Alan Stubbs declared Hibs’ Premiership play-off quarter-final with Raith Rovers “wide open” after a second-half goal from substitute Harry Panayiotou gave the Kirkcaldy side a 1-0 first-leg advantage at Stark’s Park last night.
The Easter Road head coach was left exasperated by a host of missed chances from his team, with top scorer Jason Cummings spurning the best of them when he lobbed over the bar while clean through on goal in the first half. Stubbs also lamented a couple of penalty claims which were waved away by referee Kevin Clancy, as well as a bobbly playing surface, which caused problems for both sets of players.
“We had the clearer chances in the game so it was disappointing not to take at least one of them,” he said. “We conceded from a set piece, which we knew was a big part of Raith’s game. We lost a little bit of concentration and that was disappointing as we didn’t deserve to lose the game.
“We created some decent opportunities on a difficult pitch, the ball was bobbling up when players were setting themselves to shoot and it wasn’t a good pitch to play on because of that. At Jason’s chance, the ball bounced probably higher than it should, but he still should have scored.”
Stubbs was irked by the officials, particularly standside linesman Graham Chambers. The main source of his annoyance was a penalty appeal which was waved away after Raith’s Lewis Toshney appeared to block a Fraser Fyvie with his arm. He also felt a spot-kick could have been awarded when Anthony Stokes was shoved over by Rory McKeown.
“There would be too many bleeps on your tape, or stars in your quotes if I said what I really thought,” he said. “The first one, the handball, wasn’t even a decision – it beggars belief, I’m afraid to say. Given the importance of the game, officials really shouldn’t be getting them wrong.
“I’ve got to be careful what I say, but the linesman didn’t have a very good night on my side. We had a few things from the near-side linesman that didn’t come and he tried to laugh them off. That disappointed me as much as anything. It’s frustrating.”
Stubbs is relieved that Hibs will get the chance to keep their promotion bid alive on an improved playing surface when the second leg takes place at Easter Road this Saturday lunchtime.
“It’s wide open,” he said. “We go to Easter Road and we’ll be able to get the ball down and play more. The pitch is the same for both teams. It’s not an excuse but you could see how difficult it was. It’s half-time and it’s become clearer what we have to do – score a couple of goals.”
Raith manager Ray McKinnon, who has emerged as the front-runner for the Dundee United job following Mixu Paatelainen’s departure, hopes his team can prey on any anxiety in the home support at Easter Road on Saturday.
“Hibs will have to open up and come at us on Saturday, which may leave them a bit more vulnerable,” he said. “I think pressure is a funny thing. Some people deal with it, some people don’t. We’ll find out how Hibs deal with it on Saturday.
“It will be a nervy place, Easter Road, because I’m pretty sure they don’t want to spend another year in this division. They’re a big club, with a good manager and good players so they will be desperate. They might get a wee bit edgy if they don’t get it all their own way on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, McKinnon refused to be drawn on speculation surrounding the Tannadice vacancy.
“I’m totally focused on this job,” he said. “You can ask questions, I’ll just bat them away. My focus is on Raith Rovers and trying to get into the Premiership.”