A BLISTERING strike by Sammy Clingan looked like being enough to give Kilmarnock all three points last night, but Hibernian claimed a draw in an incredible late scoring burst which saw three goals scored in the space of two minutes.
Scorers: Hibernian - McGivern (85), Griffiths (88); Kilmarnock - Clingan (46), Winchester (86)
Referee: J McKendrick
After a forgettable and largely even first half, Clingan’s goal separated the teams for almost 40 minutes. But, in a crazy passage oif play which provided more entertainment than the rest of the match put together, Hibs equalised, fell behind, and then got back on level terms again.
The teams meet again at Rugby Park in the Scottish Cup on Sunday, but it is hard to see this outcome – and in particular that passage of play – as being in any way a trusty indicator of what will happen then.
The absence of Paul Hanlon forced Pat Fenlon to rethink the Hibs defence. Alan Maybury came in at right-back in the only personnel change from the team which had begun Sunday’s draw at Tannadice, Lewis Stevenson switched to his more familiar role of left-back, and Ryan McGivern moved infield to partner captain James McPake in the heart of the home defence.
Ryan O’Leary, who has been linked with Hibs, dropped out of Kenny Shiels’s starting line-up, with Rory McKeown replacing him. Kris Boyd joined O’Leary on the bench for his first inclusion in a Kilmarnock team since rejoining on a short-term deal.
The match began tamely, the only notable incidents in the opening ten minutes being a couple of weak penalty claims by Hibs. The home team had the upper hand in those opening stages, but on the badly cut-up pitch found it difficult to string passing moves together.
Leigh Griffiths opted for a more direct approach with nearly quarter of an hour played, firing in a shot from the left edge of the penalty box which Cammy Bell was well positioned to save.
After producing that first on-target effort of the evening, the striker then turned provider with a corner from the right which evaded the visiting defence and was also just beyond the reach of McPake as he slid into the six-yard area in a bid to connect.
Non-existent as an attacking force up to then, Kilmarnock then came within inches of opening the scoring direct from a free-kick awarded for a foul by Scott Robertson on James Dayton. Clingan’s delivery had Ben Williams beaten, but came clattering back off the left post before being cleared.
That prompted a brighter spell by Kilmarnock, the highlight of which was a shot on the run from Ross Barbour which Williams punched to safety.
The ease with which the Hibs defence had been cut open to lay on the chance for Barbour was an encouraging omen for the visitors, who had the better of the contest for the last quarter of an hour before the interval. James Dayton’s trickery on the left was a menace to Maybury on occasion, but the winger was starved of the ball during the closing moments of the half when it seemed wiser to give him the opportunity to have a few runs at the defence. After such an uneventful 45 minutes, there appeared little hope of a dynamic start to the second half.
But within a minute of the restart the game burst into life as Clingan fired his team into the lead.
There was no obvious threat to the Hibs goal when the midfielder took possession, but that changed seconds later when he unleashed a 30-yard shot which flew into the top right corner of the net.
It was a similar strike to the goal scored by Griffiths at the weekend, albeit from a more central position, and it put the onus on the Hibs striker and his attack-minded team-mates to start showing a bit more urgency.
The striker did exactly that just before the hour mark, but his shot from the left hit the side-netting, By that time David Wotherspoon had come on for Matt Done as Fenlon tried to inject more drive into his team, but if Hibs were to get back on terms, Griffiths still looked the most likely source.
With 20 minutes to play, he unleashed a shot from the right which was just off target, with Bell apparently beaten. Kilmarnock were still giving as good as they got, however, and minutes later McKeown came within an ace of doubling their lead as he shot from the right only to see the attempt hit off the inside of the post before rebounding into play.
After Kilmarnock put the ball out of play to allow the injured Barbour to receive treatment, Griffiths incurred the wrath of the visiting defence by playing on and shooting when play restarted with a throw-in instead of giving possession back to them. Otherwise it had been a very good-tempered match – perhaps too much so from Fenlon’s point of view, as his team could have done with being more assertive. Wotherspoon hit the sidenetting with a snapshot 15 minutes from time, but Hibs were unable to mount any sustained pressure.
Then, with time running out, McGivern snatched the equaliser, sending a Griffiths corner into the net with a glancing header.
When Winchester out his team back into the lead a minute later with an exquisitely curled shot from 15 yards, Kilmarnock looked like having secured the points again. But within less than a minute, a goalmouth scramble ended with Griffiths shooting home from a few yards to claim the point which keeps Hibs above the Ayrshire team.
Hibs: Maybury, McPake, McGivern, Stevenson, Done (Wotherspoon 57), Taiwo (Doyle 77), Claros, Robertson, Cairney (Harris 70), Griffiths. Subs not used: Murdoch, Deegan, Handling, Donaldson.
Kilmarnock: Bell, Fowler, Sissoko, Tesselaar, McKeown, Gros, Clingan, Barbour, Winchester, Dayton (Sheridan 88), Heffernan. Subs not used: Letheren, Hay, O’Leary, Boyd, Ibrahim, O’Hara.
Hibernian: Williams, Maybury, McPake, McGivern, Stevenson, Done, Robertson, Claros, Taiwo, Cairney, Griffiths. Subs: Murdoch, Deegan, Doyle, Wotherspoon, Handling, Harris, Donaldson.
Kilmarnock: Bell, Barbour, McKeown, Sissoko, Tesselaar, Winchester, Fowler, Clingan, Dayton, Heffernan, Gros. Subs: Letheren, Hay, O’Leary, Boyd, Sheridan, Ibrahim, O’Hara.