Gary Locke believes talk of Hibs’ demise has been overblown and the Raith Rovers manager is preparing for a backlash from Neil Lennon’s team in Saturday’s Stark’s Park showdown.
The Easter Road side head to Kirkcaldy with criticism from their fans and manager ringing in their ears after a run of four games without a win. However, Locke refuses to entertain the notion that the Championship title favourites are in crisis and expects them to rediscover their sure-footed early-season form, which brought five consecutive league wins, soon enough. The former Hearts boss just hopes his side can at least prolong Hibs’ slump for another week.
“We have to prepare for the possibility that they will come to Stark’s Park and click into gear,” Locke told the Evening News. “Earlier in the season, they were blowing teams away, so we’ve got to prepare with that in mind. They’ll make a few changes to the team that played on Saturday and I expect a really difficult game. Without a doubt, they’ll snap out of it. It’s such a tough league that every team will have periods where they lose a few games in a row but Hibs have got quality right through their squad so I’m sure they’ll turn it around.
“It’s four games they’ve not won but two of those were draws. It’s not like they’re losing every week, but because it’s Hibs people probably look at it more than they would with other teams. I don’t pay much attention to it. They’ve had a sticky patch with a couple of indifferent results but I fully expect them to be up the top come the end of the season.”
Raith, who have also had a form dip in recent games, can go within two points of Hibs if they win. Locke said: “We’re hoping to get a victory to get ourselves closer to them. It’s important that our players show the form and consistency they were showing earlier in the season. It’s been frustrating for myself and Darren that we’ve been a wee bit inconsistent in the last couple of games. If we can get back to what we were doing at the start of the season, I’m confident we can do well on Saturday.”
Locke, who insists his impressive record against Hibs as a manager counts for nothing on Saturday, knows he and fellow Hearts icon Rudi Skacel will be the subject of flak from the away end. “As always, I’ll be braced for it,” he said. “With the background I’ve got, a few Hibs fans will no doubt give me a bit of stick, but it’s generally good-natured. I enjoy that side of things. The fact me and Rudi are involved will probably add a bit of spice to it but once the game starts, you don’t worry about what people in the stand are saying.”
Veteran attacker Skacel, who scored twice for Hearts against Hibs in the 2012 Scottish Cup final, is set to retain his place on Saturday after starting Rovers’ last two games. “Rudi’s coming along fine,” reported Locke of his marquee summer signing. “It took him a wee bit of time to get up to speed and he started on the bench but he’s played the last few games and his fitness and sharpness is getting a lot better. He’s now got a level of fitness where he can start regularly. He’s not scored yet but you can see he’s desperate to get a goal. Over the course of the season, I’m pretty sure he’ll get plenty goals because he’s still got loads of quality.”
Raith will be without on-loan Hearts defender Liam Smith, who is sidelined by a minor injury.