A home draw against a side from a lower league, Hibs couldn’t have asked for much more, but yet there was that tinge of anxiety around Easter Road.
Managerless and with only three wins in 16 Ladbrokes Premiership matches, this fifth-round Scottish Cup tie was, as Raith Rovers boss John McGlynn had pointed out, a potential for a giant killing.
Almost exactly five years earlier, Raith had crossed the Forth and inflicted a defeat after which Hibs dropped like a stone and, eventually, out of the top flight. However, other than a suspicious package discovered in the ground’s South Stand before kick-off which prompted a call for the bomb squad to confirm it was harmless, there were no scares this time round, goals in the first half from Daryl Horgan and Vykintas Slivka followed by a third from Marc McNulty ensured Euan Murray’s towering header 15 minutes from time was no more than a consolation for the League One team.
It was McNulty’s first since arriving on loan from Reading, one of three signings on deadline day made despite Neil Lennon having left, the striker admitting the caretaker duo of Eddie May and Grant Murray, the latter steering Raith to victory all those years ago, had made the players aware of the potential pitfalls they faced.
He said: “Every game you play is difficult. This was one we could have made it easy or difficult because it was all about whether we turned up.
“Eddie and Grant said that. They told us that if we went out and applied ourselves as we can then we should win the game comfortably and I think the first half we did that.
“Credit to Raith, there were periods in the second half when they put us under pressure and it turned into a tough game, but luckily we had the three-goal lead and that gave us a bit of a cushion. It was a great feeling and hopefully that is me up and running. As striker you get confidence from scoring goals so the sooner you get your first one, the better.
May revealed that his fourth game in charge would be his last with Lennon’s successor – former Oxford United and Portsmouth manager Michael Appleton is favourite to land the role – due to be appointed before Saturday’s league match against Hamilton but, insisted McNulty, Hibs have done the right thing in taking their time and with a new man at the helm he believes there will be an upswing in the club’s fortunes.
The 26-year-old said: “Every club needs a manager in place but I think the club have done the right thing and not jumped into something. They have had a lot of applications and they have taken their time to make sure they do what is right for the club and if that means a slightly longer process so they can interview anyone they need to and get the right man, then so be it. That is the most important thing.”
It is a situation which McNulty has faced before. “It’s not been strange for me because when I came in it was Eddie and Grant and so nothing has really changed for me.
“It has just been a case of coming and and trying to impress them. They were the ones picking the team and luckily I got in the team and got a goal.
“But in my first three years at Sheffield there were three different managers and I’ve been on loan at two different clubs.
“That’s football, especially in England where I think they change mangers quite a lot. It’s not anything new to me and maybe it can give the boys a wee kick up the backside because now everybody has to impress whoever comes in and it keeps us all on our toes.”
If Raith stunned Hibs five years ago then every Easter Road supporter remembers it was a victory at Stark’s Park two years later which ended with Alan Stubbs’ side shattering that 114-year Scottish Cup jinx, an omen perhaps?
“God, that would be great,” said McNulty when asked what it would mean to see his loan spell finish at the end of the season with him a cup winner.
“Obviously being a local lad I have a lot of mates who are Hibs fnas and they don’t let me forget about the Scottish Cup. It was great to get this win and get into the next round.
“It’s brilliant for the fans, the players and the whole club and it will be exciting to see who we get into the next round.”
McNulty may have been plying his trade in England when Hibs won the Cup but, he disclosed, he got caught up in the hysteria which gripped the city. He said: “We had finished our season and I was back home so I watched it in the local with a few mates. It was a good day – from what I can remember. On the Sunday we went to the cup parade. We came down from the top of Leith Walk and all my mates were walking the streets singing the Hibs songs. “It was just great to see how happy they all were.
“It was a wee taster of what it could potentially be like if we could get as far as the final and win it. If we could do that again it would be brilliant.”