AFTER much debate about whether Hibernian manager manager Pat Fenlon would or wouldn’t fixate on the Scottish Cup final a week on Sunday, the Irishman elected to adopt the full no-risk policy with his team.
Scorers: Kilmarnock - O’Hara 57; Hibs - Robertson 10, Doyle 86, 90
Referee: C Charleston
Yet an Eoin Doyle double gave the Irishman a morale-boosting win to follow-up derby victory over Hearts and fenlon left Ayrshire with an injury-free squad ahead of the showdown with champions Celtic at Hampden
Fenlon left no fewer than seven of his likely Cup final starting line-up out of his starting eleven last night. Top scorer Leigh Griffiths, goalkeeper Ben Williams, Jorge Claros, Tom Taiwo and James McPake were not even stripped, while Alex Harris and Ryan McGivern were given substitute outings to keep them ticking over.
The result itself was largely incidental, even if Fenlon has been spinning the importance of making progress from last season by finishing seventh. Mind you, the Easter Road manager would be chuffed that, having sent on Harris for the final half hour, the young winger supplied the defence splitting cross that Doyle slid in to meet four minutes from time to ensure that the Leith club lapped up a win to follow on from the delightful derby success on Sunday. And the Irish forward still had time to supply a second in added time, lashing in from 14 yards.
The encounter at Rugby Park last night was always going to have strange feel to it, having been previously abandoned a week past Sunday due to the tragic collapse and subsequent death of Kilmarnock supporter Jim Haswell, who was at the forefront of all minds.
A minute’s applause was held in honour of the 48-year-old whose existence had so revolved around the Ayrshire club that he had only missed one home game in 17 years. His family were guests of the Rugby Park club and manager Kenny Shiels had declared that he wanted the match to be a celebration of a life tragically cut short.
It was never likely to be an occasion where the home club and their team could do more than show respect for one of their most faithful followers, which is what Shiels also said the night was to be about. Football cannot be expected to truly serve the feelings engendered by bereavement when that football is a bottom-six, end-of-season game, wherein the two combatants feature a number of young fringe performers. Yet, the 3,198 crowd did produce a poignant moment with a sustained round of applause to acknowledge the 54th minute – the point at which Jim Haswell suffered his heart-attack ten days ago.
Maybe, it was just a coincidence but, in the minutes immediately following that tribute, Kilmarnock were a side suddenly full of urgency and ideas, these two facets wholly absent as they made no impression an opening period that brought only one notable moment in the form of a Scott Robertson goal, the midfielder bundling in a Jordon Forster flick-on from a Lewis Stevenson free-kick.
In the 57th minute, the home side succeeded in cancelling that out when young Lee Ashcroft netted his first goal for the club when he rose to head in a Lee Johnston corner. Suddenly, Shiels men were with it and looking the team most likely to score.
They could not occupy that role in a first period and maybe the circumstances surrounding the game subdued or inhibited them. Their cause wasn’t helped with Ross Barbour requiring to be removed from the field on a stretcher just aftet he half hour mark, the defrender replaced by Garry Hay. The midfielder was one of a clutch of experienced players that Shiels reserved for the bench from the off, with Kris Boyd remaining there throughout and Cillian Sheridan only appearing late on.
The introduction of Borja Perez for the ineffectual Rabiu Perez in the 55th minute seemed to change the complexion of the encounter for a spell for the Ayrshire club with the Spaniard thumping the base of the post with a fine effort shortly after his team had equalised. Towards the close, Hibs seemed to have largely lost interest in doing more than collecting the point that would keep them snugly in seventh place and their late burst was as clinical as it was unexpected.
Hibs league wins in 2013 were as rare as hen’s teeth until recent weeks. Fenlon had claimed pre-match that his team now had momentum following the derby victory at Tynecastle which was their first in the league in four years. The fact that he could then practically send out a second team four days later and once more achieve the desired result may have folk down Leith way daring to think about beating their century-old Cup bugbear.
Kilmarnock: Bell, Barbour (Fowler 34), O’Hara, Tesselaar, Slater (Sheridan 70), McKenzie, Clingan, Ashcroft, Johnston, Heffernan, Ibrahim (Perez 56). Subs not used: Jaakkola, Hay, Gros, Boyd.
Hibs: Murdoch, Maybury, Forster, Hanlon, Stevenson, Handling, Thomson (Horribine 63), Wotherspoon (Harris 64), Robertson, Doyle, Deegan (McGivern 73). Subs not used: Grant, Done, Caldwell, Donaldson.