Paul Cairney the centre of controversy as Hibs take a point

Hibernian's Paul Cairney goes down under a Michael Nelson challenge. Picture: SNS
Hibernian's Paul Cairney goes down under a Michael Nelson challenge. Picture: SNS
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HIBERNIAN fought back to claim a hard-earned point at Rugby Park although the post-match discussion was dominated by yet another penalty controversy.

Kilmarnock 1 - 1 Hibernian

Scorers: Kilmarnock - Heffernan 6; Hibernian - Doyle 26

Referee: B Madden

Attendance: 4,026

This time, Hibs were the wounded party, after Paul Cairney – the player accused of simulation by Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels the last time the teams met in September – was harshly judged to have dived after a challenge from Michael Nelson.

As much as anything, credit must be given to both teams for producing something that resembled entertainment, while we must also salute the 4,024 fans – including 381 away supporters – who turned up. The torrential rain might have relented but the wind still proved problematic, although some sunshine was also glimpsed. Even so, the employment of a troupe of shivering cheerleaders at half-time still seemed the last word in cruelty.

Fittingly for a team who have beenhailed as Scotland’s team of the year, Kilmarnock looked the brighter team initially. This tag was given to them by their own manager, Kenny Shiels, although he does have a point. They have often continued to delight the neutral and prove that a refreshingly cultured style can bring success. When looking back on the year, their achievement of winning the League Cup against a heavily-fancied Celtic is as deserving of applause as anything else achieved by a Scottish football side in 2012.

Kilmarnock clearly wish to end the year on a high note and they still have the chance to do that, although there will be some frustration felt at not being able to build on their promising start yesterday. In the end, however, Hibs will feel they deserved all three points, particularly given the robust claim they had for a penalty in the 62nd minute, after Cairney slumped to the turf. Insult was added to injury when the hard-working midfielder was booked by referee Bobby Madden. It is a costly yellow card as it takes him over the disciplinary points threshold. He is now due to miss a game in the new year.

Of course, this incident immediately ensured minds were cast back to the teams’ last meeting, when a supposed grudge was born. Hibs’ victory that afternoon came courtesy of a penalty earned after Cairney had again tumbled in the box under a challenge from Ryan O’Leary. Shiels subsequently accused the Hibs midfielder of having played for the penalty, both in interviews and in print, via a column he contributes to a newspaper.

It certainly didn’t help relations between the clubs. It seemed almost inevitable that Cairney would again feature in a penalty controversy on this occasion. Shiels – now two matches into a three-game dug-out ban – no doubt smiled wryly in his seat in the stand when the midfielder was booked for simulation. However, even the Kilmarnock manager, if and when he views this particular incident again, will have some sympathy with Cairney.

Kilmarnock were by far the more purposeful side in the opening stages. Hibs looked ragged and ill at ease and they were eventually punished for Alan Maybury’s rash challenge from behind on James Dayton. The winger was heading away from goal and had not seemed to pose too much danger.

Hibs were relieved when Ben Williams superbly tipped away Borja Perez’s free kick but this proved to be only a temporary reprieve. The ball was knocked back into the box with a little help from Nelson’s head-flick and Paul Heffernan latched onto it and then neatly placed a shot beyond Williams. Only six minutes had elapsed. After a run of just one win in five league games, this wasn’t the start Hibs had wanted as they sought to address a record that was beginning to undo all the good work accomplished during the first few months of the season.

The lively Heffernan might have made it 2-0 after 15 minutes when Dayton’s cross from the left was headed just past the far post by Heffernan. Shiels could begin to sit back comfortably in his seat in the main stand. However, he and the rest of the Kilmarnock support were given a shake when Leigh Griffiths was not too far away with a free-kick that drifted just over the bar. The same player played a part in Hibs’ equaliser after 26 minutes. Kilmarnock lost possession in midfield and Cairney played a measured pass to Griffiths on the right flank. At first, his cross looked to have been aimed too near to Cammy Bell but the diving ‘keeper could only help it on to the back post, where Eoin Doyle had positioned himself. Even then, there was some work to do. The Irish striker collected the ball and then did well to scoop it into the corner of the net from a tight angle.

Hibs barely deserved to be on level terms but then could have reached half-time in front. David Wotherspoon’s corner just a minute before the interval was not dealt with at all well by Kilmarnock, and Paul Hanlon headed over after the ball had come off the bar.

Hibs did not allow the half-time interval to halt the momentum they were beginning to build-up. Just two minutes after the re-start, a lay-off from Doyle found Cairney in a surprising amount of room on the left flank. He only had to advance on goal and pick his spot but he took a poor touch and although his eventual option of a chipped effort would have reached the back of the net, the lack of power allowed James Fowler to sprint back and retrieve the situation with a header off the line.

Griffiths then tried his luck from distance again with a shot that bounced just in front of Bell with the ‘keeper happy to help the ball past the post. The tide was clearly turning, however, and when Cairney fell in the box under pressure from Nelson, most believed a penalty would be the result. It wasn’t, although Hibs, in the 30 minutes that remained, could not then turn a burning sense of injustice into something more satisfying than a point.

Kilmarnock: Bell, Tesselaar, Sissoko, Pascali, Nelson, Dayton, Harkins (McKenzie 58), Perez (O’Leary 82), Fowler, Sheridan, Heffernan (Johnston 76). Subs not used: Letheren, Johnson, McKeown, Winchester.

Hibernian: Williams, Maybury, McGivern, Hanlon, Stevenson, Wotherspoon (Sproule 77), Deegan, Taiwo (Claros 82), Cairney, Griffiths, Doyle (Kuqi 87). Subs not used: Murdoch, Handling, Horribine, Donaldson.