MATTHEW Kennedy yesterday relived the agony of his part in Hibs’ agonising League Cup defeat – but pledged to reward the fans who gave him and his team-mates a standing ovation at the end of their pulsating penalty shoot-out against Dundee United.
The on-loan Everton winger proved to be one of the central figures in the quarter-final, coming on as a sub to score a deflected late equaliser to take the match into extra-time.
However, United keeper Radoslaw Cierzniak then saved his penalty – which would have clinched victory for Alan Stubbs’ spirited side against the then-Premiership leaders – before the Pole also saved from David Gray to win the tie for United.
The 20-year-old Ayrshireman cut a dejected figure at the end of the match, despite the Hibs supporters staying to applaud their team – but he has used the weeks since to stay positive and concentrate on his ongoing battle to win a regular place.
Kennedy was given only 16 minutes at Central Park in Hibs’ 2-1 victory over Cowdenbeath, but a rain-affected Central Park surface was perhaps not best suited to his game. Today, he hopes to get more of a chance to impress when Queen of the South visit Easter Road in a match that pits third against fourth in the Championship.
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Kennedy said: “I’ve always been full of confidence since I came because I’ve not played badly since I came here. But it still helps your confidence when you come off the bench, play well, go by your defender most times and score a goal. I was buzzing after scoring the goal and then, after I missed the penalty, my head was gone.
“It was gutting. I couldn’t sleep that night, I was devastated. Bigger players than me have missed penalties. Jason Cummings was telling me as well about how he missed the penalty that got Hibs relegated and Liam Craig missed one against Hearts. It happens in football.
“The gaffer phoned me on my way home that night and said I was brilliant when I came on and that I wasn’t to worry about the penalty.”
Stubbs has been a soothing presence for Kennedy since he persuaded Everton to allow the winger to follow him to Scotland, albeit on a temporary basis.
However, Kennedy revealed that he took up the manager on his ‘My door’s always open’ policy when he found himself on the periphery of the team. After a chat with Stubbs, he was mature enough to take the advice on board and keep his attitude positive.
Kennedy said: “I went into the manager’s office after I hadn’t started for a couple of weeks and asked what I needed to do to get in the team and he said there was nothing more I could do.
“He said I’d been arguably the best player when I’d been playing but that he needed to change things because we were losing too many goals at the back. He felt that meant going without out-and-out wingers, which obviously I am. It’s suited the team better which is the most important thing.
“The gaffer’s feeling bad about it because he knows I’ve been playing well but he can’t play me because the team’s been playing well in a different formation.
“That’s fair enough, I’ve no arguments. I can’t say the gaffer is wrong to leave me out because the team is getting results.”
The last game Kennedy started was Hibs’ defeat away to Queen of the South at the end of September – which was also the last time Stubbs’ side have suffered a defeat in regulation time. After that 1-0 loss in Dumfries, Hibs were hovering around the bottom of the league, but a consistent run has helped them climb to fourth – three points behind today’s opponents.
“Queen of the South away was the last game I played before I got dropped and we haven’t lost a league game since then,” said Kennedy. “It took us a bit of time to get used to the Championship but now the momentum is better and we’re more together.
“The fans are starting to get behind us more and more, which is also helping. I think we’re going to get more and more good results.”
Everton are also keeping close tabs on the young Scot, who they signed from Kilmarnock in 2012. “Joe Royle comes to most games and sometimes phones me and tells me what I need to do better. There’s been good contact from Everton since I came here,” he said.
Looking ahead to January when his current deal expires, Kennedy added: “I’m not sure what will happen. Everton want me back and I think Hibs want to keep me, so it’s up to the clubs at the end of the day. I’m happy to stay or happy to go back to Everton. Whatever happens, I’ll be happy.”
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