Disgraceful, unprofessional, ordinary, insipid, complacent. Pick any insult you could hurl at a team of professional footballers, and Hibs boss Neil Lennon probably said it in a four-minute tirade against his players following this 1-1 draw at Raith Rovers.
It’s safe to say the away side were not at their best, particularly through the opening 59 minutes as the hosts led a fairly uneventful contest that was brought to life by Ryan Stevenson’s stunning opener. Only after Jason Cummings equalised with an equally impressive free-kick, did Hibs begin to show some of the quality which saw them open up a seven-point gap over Dundee United and Falkirk at the top of the table.
Those wishing to defend the Hibs players could point to the club’s record at Stark’s Park over recent years. Since their relegation from the top flight they’ve won only three of eight trips to Kirkcaldy in all competitions. However, that type of excuse is exactly the kind of attitude that sends Lennon into a rage, as he sees it as an example of the softness which has contributed to the club’s prolonged stay in the second tier.
“We were a disgrace today. I didn’t even celebrate the goal,” steamed Lennon. “That was insipid, disrespectful, ordinary. Everything we had last week was missing today for the first hour. It’s not what I want. It was unprofessional.
“We’re going for a title here. And the reason they haven’t been out of the league in three years is because they are complacent. They only think they have to turn up. Everyone keeps saying they’re a passing team, but I don’t see it. If they think they know better than me then good luck to them.
“They go win the cup, that’s great. They can go beat your Aberdeens, your Rangers, Dundee Uniteds. Then they come to Raith Rovers, they’ve got a new manager and their sleeves rolled up, and they wanted it more than us. Disgraceful.
“Some of them won’t play on Wednesday [in the cup derby replay], and if they want to know why I’ll show them the first hour. You cannot turn up to a football game and think ‘we’ll be all right today’ and I won’t accept it again.”
Hibs may not have rescued anything from the game if new Raith Rovers boss John Hughes hadn’t made a curious tactical change just before the hour mark. Raith had taken the lead through Stevenson, as the former Hearts midfielder controlled a clearance 25 yards out, steadied himself and sent a sweetly struck half-volley crashing into the back of the net. They looked in control of the game before the ex-Hibs boss decided to use all three of his substitutes at once, changing the formation and removing his goalscorer.
The switch visibly unsettled the hosts and Hibs took immediate advantage. Ross Matthews brought down Cummings on the edge of the area and, after dusting himself down, the striker took the free-kick himself, curling it into the corner of the net.
“We changed it, went for it, and it probably put us on the back foot a little bit. I take responsibility for that,” said Hughes. “You’re looking for substitutes to give you an impact, but we lacked a bit of street craft as well.”
Raith would have counted themselves ahead on points until that moment, but Hibs, buoyed by the goal, dominated for the next 20 minutes. Liam Fontaine almost added a second with a header inside the six-yard box that was saved by Conor Brennan, before Cummings saw an effort squirm past the post after he’d reacted quickest to a wayward header from the otherwise excellent Jean Yves-M’voto.
Raith managed to gain some composure in the closing stages and created a couple of half chances. Ross Callachan shot into the goalkeeper’s arms from 22 yards, while M’voto had an injury-time header drift well wide.