Hibernian 2 - 1 Kilmarnock: Hibs start to see benefit of fiscal prudence
COULD Rod Petrie’s parsimony be paying off at last? The keeper of the Hibernian pursestrings has been criticised by fans of the club who see no point in being close to the top of the balance-sheet league while near the bottom of the SPL.
Hibernian - Letheren (14 og), Griffiths (45 pen)
Kilmarnock - Racchi (32)
Referee: S McLean
But, with Scottish football’s economy in its current sorry state, the chairman’s cautious financial approach is at least helping Hibs make modest progress.
While many of his competitors have been forced to cut back, Pat Fenlon has had some funds with which to augment his squad. The improvement was much-needed, and the sums spent have been far from vast. But, in the context of the relative decline elsewhere in the league, that little bit extra has gone a long way.
It is too early to say exactly how far Fenlon’s team will improve, but there appears little danger of another prolonged flirtation with relegation. A top-six finish is a realistic target and, given the poverty of play elsewhere, there is a chance they could make the top four.
Their win on Saturday elevated them to second and, while there was a touch of fortune about the result, there was also ample evidence of how exactly they have got better this season. For a start, there was the sight of Hibs midfielders winning 50-50 balls. Paul Cairney and Gary Deegan have added beef to this department, and Jorge Claros, a big disappointment when he arrived at the club, looks far more assertive now he has support.
The back four also looks more solid, with Tim Clancy having solved the problem at right-back. Left-back remains a doubt – Alan Maybury again played here, and Ryan McGivern has only arrived on loan until the turn of the year – but, on the whole, the defence is significantly better than it was last season.
Then, there were few occasions on which the Hibs defence was able to preserve a lead throughout the second half. Here, they did so with a fair measure of composure, albeit against a Kilmarnock side who were lacking in invention, with substitute Chris Johnston being the only player to pose any different problems.
At the other end, Leigh Griffiths put in another fine performance before an ankle knock ended his afternoon. He always looked lively in open play and again got on the scoresheet, though whether he should be credited with one goal or two remains a matter of debate.
Griffiths was certainly the last Hibs player to touch the ball before it crossed the line for the opening goal of the game, as none of his team-mates was close to connecting with the corner he delivered from the right. But, while it was a well-flighted effort, it looked to be heading towards or possibly beyond the far post until Kilmarnock goalkeeper Kyle Letheren flapped at it and diverted it into his own net.
The final touch was actually off Rory McKeown’s head but the defender was either on or behind the line and did nothing to change the direction of the ball. Letheren did, which is why this reporter would credit him with the goal, even if the officials decided to award it to Griffiths. There was no doubt about Hibs’ second, however, as Griffiths struck the penalty just inside the right post and Letheren did not even get a finger to it. The doubt was whether the spot-kick should have been given in the first place, with the goalkeeper being booked for the vehemence of his protests after he thought Paul Cairney had dived.
Fenlon and Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels offered conflicting views of the incident later, but what seems certain is that Ryan O’Leary did not have to lunge in on Cairney. Had the defender simply forced the Hibs player wide, there would have been less chance of Cairney’s either getting a shot on target or going to ground in a way that convinced referee Steven McLean he had been fouled.
Kilmarnock’s goal was sandwiched between those two Hibs strikes, arising when Ben Williams made a poor fist of a cross from the left. The clearance went only as far as Danny Racchi at the far post, and the midfielder finished well with a low drive.
The Ayrshire side should have equalised earlier than that, as within minutes of the opener, Borja Perez was put through on goal. The Spanish striker had ample time to pick his spot but, in the end, took far too long, allowing Williams to close him down and block his shot.
Kilmarnock would rue that miss, as nothing so clear-cut presented itself after the break. For their part, Hibs would see that incident as just one example of how they remain a work in progress, with quite a few kinks still to be ironed out. Still, at a time when many clubs are fielding more error-prone sides, any team which only makes one or two glaring mistakes per game should thrive.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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