BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
RAY McKinnon has questioned whether Hibernian have the ‘bottle’ to handle the nerves and the pressure Raith Rovers have heaped on them ahead of tomorrow’s play-off encounter.
Harry Panayiotou’s second-half header in Wednesday’s first-leg has given the Stark’s Park outfit a narrow 1-0 advantage for the return at what could well be a nervy Easter Road.
McKinnon insists Hibs simply have to win promotion back to the Premiership this season and is adamant that reality will ensure the anxiety levels are ratcheted up a notch or two for the capital club as the teams battle for the right to face Falkirk in the semi-finals.
By contrast, the Rovers manager, who has been installed as favourite to take over at former club Dundee United, believes he and his players can revel in being the unfancied outsiders and a carefree attitude that is the polar opposite to the tension he believes will grip their opponents.
“I think (Wednesday’s result) makes life very nervous for Hibs. There isn’t any doubt about that,” he said as he received the Championship manager of the month award for April.
“They are a massive club, they won’t want to spend another season in this league. That is the reality of it.
“For us, this is a bonus. All we have to do is go out and try our best.
“The pressure is on them in the second-leg and you don’t know how pressure is going to affect their players.
“They might bottle it, or it might inspire them. You never know.”
Easter Road has witnessed plenty of tense occasions in recent times as Hibs have struggled at the bottom of the Premiership and then to try and return to the top-flight. Not all have exactly gone according to plan.
An apparent tendency to succumb to late sucker punches, including during March’s League Cup final defeat to Ross County and in the recent 2-2 draw with Falkirk, has also led to some attaching to such scenarios the phrase ‘Hibsed it’.
McKinnon does not buy into there being a problem particular to tomorrow’s opponents, but is still eager to test out their resilience under the stresses and strains of the expectations that could weigh heavily on Hibs.
“I think there’s no doubt about it,” he added, “they’re going to come out on Saturday with all guns blazing, aren’t they?
“We have to concentrate on keeping them quiet from the outset. If we do that, there is no doubt that the fans will get nervous – so will their players, so will their management team.
“Then we reach a period where decision making becomes crucial. How they handle it is going to be a test for them.”
Asked about perceptions of Hibs having a soft mentality, he went on: “To be honest, I’ve never used that, because I actually don’t believe in it.
“I think it’s something people have created. From the outside, people can say ‘they’re weak, blah-blah-blah’ and talk about ‘doing a Hibs’.
“I just think pressure is pressure, and there is pressure on that club. That’s just a fact.
“They are a massive, massive club with a great squad, an expensive squad – and they need to be playing Premiership football.”