THIS was just a third home victory of 2013 for Hibernian, but the dominance with which they achieved it suggests they will have an altogether better record in the new year.
Scorers: Hanlon (12) Cairney (77) Stevenson (90)
Referee: W Collum
Kilmarnock made a substantial contribution to an entertaining game, but they lacked Hibs’ cutting edge up front and also failed to match the solidity at the back which Terry Butcher’s side now boasts.
Paul Hanlon gave Hibs an early lead in what was his team’s third successive goal by a defender from a corner-kick, and although more than an hour of playing time elapsed before a Paul Cairney strike made the points secure, the outcome of the match was only rarely in doubt. Lewis Stevenson’s late strike was a merited reward for an impressive afternoon from the midfielder, and produced a result that reflected the home team’s superiority over the piece.
After their Boxing Day victories against Ross County and Hearts respectively, it was no surprise that both Terry Butcher and Allan Johnston went with unchanged line-ups. That meant Jordon Forster, normally a centre-half, was at right-back for Hibs, and given the task of blunting the threat from in-form Kilmarnock winger Chris Johnston, who was on target in his side’s 4-0 Boxing Day win at Tynecastle.
Forster had little to do at first, as the Hibs attack began the game strongly. James Collins fired a shot wide in the opening minutes, then his striking colleague Jason Cummings forced Craig Samson into a low save.
Just after Forster had been forced into action, clearing in the box before Johnston could seize on a loose ball,
Collins came close to claiming the opening goal, as Samson only just reached his well-placed header to turn it round the post for a corner.
That delivery from the right came to nothing, but a minute later another corner, this time from the left, did pay dividends. Cairney delivered the ball deep into the box, and Hanlon timed his run to perfection to head home from two yards out.
A Cummings cut-back presented Stevenson with a good chance to double the lead after 20 minutes, but Samson saved well from the midfielder. Minutes later, however, the goalkeeper had the woodwork to thank when a Cummings effort came back off the bar and Collins missed the rebound.
The match was by no means one-way traffic, but the difference lay in Kilmarnock’s inability to create openings when they had possession. Hibs, on the other hand, looked dangerous every time they got into the opposition half. It took the visitors all of half an hour to force Ben Williams into a save, and even that was hardly worthy of the name, as he got down in slow motion to gather a limp shot from Kris Boyd. Hibs should then have been awarded a penalty after Cairney slid the ball past Jeroen Tesselaar only to be brought to ground, but referee Willie Collum indicated that the Dutchman had got the ball.
Five minutes later there was another appeal for a spot-kick as Collins went down with a defender either side of him, but this time the official appeared on surer ground when allowing play to go on.
Michael Gardyne found the sidenetting with a shot on the run as half-time approached, but even so, Kilmarnock were still fortunate to go in at the break only a goal behind. They continued to ride their luck after the break, with Samson doing well to keep out a Stevenson shot, then gladly watching as another shot from the same player flew past after a quick break out of defence by Collins.
But after that bright start to the second half, play became disjointed, with both sides losing their shape. Johnston, ably shadowed by Forster, had faded from the contest, and Boyd had virtually no supply to work with.
Kilmarnock still had a chance of taking something from the game, but that hope was snuffed out a dozen minutes from time when Cairney got Hibs’ second. A Ryan McGivern cross from the left was not cleared properly, and the winger had time to look up and pick his spot. His low, precise left-foot shot from the right of the box found the far corner of the net, just evading Samson’s outstretched hand.
The game was up for Kilmarnock at that point, but there was more to come from Hibs. After being just off target earlier in the second half, Stevenson made no mistake with a low shot from the left of the box in the 90th minute after Collins had found him in space.
Hibernian: Williams, Forster, Nelson, Hanlon, McGivern, Cairney (Tudur Jones 86), Robertson, Craig, Stevenson, Cummings (Handling 73), Collins. Subs not used: Murdoch, Maybury, Stanton, Zoubir, Caldwell.
Kilmarnock: Samson, Clohessy, Ashcroft, Pascali, Tesselaar, Slater, Irvine, MacKenzie, Gardyne (Winchester 60), Johnston, Boyd. Subs not used: Reguero, McKeown, Muirhead. Nicholson, Clingan, Gros.