A DRAW was all Kilmarnock needed and the moment Kris Boyd’s 43rd-minute effort was drilled into Ben Williams’ net, there was little likelihood of them having to settle for anything less.
Scorers: Kilmarnock - Boyd (44)
Not against a Hibs side who can’t score goals.
They managed just 31 in the league all season. Only three of them came in the final ten games, only two after the bottom six sides were cut
adrift. At that stage they were seventh in the league and it was acknowledged that one win would probably be enough to keep them out of danger. They couldn’t even manage that.
While Hibs continued to let themselves and their fans down, Kilmarnock were able to rely on the one man who has undoubtedly been the difference between 11th place and ninth place for the Rugby Park side, with Boyd’s winner yesterday his 22nd goal of the season.
“Kris is a massive player for us,” admitted his manager Allan Johnston. “Given half a chance he’s going to score goals. He’s played through the pain barrier as well, he’s been struggling for about a month. He’s going for an operation, a tidy-up on his ankle. That shows the character and determination to do well.
“We’re going to have to do our very best to keep him. I am sure there will be lots of clubs wanting him but he is a Kilmarnock lad. I know he’s happy here and we can only try our best. You’ve got to keep your best players.”
If only Hibs had done more to keep hold of Leigh Griffiths when they had the chance. Last summer Wolves were willing to accept a small fee but having failed to fork out then, the decision to let him go could come at huge cost now.
He weighed in with 28 goals last season. The entire Hibs squad has managed just ten more than that in all competitions without him and even against the worst defence in the Premiership, they still couldn’t find a way through.
“I was quite relaxed until Liam Craig hit the bar near the end then you’re thinking they’ll come back into it,” said Johnston. “But the boys were throwing themselves in front of everything and we deserved it overall. We now have to push on as a club. The debt situation has been sorted as well so hopefully we can move forward. This gives us something to build on.”
If the Ayrshire club are wrapping up their season on a high, the capital side are struggling for any positives. They have had just one win in their last 19 games. More pertinent yesterday was the fact they have only managed to come back from a goal down to secure victory in the league twice this season and those escape acts occurred away back in August and September last year.
The fact one of them was against Johnston’s team was small succour to a Hibs support who, once again, had witnessed their team enjoy the greater domination both territorially and in terms of possession but could not find a cutting edge. It was a familiar story and it helped settle the visitors while prompting some desperation in the home ranks.
Hibs had refused to have the game broadcast live in the hope of attracting a bigger crowd and more vociferous backing. They got both and the players reacted well in the opening stages. Manager Terry Butcher tried yet another reshuffle and opted for James Collins and Paul Heffernan up front. They chased and harried, they pressed and agitated a Kilmarnock defence that was, to be charitable, haphazard, slow and unorganised. But what they couldn’t do was deliver the goal the Easter Road side needed to offer them some genuine belief that they could stave off the horror of a play-off.
Butcher now needs to find some miracle answers to the questions their Championship challengers will pose when they face up first in ten days’ time.
It won’t be easy, though. They threw everything they had at this one and had efforts cleared off the line and denied by the bar and,
initially, in this winner takes all situation they looked more assured than their rivals.
They got the ball up front and they penned Killie in but the one lesson they still haven’t learned is that all the pressure in the world means nothing without penetration.
In the opening minutes Hibs had won corner after corner and Jordon Forster’s strike from distance was headed away by Vitalijs Maksimenko. Scott Roberston then forced Craig Samson into an 18th-minute save and the same player was denied again when Barry Nicholson cleared his header off the line.
Kilmarnock were aided by the switch of Manuel Pascali to the middle of the defence. He has all the finesse of a raging bull but he is a committed competitor and was resolute at the back, getting his body in the way whenever it was necessary.
He was involved in one penalty claim with Michael Nelson but that was waved aside as was another shout at the other end when Boyd tumbled between two defenders.
Boyd had already had one effort chalked off for offside but when Ross Barbour played in a ball for him two minutes from the interval, he found himself and leathered his strike beyond Ben Williams, giving his Hibs counterparts a perfect demonstration in clinical finishing.
Having dominated the first half, the home side were lacking in the second while Kilmarnock were buoyed by their lead. Hibs added Jason Cummings and Alex Harris as attacking options and if Liam Craig had found the net rather than the bar with ten minutes to go, it might have set up a nervy finale.
With two games to go, Killie knew they needed at least four points. They got six. That ability to see themselves over the line, along with a proven goalscorer, is why they will stay up while Hibs now have two games left to salvage their sorry season.