Hibs under self-inflicted pressure

Sam Stanton fires a header wide of target and his miss, along with a host of others, were acutely felt
Sam Stanton fires a header wide of target and his miss, along with a host of others, were acutely felt
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Only champions Hearts have scored more often than Hibs this season but it’s their profligacy in front of goal which has resulted in the Easter Road outfit trailing their Capital neighbours by a yawning 26 points.

Time and again Alan Stubbs’ players have failed to turn their dominance into points, a trait which has troubled them from the early days of the campaign and cost them dearly.

Too often opposition sides have been allowed to escape with a point or, as was the case yet again at Stark’s Park, all three despite having been battered from pillar to post.

Raith Rovers once more found themselves the beneficiaries of Hibs’ largesse but so too have the likes of Falkirk, Queen of the South and Alloa Athletic, vital points dropped, the latest slip-up meaning that while Stubbs’ side still hold onto second place in the Championship they do so from Rangers only on a goal difference now trimmed to two goals – and they have a game in hand.

How different might that scenario have looked had Hibs managed to turn chances created in a whole host of matches into goals, the statistics from their trip across the Forth showing that while they had 20 shots during the 90 minutes only five of them were on target – a somewhat dismal proportion given Grant Murray’s team managed just six efforts but got four of them between the sticks.

And two of them counted, Mark Stewart volleying Jason Thomson’s cross beyond Mark Oxley and Lewis Vaughan bundling the ball home after the Hibs goalkeeper could only parry Ryan Conroy’s late shot, the Raith pair taking their tally for the week to seven between them as Rovers’ fading hopes of a play-off place suddenly brightened with three straight wins at home.

Raith, of course, had twice managed to sneak away from Easter Road with a point, Christian Nade having notched their equaliser on both occasions and it would have come as no surprise that the former Hearts striker had a hand in setting up Saturday’s winner, rendering Fraser Fyvie’s earlier strike worthless.

Head coach Stubbs, however, found it difficult to criticise his players who had responded to having their 15 match unbeaten run ended by Rangers six days earlier with a first-half performance which threatened to match the blustery wind which swept across the ground by blowing Raith away.

Dylan McGeouch and Dominique Malonga had both stung the palms of Rovers goalkeeper David McGurn before Malonga’s delightful touch found the overlapping David Gray whose low shot struck the far post.

Seven minutes in and it looked only a matter of time as McGeouch, Fyvie and Scott Allan’s movement and desire to roam around the midfield virtually unchecked had the Fife side pinned down inside their own half.

Chances went begging: Gray’s header from Lewis Stevenson’s deep cross drifted inches wide, Malonga got his head to the right-back’s cross only for the ball to crash back off the bar and then Thomson before bouncing to safety and Sam Stanton fluffed his lines when presented with a clear sight of goal from the marauding Gray’s cutback.

While admitting his side had enjoyed a slice or two of luck along the way, Raith boss Murray said: “When you come up against good teams you have to defend well and we did.

“We’d been in that position before against Hibs twice at Easter Road but I think our lads deserve a lot of credit. You need a bit of luck in football, Hibs are a very good side and there’s a good chance they will finish second in the league but I was delighted with the effort and commitment of my players to keep going.”

Stubbs, likewise, was happy with what he had seen from his players but that inability to turn possession and chances into goals had once again proved fatal, Gray finding himself all alone inside the Raith penalty area but unable to beat McGurn at a time when a second goal for Hibs would, surely, have proved conclusive.

The Hibs boss said: “It’s a difficult one to explain. It felt a bit like a smash and grab. You can see the amount of effort the players have put in, the way they have tried to play and the chances created. I cannot criticise them but the only thing I can probably say is that the positions we have got into I would like to see (a) picking the right pass out or (b) the movement has to be better in the box.

“You look back on it and think ‘how did we lose it’, but that’s football unfortunately. When you are on top in a game you have to put your chances away.

“We just did not put away the number of chances we created so from that point of view that was disappointing. But overall our football was decent.”

Having seen a lead over Rangers which could have been extended to nine points vanish in the space of a week the pressure would now seem to be on Hibs with just six games remaining.

However, Stubbs – who gave striker Farid El Alagui, pictured left, his first top-team appearance since he injured his Achilles in August by bringing him on as a sub – insisted there will be no panic, saying: “That’s what happens at this time of the season. You have to deal with it, it’s the same for all teams whether they are at the top or the bottom.

“There’s no point talking about pressure, it’s a nice pressure because it means you have a chance of winning something [promotion]. I would rather have pressure at the top than at the bottom, I will take that any day of the week.

“The players are disappointed and rightly so, they put a lot into the game.

“But if we play like that from now to the end of the season then I know what side of the results we are going to be more often than not.”