time.

He said: “Playing against Hibs and Hearts were the games I loved to be involved in and when I got my chance to sign for Hibs, Alex Miller told me one of the things that helped persuade him to bring me to Easter Road was that I always looked as if I enjoyed playing. He was right, I loved nothing better to play Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday.

“The fact Raith have few former Hearts players will add to the game, the Hibs fans won’t have forgotten and I’m sure they’ll soon let them know. Although Raith lost to Cowdenbeath at the weekend they’ve got themselves into a decent position in the Championship and their players, regardless of who they might have played for or support, will be looking on Saturday as a chance to prove to their manager and supporters that they can make the step up and perhaps hope to catch the eye elsewhere.

“What better place to do it than in a Scottish Cup tie in a great stadium like Easter Road. Hibs will have to be on their guard and be patient against a team which will be intent on making them work hard. But Hibs will also have those three new signings who, like their team-mates, will be equally determined to shine.”